The final four has been set in the NBA playoffs. For as crazy as things looked in the first round, the top two seeds in both conferences have emerged as the last teams standing.
An NBA Finals rematch from 2013 is still possible. The Miami Heat, the postseason's most dominant team thus far with an 8-1 record, finally got an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday.
The Indiana Pacers are starting to play like the team that looked dominant during the early part of the regular season. They dispatched Washington to set up a rematch of the East Finals from a year ago.
The San Antonio Spurs will be good and rested for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who ended an entertaining series with the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday to set up the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle in the West.
Who will emerge and land in the NBA Finals? Here's a closer look at the two series, as well as a schedule and viewing information for each game.
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
|Game||Home Team||Date and Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Indiana||May 18 - 3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|2||Indiana||May 20 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|3||Miami||May 24 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4||Miami||May 26 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|5*||Indiana||May 28 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|6*||Miami||May 30 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|7*||Indiana||June 1 - 8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
During the regular season, the two teams split their four meetings. Almost every game was close. The Heat's 98-86 win on April 14 was the only game that was decided by more than six points.
Who wins Heat vs. Pacers?
Fans can expect to see another hotly contested series. Although the Pacers have been wildly inconsistent over the last two months, they showed signs of snapping back into form against the Washington Wizards.
Some dominant defensive performances led to a 4-2 series win and rekindled hope that the team could regain its early-season form.
From a team standpoint, the keys to this series will be rebounding and three-point shooting—in that order.
In all but one of the regular-season matchups, the team that won the rebounding battle was victorious. The only exception was the Pacers' 84-83 win on March 26. Both teams had 37 rebounds in that game, but the Pacers were unconscious from beyond the arc.
They made 50 percent of their shots from three-point range, while the Heat converted just more than 31 percent.
The Pacers don't have as many players who are capable of knocking down threes as the Heat do, but when they shoot it well from deep, it takes pressure off the rest of their game.
The Heat are more apt to overcome other deficiencies with their long-range shooting, but they would like to do a better job on the glass to prevent themselves from needing to rain in treys.
Hibbert seemed to have rediscovered his confidence and his game in the series with the Wizards. He had 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the closeout game in Washington on Thursday night.
His rim protection and post presence were big factors in pushing the Heat to the brink in last year's conference finals. Indiana needs him to be big again if it is to top Miami.
Wade has looked spry through the first two rounds of the postseason for the Heat. Miami has breezed through Charlotte and Brooklyn, and that has allowed Wade to get much-needed rest between series.
He went for 28 points in the clincher against Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, Wade said this about his big performance in the Heat's come-from-behind win: “It was a mental change; my mind-set was to come out and be aggressive. Once I came out with that mind-set and things started to get going, my body was really moving early."
He should be firing on all cylinders against the Pacers.
Indiana is playing better, and their physicality should still give the Heat a little trouble. But with a healthy and rested Wade at LeBron James' side, the Heat will have too many weapons on offense for the Pacers to stop Miami's playoff run.
Prediction: Heat in six
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs
|Game||Home Team||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||San Antonio||May 19 - 9 p.m.||TNT|
|2||San Antonio||May 21 - 9 p.m.||TNT|
|3||Oklahoma City||May 25 - 8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4||Oklahoma City||May 27 - 9 p.m.||TNT|
|*5||San Antonio||May 29 - 9 p.m.||TNT|
|*6||Oklahoma City||May 31 - 8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|*7||San Antonio||June 2 - 9 p.m.||TNT|
The meetings in the regular season weren't pretty for the Spurs. OKC swept the four-game series and even knocked off the Spurs 113-100 in San Antonio.
Who wins Spurs vs. Thunder?
The major question here is, does the regular-season history matter?
Yes and no. There's no doubt the Thunder will come into the series confident because of the way they dominated San Antonio during the regular season, but this is the playoffs.
In this environment, NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich will get the opportunity to show his superiority as a strategist over Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.
In the postseason, coaching staffs have more time to focus on an opponent, and that could be bad news for OKC considering Pop's talent for game-planning.
One major key to the series will be the performance at the charity stripe. Both clubs are among the best free-throw shooting teams in the NBA. The Thunder ranked second, and the Spurs were fourth during the regular season.
This stat was a key in their four meetings this season.
The Thunder converted the highest percentage of free throws in all four games, though they were out-rebounded in some and committed more turnovers in others.
Taking advantage of those opportunities is vital in a series that figures to feature a lot of close games.
The key players in the series are Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard.
Westbrook has to be the ultra-athletic, dynamic offensive complement to Kevin Durant that we all know he can be. His presence gives OKC an edge that San Antonio has yet to find an answer for.
Adi Joseph of USA Today writes: "The Spurs have struggled against elite athleticism this season, and the Thunder are chockful of that. That's how they beat them in all four regular-season meetings and how they outlasted them after going down 2-0 in the 2012 West finals."
Westbrook averaged 21.3 points per game against the Spurs this season, and that includes a six-point performance in November that brought down his average. As Westbrook goes, so will OKC in this series.
Leonard has a ton of pressure on him. He'll be saddled with checking Durant—the league MVP—most of the series. And he'll likely spend some time trying to slow down Westbrook as well.
On the other side of the floor, Leonard needs to make his open looks from deep and be aggressive when taking the ball to the rim.
As one of the few Spurs players capable of competing with OKC athletically, he has to have a breakout series for the Spurs to win.
So who wins?
The Thunder are too athletic, long and young for the Spurs. You have to admire what San Antonio has done with such an old nucleus and a cast of role players. But the stars will outshine the Spurs system in this series.
Prediction: Thunder in six
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