Will Miami Heat avoid elimination?
The Spurs have the defending champs on the ropes. Can the Heat force a Game 7 at home? Our expert panel breaks down the main storylines heading into Game 6 (ABC, 9 p.m. ET).
1. Fact or Fiction: LeBron's legacy is on the line in Game 6.
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Fiction. Think about the tiny list of players who have ever been both an NBA champion and inarguably the best player in the world, all before the age of 30. (Only two names leap to mind.) LeBron's on that list. No Game 6, not even in the Finals, is going to get him assigned to the scrap heap of history.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Fiction. Still too soon. What if he has a great Game 6 and lays an ostrich egg in Game 7? What if he loses Game 6 but comes back to win championships in 2014 and 2015? If LeBron's career were a sentence, we'd just now be getting to the comma. The period's a long way off.
Sebastian Christensen, ESPN Deportes: Fiction. LeBron has taken his team to three consecutive NBA Finals, and somehow people tend to forget that. Do we expect more titles from him given his unique talent? Of course. But he is 28, and his legacy is far from being on the line tonight. Even if he doesn't win one this year, he will have more chances to get another title.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact-ion. No matter what happens, he's the best player in the world, but he can lose on the game's biggest stage only so many times before the critics feel validated. However, he'll have opportunities after tonight to shape his legacy for the better.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Fiction. Legacies aren't predetermined. They're written as we go. And LeBron still has a long career ahead of him. That said, he will likely approach this as a career-defining opportunity. Not everyone can have stress-free Finals experiences like Michael Jordan. If LeBron rallies his team to win in seven games, it would be the highlight moment so far.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Heat need to make another lineup change.
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Abbott: Fiction. The truth is they can almost certainly just play the same way again and have a different result. This isn't math, but the Heat have plenty of options to switch things up. They have been good with Birdman in the game all season, including against the Spurs. Shane Battier is showing flickers again, too. Options are good.
Adande: Fact. They need better rim protection (enter Birdman). They need less time with Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers on Tony Parker. Yes, the team that thrived on small ball since last year's playoffs needs to play slightly bigger.
Christensen: Fact. Since Mike Miller has been inserted in the starting lineup, he has only two shots and zero points. Miami can't afford to have another slow start. I think Erik Spoelstra should go back to the small lineup that brought him here. Shane Battier should start. He didn't have a place in the series against Indiana but is still a great defender, and his shot showed some signs of life last game.
Gordian: Fact. They need to put the best defensive unit on the floor and insist their stars carry the load offensively. In Game 5, every subpar defender on the floor was exploited by San Antonio. Spreading the floor with shooters isn't worth it if it lets the Spurs' offense get going.
Gutierrez: Fiction. The Heat don't need to make a change, but Erik Spoelstra has to be aware of what a little more Shane Battier and Chris Andersen can offer. Mike Miller has had too many defensive miscommunications while getting off only two shots in two games. Battier would be better in that role. And Andersen could again provide relief near the basket for a penetrating James or Dwyane Wade.
3. Fact or Fiction: This is the biggest game in Miami's Big Three era.
Abbott: Fiction. Before they won their title, these things were all so much more dire. To be honest, all those games against Dallas were really played in the shadow of history. Now, LeBron has been and looks likely to be a Finals regular. This game is huge, but so will many others.
Adande: Fiction. Maybe I just have moment-of-truth fatigue, but if they didn't win Game 2 last week or beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, we wouldn't even have this conversation right now. Winning last year reduced, if only slightly, the magnitude of these make-or-break games for the Heat.
Christensen: Fact. Not to be a sensationalist, but the most important game is the one in front of you. This team has been under immense scrutiny from the beginning, and that won't change. People like to support the Cinderella story, and critics will always be present when this team shows signs of weakness.
Gordian: Fact. The expectations are higher than they were in their first season together, when a thin bench and a lack of chemistry were valid excuses. To lose tonight is to fall far short of expectations.
Gutierrez: Fiction. Games 6 and 7 against Boston last year remain larger simply because it would have been deemed a greater failure to lose that series and LeBron would not have a title yet. Losing to the Spurs in six or seven games in an NBA Finals isn't exactly an embarrassing end to a season.
4. Fact or Fiction: The game plan shouldn't change for the Spurs.
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Abbott: Fact. Use teamwork to find open 3-point shooters, believe in Tony Parker, keep the Heat out of the paint -- been working for years.
Adande: Fiction. Instead of reacting to what the Heat do, they could be proactive. They need to recognize the difficulty of reproducing Game 5 now that the series has returned to Miami. Why not anticipate the possibility of Miami going bigger by experimenting with some floor-spacing smaller lineups during shootaround?
Christensen: Fact. One of the biggest strengths of this team is knowing its identity and having discipline. The Spurs are willing to give Miami the outside shot and are not budging. Crowding the paint is the best way to stop the Heat offense. They do have to limit their turnovers, but Gregg Popovich's game plan has been spot on as usual.
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Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich discusses the impact the Manu Ginobili had in Game 5, the importance of pace, and how he has to be the vocal leader of this team.
Gordian: Fact. Swarm the Heat's best players on defense. Go iso against the Heat's weakest defender. Keep the turnovers down while funneling the ball to your shooters. Win the game.
Gutierrez: Fiction. The Spurs' plan has been changing slightly as the series has progressed, and that should continue. In Game 5, they went to a lot more isolation plays for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Maybe the Spurs shy away from that on the road. Defensively, there's no reason to change much at all.
5. Heat or Spurs: Who wins Game 6?
Abbott: Heat. Home-court advantage is worth something, and the "god of every other game" must be heeded. Also, doesn't it just feel like this thing is on rails to Game 7?
Adande: Heat. By now we should know better than to draw conclusions from any one game in this series. Not enough from Game 5 -- especially all those missed Miami shots at the rim -- will carry over into Game 6. This thing is headed to Game 7.
Christensen: Heat. Miami is back home and has a 6-0 record after a loss during these playoffs. I think even Heat detractors want a Miami win today so we can have a Game 7 -- the sports fan's two favorite words.
Gordian: Spurs. I think San Antonio figured out a way to consistently exploit Miami's defense in Game 5 and the Heat might not have the personnel necessary to adjust. If San Antonio continues to shoot 3-pointers at such a high percentage, it'll close out the series.
Gutierrez: Heat. This series has been unpredictable in so many ways. The only part that has been steady is the win-loss pattern. It would appear to be the Heat's turn to bounce back from a loss.
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