The 2014 NBA playoffs feature the highest four seeds in the conference finals. While that should have been expected from the top-heavy, weak Eastern Conference, even the best of the West in the regular season wound up right where they should have been based on the standings.
Although the Indiana Pacers played awful basketball for the last part of the 2013-14 campaign and struggled at the dawn of the postseason, they have been locked in enough to tie the two-time reigning champion Miami Heat at one game apiece. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are the past two opponents who have lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals, so both are on a path for vengeance.
Heading back to Oklahoma City, though, the No. 1-seeded Spurs have a massive 2-0 edge.
Here is a look at the remainder of the TV schedule for the conference finals, along with predictions as to how each series will play out, as four franchises pour in maximum effort in pursuit of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
|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 87, Indiana Pacers 83||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||San Antonio Spurs 122, Oklahoma City Thunder 105||Monday, May 19||9 p.m.||TNT|
|2||San Antonio Spurs 112, Oklahoma City Thunder 77||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
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
After the Heat got torched in the opening game, coach Erik Spoelstra ensured that his team would bring more of a cohesive effort on defense in Game 2. The result was an 87-83 road victory, sending the series back to South Beach with a game in hand and home-court advantage.
Big-time players step up when they're needed. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved that in tying the series with their brilliance down the stretch. In addition to pitching in on defense, the dynamic duo had a hand in all the offense in a must-win situation for Miami, per ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade ended up scoring or assisting on the Heat's final 33 points.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 21, 2014
Interior passing was what crushed the Heat in Game 1, but they played tighter perimeter defense and made the Pacers work harder off the ball. As a result, Indiana once again lacked conviction in its half-court sets. Emotional leader David West devastated Miami with 19 points on 11 shots in the first game and then went 5-of-16 for just 10 points in the second contest.
It doesn't appear the Pacers have a go-to guy such as Wade or James when they really need a bucket. If it's anyone, it would be Paul George. But now they may not be able to turn to him, since the sensational two-way All-Star has been diagnosed with a concussion, per NBA.com.
Pacers.com's Scott Agness recorded George's scary personal testimony after he collided with Wade's knee:
Paul George: “I blacked out as soon as it happened and then, … however much time was remaining, I was just blurry."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) May 21, 2014
If George is unable to go in Game 3 or is limited for these next two games—which is feasible, given his condition—it would take away Indiana's best defender on James. It would also nullify the size advantage the Pacers have managed to exploit in the past, though not on a consistent basis.
Not having George at 100 percent or close to it would be a shame moving forward. This untimely setback will likely be Indiana's undoing in the series. Between that and the Pacers' late-season funk that dragged into the playoffs, they can't be assured of more than one more win—and even that's being generous.
Prediction: Heat win in six games.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
He is an underrated offensive weapon as well, so that puts the onus even more on league MVP Kevin Durant and volatile point guard Russell Westbrook to shoulder the burden. Durant will get his points, but the Spurs have been able to turn him over a lot thanks to the on-ball defense of Kawhi Leonard, and Westbrook is just too up-and-down to routinely get the best of his elite counterpart in Tony Parker.
The Spurs have superior depth in all areas, save perhaps for the backup point guard matchup between OKC's Reggie Jackson and San Antonio's Patty Mills. Otherwise, there's little the Thunder can take solace in heading back to their home arena down 2-0.
ESPN Stats and Info's observation about the Spurs' prowess at the basket in Game 1 highlighted the glaring problem with Ibaka out of action:
Spurs were 26 for 30 from inside 5 feet in Game 1-- best any team shot from that close in a game this season (minimum 30 attempts)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2014
Game 2 got even worse, as the Thunder had a loss of epic proportions, per Fox Sports Live:
The #Thunder 35 point Game 2 loss is tied for their worst playoff loss in franchise history.— FOX Sports Live (@FOXSportsLive) May 22, 2014
Tim Duncan can operate with his back to the basket with ease, and Parker can penetrate the lane and find a litany of lethal outside shooters to pass to, dump it off for an easy hoop or finish it himself at the rim. In any conceivable scenario, San Antonio seems destined to dominate this series.
Who will win the NBA Finals?
Factor that in with the fact that the Thunder knocked the Spurs off in the conference finals two years ago, and there's even more motivation for San Antonio to prove its worth. It's all about getting back to the NBA Finals, where Duncan and Co. hope to have one last run at the Association's top prize.
As impressive as the Thunder have been to fight to this point, they're too short-handed in terms of personnel and championship experience to pull off an improbable upset.
Prediction: Spurs win in five games.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
A Spurs vs. Heat rematch of last year's NBA Finals, which went seven games, would make for an easy—and exciting—set of storylines. The narrative that San Antonio plays a boring brand of basketball would have to be quashed by this point. The Spurs play as well as any squad in terms of fundamentals, discipline and an understanding of what it takes to win.
If coach Gregg Popovich were able to cap off another masterful job this season with another title, it could be the end of an era in San Antonio. Then again, that's been the thought for a number of years, so even if the Heat were to pull off an epic three-peat, it wouldn't be a shock to see this Spurs core go deep in the next postseason one last time.