The 2014 NBA playoffs have been thrilling thus far, but the semifinals haven't featured quite as many tight contests as the opening round.
That could very well be changing in Friday's action, as four teams square off in two series that are even at one game apiece.
One of the best stories in the 2013-14 season has been the Washington Wizards, and they'll try to recover from a narrowly missed opportunity to go up 2-0 on the East's top seed in the Indiana Pacers at the Verizon Center. The second part of Friday's showcase has the Oklahoma City Thunder and league MVP Kevin Durant seeking a road victory against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Here is a look at the standings for each conference semifinals series, along with a preview and predictions for Friday night's Game 3 matchups.
|2014 NBA Playoff Standings - Round 2|
|Top Seed||Series||Bottom Seed||Next||TV|
|Indiana Pacers (1)||1-1||Washington Wizards (5)||Game 3 (Friday, May 9 at 8 p.m. ET)||ESPN|
|Oklahoma City Thunder (2)||1-1||Los Angeles Clippers (3)||Game 3 (Friday, May 9 at 10:30 p.m. ET)||ESPN|
|Miami Heat (2)||2-0||Brooklyn Nets (6)||Game 3 (Saturday, May 10 at 8 p.m. ET)||ABC|
|San Antonio Spurs (1)||2-0||Portland Trail Blazers (5)||Game 3 (Saturday, May 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET)||ESPN|
Predictions for Friday's Game 3 Matchups
Washington Wizards vs. Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert decided to show up for Indiana, and it couldn't have come at a better time than in Game 2, as he led all scorers with 28 points. Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com pointed out the disparity between that and his previous production:
Even with the exceptional performance, though, the Pacers barely managed to win one game on their home court, and now they head to the nation's capital with equal parts momentum and severe pressure.
Squeaking by the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks in the opening round was one thing. Getting by the Wizards is an entirely new and more daunting challenge. Washington point guard John Wall has shot horrendously from the field, yet he hasn't lost confidence, per Wizards TV sportscaster Steve Buckhantz:
If Wall gets even near his regular-season average of 43.3 percent, Indiana could be in serious trouble.
Marcin Gortat and Nene have held their own in the Wizards' frontcourt, while 20-year-old guard Bradley Beal has come into his own with some spectacular all-around efforts. The Nation's Dave Zirin noted the history Beal's made in his postseason debut thus far:
There are more reliable scoring options on Washington's side, and Wizards fans will be going bonkers for their first home playoff game since Feb. 27. That should force the Pacers to cave, and it's too premature to trust Hibbert after just one strong performance.
This should be another tight defensive game, but it's hard to envision Wall going anywhere but up in regard to his offensive efficiency.
Prediction: Wizards 105, Pacers 98
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant certainly played like an MVP, and his superstar pal Russell Westbrook put up his third triple-double of these playoffs in Game 2's 112-101 rout in Oklahoma City.
Shot selection and a general lack of control from the supremely athletic Westbrook often crushes the Thunder's chances of being more successful. But when he and Durant are clicking, it's proven to work wonders and is special to watch. The NBA's official Twitter account highlighted their combined Game 2 prowess:
Los Angeles is dealing with serious issues away from the court with the backlash of the Donald Sterling situation, magnifying the burden on coach Doc Rivers' squad to perform.
Star point guard Chris Paul has to feel a sense of urgency to get the job done and help his side advance, because he has yet to make it past this stage of the playoffs in his career. Now the Clippers have to hold court at the Staples Center, with All-Star Blake Griffin needing to step up to help CP3.
Lakers legend and ESPN analyst Magic Johnson provided his analysis, suggesting that the two stars for each side will go a long way in determining who wins:
From a pure personnel and skills standpoint, Westbrook has the athletic edge over Paul, and Durant can create offense for himself as well as anyone; he's learning to distribute to aid ball movement, too. Griffin is an underrated passer, but faces tough matchups inside against Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
The circumstances are set up for Durant and Westbrook to play better, and that should reveal itself as the Clippers fail to fight back after their first loss of the series, falling into a 2-1 hole in the Western Conference semifinals.
This will still be a shootout between two of the Association's premier offenses, but the Thunder will pull it out on the road thanks to Durant's leadership and experience of having made an NBA Finals before.
Prediction: Thunder 108, Clippers 104
Something about the way an emotional Durant so affectionately backed Westbrook during his MVP acceptance speech may be a turning point for the Thunder's premier partnership. The media has attempted to manufacture schisms between the pair in the past. But Oklahoma City seemed to come out with a renewed energy in Game 2 after Durant's speech that could very well carry it back to the NBA Finals.
Since the Clippers are dealing with so much negativity in the front office and are coming off such a bad loss, if this prediction holds true, they may not win another game in this series. Suffering a tight Game 3 defeat at home may be too much for LA to overcome at this juncture, as it will be eager to reset after the unfortunate Sterling saga.