The 2013 NBA playoffs march on toward the conference finals, and with two elimination games on the slate, the stakes are high.
So, how will the four teams involved fare in Wednesday's action?
The first of two contests will pit the Miami Heat against the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinals clash. The Bulls took Game 1 in Miami, but the Heat have since taken command with three consecutive victories, including two wins by more than 20 points.
The second leg heads over to the Western Conference, where the Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Memphis Grizzlies. The underdog Grizz have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, winning Game 2 in Oklahoma City and both games at home, but winning a second-straight road contest will not be easy.
Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat, Game 5
Game Info: Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. ET (TNT)
Series Record: Heat up 3-1
Miami is struggling to overcome a knee injury that has been plaguing Dwyane Wade and significantly limiting his efficiency. According to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com, the star shooting guard is questionable for Game 5.
With or without their Big Three intact, the Heat are nowhere close to being as depleted as the Bulls.
Chicago continues to play without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose. Not only is their absence being felt from a strategic perspective, but the Bulls are fatigued, which is something no game plan can change.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
What 19-for-74 looks like on a shot chart. That's what Bulls shot last night http://t.co/J1LkUrJDlD5/14/2013, 1:45:37 PM
In Game 5, expect the Bulls to put on their most inspired performance of the postseason. If not for their title dreams, then at least for their pride, as they attempt to make one final stand.
As admirable an effort as it may be, though, it simply will not be enough.
Even without Wade, the Heat still have the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the ultimate super sub at 2 guard, Ray Allen. Together, they will overpower Chicago despite a valiant effort from Tom Thibodeau's squad.
The Bulls simply have too much to overcome.
Prediction: Miami Heat 94, Chicago Bulls 87
Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, Game 5
Game Info: Wednesday, May 15 at 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
Series Record: Grizzlies up 3-1
The Memphis Grizzlies enter this game with as much momentum as any team in the entire 2013 NBA playoffs. After winning four consecutive games to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, they have taken three straight to take a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All it takes is one more victory to put the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder away.
Memphis is the better team top to bottom, but the Thunder are playing at home. As for why the latter is significant, note that it's all a matter of history; OKC hasn't lost consecutive games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena since March 16 of last year.
The crowd will be rocking, and Kevin Durant will do everything in his power to keep his team alive. That includes stepping up in the fourth quarter, which he failed to do in Game 4. In fact, he put on one of the worst fourth-quarter performances of his career.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Kevin Durant finished Monday's game by going 2-for-13 from the field in the 4th quarter/overtime.5/14/2013, 2:45:28 PM
Do we really expect that to happen again?
Memphis will keep it close, as the elite defensive play and dominant interior of Lionel Hollins' team will match OKC at every turn. With Durant putting on the performance of a lifetime and Kevin Martin finding his groove from beyond the arc, however, the Thunder will have just enough to survive.
It's going to a Game 6.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, Memphis Grizzlies 96
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