And then there were four.
The Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies traversed the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs without much resistance to secure a place in the conference finals, but don’t expect any of the four teams to waltz into the NBA Finals without some bumps along the way.
In the Eastern Conference, Miami faces arguably its most difficult matchup of the season in the Pacers, who finished the regular season second in scoring defense and stifled the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. Miami demolished the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls, but it will be in for a monumental test against Indiana in the conference finals.
Like Indiana, Memphis boasts a stifling defense (No. 1 in the regular season) and surprised many with upsets over the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder. In each of those series, the Grizzlies dispatched their opponent in six games or fewer, never encountering enough resistance to suggest Memphis can’t upend the No. 1 Spurs in this series.
Let’s take a look at Game 1 for each conference finals series and preview each matchup, complete with viewing information, regular-season series records and predictions for each game’s score.
|May 19||San Antonio vs. Memphis (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC)|
|May 21||San Antonio vs. Memphis (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)|
|May 22||Miami vs. Indiana (8:30 p.m. ET on TNT)|
|May 24||Miami vs. Indiana (8:30 p.m. ET on TNT)|
|May 25||Memphis vs. San Antonio (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)|
|May 26||Indiana vs. Miami (8:30 p.m. ET on TNT)|
|May 27||Memphis vs. San Antonio (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)|
|May 28||Indiana vs. Miami (8:30 p.m. ET on TNT)|
|May 29||San Antonio vs. Memphis (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)|
|May 30||Miami vs. Indiana (8:30 p.m. ET on TNT)|
|May 31||Memphis vs. San Antonio (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)|
*Full schedule can be found at ESPN.com.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs
Where: AT&T Center; San Antonio, Texas
When: Sunday, May 19, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Season Series: 2-2
Memphis Injuries: None
San Antonio Injuries: Kawhi Leonard (knee, probable)
Betting Lines (per Bovada.lv): Spurs minus-4.5, Over/Under 183
The Spurs have been one of the most dominant NBA franchises of the last decade, but how much longer can we expect that dominance to continue?
If this year’s playoffs are any indication, San Antonio is far from finished, and Tim Duncan and company appear focused on securing their first title since 2007.
But it certainly won’t be easy.
The Grizzlies have embarked on one of the best postseason runs we’ve seen in recent years, taking the No. 5 seed all the way to a marquee matchup with the old guard of the Western Conference. There isn’t a better defensive team in the league, and this matchup has the potential to be a thrilling seven-game affair.
While all eyes have been fixed on Tim Duncan as he attempts to lead his team to at least one more title before his eventual retirement, Tony Parker has quietly put together one of the most impressive playoff performances of the season. In 10 postseason games this year, the point guard is averaging 22.4 points and 6.3 assists, including four performances of 25 points or more in San Antonio wins.
Memphis counters with an exceptional point guard of its own in Mike Conley, who has averaged 17.6 points and 7.6 assists in 11 postseason games. While there’s sure to be a lot of action in the paint in this series, the matchup between Parker and Conley will be a lot of fun to watch.
As well as both teams have played this postseason, home-court advantage will play a huge role in this series. Look for the Spurs to edge out the Grizzlies on their home floor in Game 1 by a slim margin and create some momentum for Game 2 on Tuesday.
Game 1 Prediction: San Antonio 89, Memphis 86
Series Prediction: Spurs in seven
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena; Miami, Florida
When: Wednesday, May 22, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Season Series: Pacers 2-1
Miami Injuries: None
Indiana Injuries: George Hill (head), Danny Granger (knee, out for season)
Betting Lines: Unavailable as of May 19 at 11 a.m. ET
If there’s any team in the Eastern Conference that matches up well against Miami, it’s Indiana.
The Pacers have been phenomenal at the defensive end this year and rebound as well as any team in the league. Against a Heat squad predicated on perimeter scoring, the Pacers hold a big advantage in the paint and on the glass.
Indiana edged out Miami in their regular-season series 2-1—a good sign that we could be in for a long series in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But the Heat haven’t exactly looked shaky thus far. In fact, they’ve looked unstoppable.
Miami dismantled Milwaukee in four games in the opening round and went on to decimate a depleted Bulls squad in the second round. In nine playoff games, the Heat are averaging 98.6 points per game, led by LeBron James and his 24 points per contest.
For Indiana to have a chance in the conference finals, it has to continue rebounding at a torrid pace to limit Miami’s second chances at the offensive end. If the Pacers can build on their 47.3-reounds-per-game clip in the postseason, Miami will be at a serious disadvantage.
But like the Memphis-San Antonio series, home-court advantage stands to play a big part in how this series shakes out. The Heat are well-rested and on a roll, and they shouldn’t struggle too much in taking Game 1 from Indiana at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Game 1 Prediction: Miami 94, Indiana 87
Series Prediction: Heat in seven