The NBA 2014 Playoffs: Conference Finals


Paul George and the Indiana Pacers will try to beat LeBron James
and the Miami Heat in the playoffs for the first time in three years
(Image from: AP/Lynne Sladky)
(1) Indiana Pacers vs (2) Miami Heat 
So, here we are. It took more or less seven months to happen but the dream scenario for the Eastern Conference Finals will finally happen (whew). The Heat was fantastic while going through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. Meanwhile, the Pacers almost bumbled their way out of the postseason but they managed to get their act together just in time to face the Miami Heat in the ECF. This will be their third straight meeting in the last three years with Miami winning the previous two instances. The biggest difference (and advantage?) for Indy, they have home-court advantage. They actively pursued the #1 seed as early as the off-season in hopes that playing Game 7 in Indiana will topple Miami. However, the Pacers haven't used Bankers Life Fieldhouse as a place of success in the postseason. Indiana is a pedestrian 3-4 at home after going 35-6 in the regular season. On the other hand, they have been a lot better on the road at 5-1. The season series was tied at 2 games apiece with neither team winning on the road.

The Pacers have not been consistent and dominant during the postseason. Furthermore, they have paraded two separate Roy Hibberts (good and bad) during the playoffs. There's the bench-warmer version (0 points, 0 rebounds) and the starter version of Hibbert (11 points, 7 boards). Miami will be lucky if they see one of those versions playing in the ECF because Hibbert transforms to a 20-10, double-double machine when playing the Heat. However, the Heat has played a lot better than the Pacers after two rounds. LeBron James shifted up an extra gear defensively while still getting 30 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Even Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are doing okay. They're also getting production from their supporting players (Lewis, Jones, Battier, Andersen, Allen). On the contrary, the Pacers don't totally trust their bench and that will be a key ingredient in the series. The match-up between LeBron and Paul George will be the top draw but the undercard between Dwyane Wade and Lance Stephenson will also be a joy to watch. Overall, Miami has the advantage offensively (shooting and passing) especially when attacking in transition. If Roy Hibbert doesn't show up, the Pacers have no chance. HEAT in 6.

The 2014 MVP will play against the former two-time MVP
(Image from: USA Today Sports)

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Oklahoma City Thunder 
This will be a rematch of their 2012 WCF battle that saw OKC win 4 straight after losing the first 2 games to the Spurs. The Thunder has won 10 of their past 12 games against the Spurs including a 4-game sweep in the regular season. They didn't meet last year because Russell Westbrook got hurt which resulted in a 2nd round defeat for OKC at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies whom the San Antonio Spurs promptly swept. Both teams struggled in the 1st round and almost got eliminated by lower seeds but they prevailed after winning Game 7 at their respective home-courts. The Spurs finished with the best record in the West during 2012 and this year plus they have home-court again but that didn't mean much two years ago. Anyway, it seems that the Spurs can beat any team in the league except the Thunder. That can definitely change in an instant but OKC gives San Antonio match-up problems especially when it comes to handling Russell Westbrook.Will that be the same case this year? Which team has been better so far?

OKC barely escaped the LA Clippers in Game 5 but fortuitous calls that favored OKC gave them the win and helped pave the way for a showdown with the SAS. Meanwhile, the Spurs easily dispatched the Portland Trailblazers but Tony Parker suffered a hamstring injury that might limit his effectiveness. The Spurs need TP to be 100% in order to make Westbrook work defensively and possibly get him into foul trouble. Parker's ability to attack the paint may induce Westbrook to constantly cheat and gamble on defense. That will force OKC to rotate and help defensively which means open shots will be available for all of the Spurs' shooters. We all know that SAS loves to spread the wealth and share the ball while OKC loves to shoot the ball and keep the rock (or maybe just RW). However, the tandem of Kevin Durant and RW can win ANY series if both guys are shooting well AND making plays for their teammates. The Spurs don't have anyone that can truly stop KD but they have multiple defenders who can bother him (Kawhi, Marco, Diaw, Green, Manu) while they don't have anyone who can guard Westbrook consistently. My heart wants another Thunder-Heat NBA Finals especially a KD vs LBJ sequel but my brain tells me otherwise. Russell Westbrook needs to be the perfect complement to Kevin Durant in this series. I don't see that happening especially with Coach Popovich being a far superior coach than Coach Brooks. The Spurs will unleash a game plan that will flummox OKC. SPURS in 7. 

***UPDATE: Serge Ibaka was declared out for the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury. I made this preview before that was shared to the public. This is a tough break for OKC because Ibaka can defend Duncan or Splitter and his much improved offensive arsenal provides the Thunder a viable third option. If Ibaka doesn't play one second in this series, the Spurs should have a relatively easy time marching towards their 2nd straight NBA Finals appearance. New prediction SPURS in 5. I'll give OKC one game because Durant and Westbrook can probably win one at home BUT it would be a small miracle if OKC gets more than one win.

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2 Comment

Heat yan all the way, 8-0!! #3peat


Great analysis, as usual, but I still think the Thunder have a chance against Spurs. KD is the MVP afterall. And maybe Hibbert will be his best against Miami.