The 2014 NBA playoffs have been wild and entertaining, but after all the chaos that occurred in the first two rounds, the two top seeds from each conference are battling it out for the right to advance to the Finals.
An extended run of inconsistency has caused the Indiana Pacers to look undeserving of the East's No. 1 seed, but they played the part Sunday by smashing the Miami Heat at home in Game 1 of their series. That sets up an intriguing scenario for the next showdown, as Indiana hasn't been known to string together strong performances as of late.
San Antonio's window at winning another championship seems to be on the verge of closing, so the Spurs will seek a return trip to the NBA Finals by knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Both of these series are rematches of sorts. Miami beat Indiana in seven games in last year's conference finals, while the Thunder defeated San Antonio in six games at the same stage of the postseason two years ago. That only adds to the stakes and the intense competitiveness that will be abound throughout both showdowns.
Here is a closer look at the schedule and an updated projection as to how these series will play out.
|2014 NBA Playoffs Conference Finals Schedule|
|Game||Eastern Conference Finals||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Indiana Pacers 107, Miami Heat 96||Sunday, May 18||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|2||Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers||Tuesday, May 20||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|3||Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat||Saturday, May 24||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4||Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat||Monday, May 26||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|5*||Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers||Wednesday, May 28||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|6*||Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat||Friday, May 30||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|7*||Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers||Sunday, June 1||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Game||Western Conference Finals||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs||Monday, May 19||9 p.m.||TNT|
|2||Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs||Wednesday, May 21||9 p.m.||TNT|
|3||San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder||Sunday, May 25||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4||San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder||Tuesday, May 27||9 p.m.||TNT|
|5*||Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs||Thursday, May 29||9 p.m.||TNT|
|6*||San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder||Saturday, May 31||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|7*||Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs||Monday, June 2||9 p.m.||TNT|
|Source: ESPN.com. *if necessary|
Projected Results for Conference Finals
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
No doubt Indiana put on a show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 1, but it was such an improbable, impeccable performance that it only adds to the pressure for the Pacers to win the next contest.
The Heat were in rare form on the defensive end, and not in a good way. They let Indiana shred them and trailed the entire way. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick highlighted the unusually unselfish play the Pacers flashed in Game 1:
ESPN Stats & Info alluded to the massive free-throw advantage Indiana enjoyed, which won't be the norm as this series wears on:
Miami has the advantage of having defeated the Pacers last year when it mattered most, and two Larry O'Brien trophies in the past two playoffs to boot.
Indiana also hasn't shown much synergy on offense. Game 1 should be viewed as an aberration, not a sign of things to come. This is the same squad that lost 102-79 in a potential closeout game at home to the Washington Wizards less than a week ago.
Until the Pacers really prove that they can play at a high level for more than one game at a time, they can't be trusted. Two of the Heat's three biggest stars in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade came to play in the opener, but Chris Bosh will fare better than his 4-of-12 shooting performance moving forward.
Although it is such a big boost of momentum for a team to win the first game of a series, Miami's experience should play into its favor the rest of the way. It appears Indiana is reinvigorated by the prospect of exacting revenge on the defending NBA champions, but the Heat will pull this off without returning to Indianapolis for a deciding Game 7.
Prediction: Heat in six.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
It looked as though the changing of the guard atop the Western Conference was occurring in the 2012 playoffs, when the Thunder toppled the Spurs. Then Oklahoma City traded James Harden, while San Antonio returned to the NBA Finals the following year.
This time around, the Thunder have to be worried about being without another young, key player on their current roster in Serge Ibaka. The talented big man is expected to miss the rest of the playoffs with a strained calf, per OKC's official Twitter account:
That will be a big storyline, as Oklahoma City loses a big paint enforcer who would have helped deny penetrating Spurs point guard Tony Parker and legendary forward Tim Duncan from establishing themselves down low. It puts the onus on young superstars in Russell Westbrook and league MVP Kevin Durant to push the Thunder past this stalwart San Antonio squad.
Parker knows better than to dismiss Oklahoma City, as he outlined how the Thunder can compensate for Ibaka's loss, per USA Today's Sam Amick:
(Rookie center) Steve Adams has been stepping up, (veteran forward) Nick Collison is a great player. They can go small. They're going to do different stuff, so we're going to have to adapt. ... We're going to try to contain everything. Like you say, Westbrook and Durant are going to score points. They're great players, and Durant is the MVP, so you're not going to stop them.
There is no question San Antonio has a massive edge, and coach Gregg Popovich has been managing his star nucleus of Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili to have that trio ready for this moment. Now it's time for Popovich to turn his studs loose and pull out all the defensive tricks to stop Durant.
Kawhi Leonard is one of the best wing defenders in the Association, and he will draw Durant most of the time, able to hold his own unless Durant is on absolute fire. One discouraging sign for OKC: Durant averaged six turnovers in four games against the Spurs during the regular season.
As long as Parker can offset any impact by the inconsistent but explosive Westbrook, there's a great chance the Spurs return to the NBA Finals this year.
The Thunder's front line will step up in lieu of Ibaka better than expected, but San Antonio's superior depth and seasoning will prove to be the difference. Westbrook can't be counted on to get the better of Parker more often than not, and Durant can't beat the Spurs on his own.
Prediction: Spurs in six.
So if these matchups play out as predicted, it will be an NBA Finals rematch between the Spurs and Heat. That is what many will want to see, as it may finally be the last run for Duncan and Ginobili at least. Meanwhile, Miami's future could depend a heavy amount on how the Heat fare in that series—and whether James, Wade and Bosh will stick together.
The star power that would be on display, not to mention the combined championship prowess of both teams and coaches, would create such a compelling finale to the 2014 NBA playoffs. Any additional titles to the biggest stars' resumes (James and Wade for the Heat, Parker and Duncan for the Spurs) would bolster their status in the Association's hierarchy of all-time greats.
Here's to hoping a Heat-Spurs duel part deux happens, and not just for the sake of these projected results coming to fruition.