MIAMI - LeBron James took his talents to South Beach for the chance to capture multiple championships. He's four wins away from his second straight title.
Standing in his way are the Spurs, who swept the James' led Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals. James is taking the sting of that loss into these Finals that start tonight.
"I have something in me that they took in '07, beat us on our home floor," James said. "I won't forget that. You shouldn't as a competitor. You should never forget that."
The main faces remain for the Spurs from 2007 -- Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But James has a different cast with the Heat and likes his chances much better this time.
"This is our third year advancing to the Finals," James said. "We understand the opportunity we have. And then I'm a much better player. I'm 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the '07 Finals."
James said the Spurs dared him to shoot jumpers in '07. If they do it again, the reigning two-time MVP is confident he will knock them down.
"I'm a better player," he said. "And you can't dare me to do anything I don't want to do in 2013."
James might be more driven than last year -- winning back-to-back titles puts you in a very elite class. He's on a mission but so are the Spurs. It should be a fun series.
James dominates both ends of the court. He willed and carried the Heat past Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals with little help from his usually reliable All-Star teammates.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stumbled and struggled against the Pacers. The two will need to raise their games here for the Heat to win it all again.
The Spurs have major advantages at point guard and power forward, though.
Parker continues to show he's one of the best at his position. A terrific pick-and-roll player and clutch shooter, the tireless Parker will keep Mario Chalmers and the Heat working all series. James could see time on Parker.
Duncan lost about 20 pounds last summer, had a strong all-around 16th season, and knows this could be his last shot at his fifth championship.
Udonis Haslem is solid but Miami can't expect big scoring games like he had against Indiana. They need that from Bosh.
James will face a formidable defender in small forward Kahwi Leonard, who's also scoring and rebounding more now. North Babylon's Danny Green is solid defensively and can make things tough for Wade, who has been slowed with a knee injury. Green also has made some big shots in the Spurs' playoff run. Spurs center Tiago Splitter is a big body who knows his role.
Ginobili is a starter coming off the bench and impacts games with his energy, defense and ability to create for himself and others. He's clutch in making the big shot.
Miami has that in Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mike Miller, but they were inconsistent and in some cases invisible against Indiana. Chris "Birdman" Andersen has been a factor for Miami with his athleticism and length and Norris Cole continues to improve.
Gary Neal and three-point marksman Matt Bonner have been mainstays off the Spurs' bench. Veteran Boris Diaw can provide playmaking and DeJuan Blair is a wide body who could see some time in this round.
Erik Spoelstra is an underrated coach, who doesn't just give the ball to James and tell him to make plays. He plans games masterfully, manages (big) egos, gets his players to compete, especially defensively every night, and puts them in position to succeed.
But Spoelstra is matched up against the NBA's best coach in Popovich. He always gets the most out of his players and has developed a system predicated on player and ball movement and everyone is involved. Every year, the Spurs are expected to take a step back because of age. Yet they are 329-147 (69.1 percent) since their last trip to the Finals six years ago and Popovich's adapting and changing schemes and concepts based on personnel are main reasons.
Prediction: Heat in 7