The NBA playoffs will carry on through May and into June with the hotly-contested conference finals matchups, and several players' legacies are on the line this year.
Kevin Durant has been one of the best players in the league during his eight seasons but has yet to garner a championship ring. He captured a well-deserved MVP trophy this season, but the elusive Larry O'Brien Trophy remains at the top of his checklist.
LeBron James continues to notch all the requirements of a pantheon-level NBA player, and a Miami Heat three-peat would go a long way to cementing his status as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
For the Spurs, it's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili trying to prove that team chemistry and selfless play are more important to creating lasting success. A triumph for them this season would define a dynastic franchise that has remained at or near the top of the league since the turn of the century.
Here is the updated television information for the conference finals.
|2||Spurs||Thunder||May 21||9 p.m.||TNT|
|3||Thunder||Spurs||May 25||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4||Thunder||Spurs||May 27||9 p.m.||TNT|
|5*||Spurs||Thunder||May 29||9 p.m.||TNT|
|6*||Thunder||Spurs||May 31||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|7*||Spurs||Thunder||June 2||9 p.m.||TNT|
NBA.com *if necessary
|2||Pacers||Heat||May 20||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|3||Heat||Pacers||May 24||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4||Heat||Pacers||May 26||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|5*||Pacers||Heat||May 28||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|6*||Heat||Pacers||May 30||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|7*||Pacers||Heat||June 1||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
NBA.com, *if necessary
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Thunder just can't seem to catch a break. After outlasting the Los Angeles Clippers in six games, they run into the relentless San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference Finals, and they will be without one of their most athletic players for the duration of the series.
Serge Ibaka's calf injury will prove to be the death knell for the Thunder this season, just like Westbrook's knee injury in last year's playoffs confirmed their eventual demise.
The Thunder swept the Spurs in four contests during the regular season, and Ibaka was a big part of their dominance. He averaged 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and four blocks per game against the Spurs this year, according to ESPN.com.
It will be up to Nick Collison and Steven Adams to prevent the Spurs from extinguishing the Thunder's championship hopes. However, they lack the experience and ability to match up with Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter over the course of a seven-game series.
Of course, this means the Thunder must rely even more heavily on Durant, who's been turning in one of the best postseason performances of all time, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Kevin Durant is on pace to join Kareem as only players in NBA history with back-to-back postseasons of 30 PPG, 9 RPG, 4 APG— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 19, 2014
Despite the Thunder's insistence Ibaka won't return, the Spurs remained skeptical of his absence. Tony Parker won't believe it until he sees it, via ESPN.com's news services.
Which team will win the Western Conference Finals?
This is likely another example of the mental mastery of the game that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich instills in his players. They prepare for every and all scenarios, even an unlikely hardwood visit from Ibaka. It is a testament to their willpower and focus that they find themselves in winning positions year in and year out.
The Thunder will play as hard as they can in this series, but a lack of support for Durant and Westbrook will doom them against the well-oiled machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.
Prediction: Spurs in six
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
Has any team ever been quite as consistently baffling as these Pacers? They stumbled into the postseason with the No. 1 seed in the East, then took a total of 13 games to get rid of the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks and inexperienced Washington Wizards in the first and second rounds, respectively.
So what happens when they face the two-time defending champions? They proceed to casually dominate them, of course. All the Pacers' starters scored in double figures, and the mercurial Roy Hibbert was back to his old self for a night at least, pouring in 19 points and earning the team's highest plus-minus rating with plus-19.
The Pacers' home-court advantage is already paying off, and ESPN Stats & Info highlights why it was so important for this squad:
Heat are 1-7 on road vs Pacers over last 2 seasons including playoffs.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 19, 2014
Lance Stephenson was also particularly impressive, racking up 17 points and eight assists on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. Stephenson is a nightmare matchup for the Heat when he's on his game, as it leaves the undersized and aging Dwyane Wade to guard him out on the perimeter. And if the Heat are forced to use LeBron James on Stephenson, then Paul George has free rein to utilize his offensive talents.
If Hibbert is truly back to his dominant ways, the Heat could certainly use the return of Greg Oden in order to add power to the back end of their lineup. Oden has yet to appear in the postseason due to back spasms, but he's one of the few players in the league that can match up with Hibbert physically.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's decision to go with a smaller lineup was also in doubt in Game 1. Shane Battier got the starting nod over Udonis Haslem but was sparsely used after the Pacers opened up a 10-point lead by halftime. Spoelstra believes it is up to the team as a whole to impose their will on the Pacers, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Which team will win the Eastern Conference Finals?
"I believe Shane's overall number was still a positive," he said. "But our overall disposition has to be much tougher, much stronger. There's no question about it, regardless of who we have out on the court."
The Heat will have to get much tougher in a big hurry if they are to beat the Pacers. James and company won't get embarrassed in these playoffs and will take this contest to the wire, but the home-court advantage that the Pacers fought so hard for will see them through to the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Pacers in seven