MIAMI — Even in a year where big man Tim Duncan turned back the clock and posted one of the best seasons in his long career, guard Tony Parker is probably the biggest reason why the Spurs are in the NBA Finals for the fifth time.
And he likely will be the focal point of the Heat defensive game plan tonight in Game 1.
Parker, one of four former Finals MVPs in the series, joining Duncan, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, is averaging 23 points and 7.2 assists in these playoffs. He's coming off a Western Conference final against Memphis in which he shot 26-for-43 and averaged 31.5 points in two road wins.
"Against Miami, it's the last step," Parker said Wednesday. "It's going to be the hardest one, because winning a championship is very hard."
The Heat raves about Parker, so much so that it may offer him the ultimate compliment tonight: Miami may have James guard him at times.
Mario Chalmers will start off against Parker, but if the Heat wants a different look or if its starting point guard gets into foul trouble, Miami won't hesitate to call on James. After all, Miami calls James "One through five" for a reason, a nod to how he can guard all five positions.
"No matter what they do, we just have to live with it and play," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "At this point in the season we're not going to change very much what we do. There's no time for it."
More often than not, how Parker fares in a game is an indicator of whether the Spurs won that night. The Spurs are 42-8 this season when he scores 20. When he plays and doesn't score 20, they're 17-13.
Not forgotten: After the Spurs swept the Cavs in the 2007 Finals, Duncan told the beaten James that the league would someday belong to him. And so it does, as James became the league MVP and guided Miami to last year's title and the league's best record this season.
But James carries the memory of that beating. "I have something in me that they took in '07," he said. "Beat us on our home floor, celebrated on our home floor. I won't forget that. You shouldn't as a competitor."
James shot 36 percent in the series, including 10-for-30 in Game 4, and committed 23 turnovers.
"That was like ancient history," Popovich said. "He was basically a neophyte at the time, wondering how all this stuff worked and how it's put together. We were very fortunate at that time to get him so early. But at this point he's grown."
Around the league: Hawks president Bob Williams, in an effort to head off tampering charges, said a letter to potential ticket buyers promoting Atlanta's chances of signing Chris Paul and Dwight Howard was an "unfortunate" mistake. Howard and Paul are under contract with the Lakers and Clippers, respectively, and can become free agents July 1. … The Grizzlies denied the Nets permission to talk to coach Lionel Hollins, ESPN reported. Hollins is under contract through June 30. However, the Nets have permission to talk to Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, Yahoo Sports reported, but Shaw is considered the top choice of the Clippers.