There are just two trophies left to be handed over in this NBA season as we prepare for Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
One is the golden Larry O’Brien championship (which I’ve often thought was a prototype for one those uber-cute robots that inhabit Pixar films). The other is the Bill Russell Finals Most Valuable Player prize (which just looks like someone stuck a golden balloon on top of a vase).
To get the latter, you have to land the former, unless you’re Jerry West in 1969, the only recipient of the gong ever to come off a loser. And it underlines just how dynastic the 2014 finalists with the duo accounting for six of the last 14 MVP nods.
So who’ll come up trumps this time? Well, it helps to be the best player on your own team. You probably have to go back to 1989, when Joe Dumars attained the honour, to find a real second banana walking away as top dog.
Which is why the wannabe at the top of our list of MVP hopefuls has been the favourite since the season began.
LeBron James (Miami)
He’s not this season’s league MVP but James has been the most valuable contributor in the playoffs and the biggest reason why the Heat have coasted through to their fourth consecutive Finals. He’s also been the Finals MVP for the past two seasons. And he’s still improving. If Miami come up trumps, it surely must be LeBron’s silverware.
Tim Duncan (San Antonio)
Younger readers might not recall that Duncan was Finals MVP in the same millennium as they invented windmills, penicillin and electricity. Now 38, he’s going for his fourth Bill with averages of 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in this post-season – a huge chunk down from his peak but still a massive contribution. The veteran’s potency in the paint is one area where the Spurs have an advantage.
Tony Parker (San Antonio)
The Spurs advanced past the Thunder with Parker sidelined for the second half of Game 6 through injury but all indications are he will be back on duty on Thursday. The MVP of San Antonio’s last title run in 2007, the Frenchman can exploit another area where Miami are weak, at the point. Yet they’ll likely need more than his 2014 playoff average of 17.2 points to prevail.
Dwyane Wade (San Antonio)
Wade, in the eyes of many, myself included, had seemed on an inexorable decline but his renaissance over the past two months has reminded everyone what a fabulously multi-faceted player he can be, especially in clutch situations. The 2006 Finals MVP may not have the hops of old but his outside shooting and even his defence will loom large in the Heat’s bid for a three-peat as James’ right-hand man.
Manu Ginobili (San Antonio)
If there’s to be a new name on the MVP trophy, then few would begrudge it being Manu. The Argentine has, like Wade, bounced back to life with one huge performance after another, leading the Spurs bench charge. If San Antonio prevail, expect Ginobili to provide much of the impetus as the Spurs throw a variety of weapons at Miami to find a means to wound the reigning champions.
Who will win Game 1 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? Check our latest odds here