NBA Western Conference Finals 2014: Schedule, Predictions for Thrilling Series

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 27: Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react after a play in the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 27, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For a series that has featured exactly zero games decided by less than nine points and one that actually finished as a 35-point San Antonio Spurs victory, the Western Conference Finals has been something of a roller-coaster ride for NBA fans.

The back-and-forth nature of the first four games between the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder has left us with a 2-2 tie and a game of hot potato with the overall momentum. 

Here is a look at the remaining schedule for the thrilling series:

Western Conference Finals Schedule
DateMatchupTime (ET)TV
Thursday, May 29Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs, Game 59 p.m.TNT
Saturday, May 31San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder, Game 68:30 p.m.TNT
Monday, June 2Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs, Game 7 *9 p.m.TNT (*if necessary)

The Spurs won the first two at home, and the Thunder responded by holding serve and answering with two home victories of their own. Russell Westbrook absolutely dominated Game 4 on Tuesday with 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals, and NBA on ESPN captured the highlights:

However, more than just the location and Westbrook's efficiency numbers have changed during the third and fourth games as compared to the first two.

Serge Ibaka, who was originally ruled out of the playoffs due to injury, returned for the two contests in Oklahoma City and posted combined totals of 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks on 10-of-15 shooting from the field. His presence alone has helped the Thunder tremendously on the defensive end, as he has altered even more shots than he blocked.

With Ibaka in tow, Oklahoma City suddenly looks like the team that won all four against the Spurs in the regular season. 

If recent history is any indication, the Thunder will ultimately prevail, via SportsCenter:

Still, it is worth keeping in mind that even though the Thunder look completely dominant right now, the Spurs actually don't need to win a single game in Oklahoma City to capture this series. As long as they take care of business in Games 5 and 7 in San Antonio, they will return to the NBA Finals for a likely rematch with LeBron James and company. 

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 27: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on with Tony Parker #9, Tim Duncan #21 and Danny Green #4 late in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals o
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In order to do that, though, San Antonio needs to find a way to deal with Oklahoma City's athleticism and speed, which has allowed the Thunder to convert on plenty of easy transition opportunities because of their stifling defense. ESPN Stats & Info and Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN pointed out just how bad the first half of Game 4 was in this department for the Spurs:

However, there is reason for concern along the athleticism front for the Thunder, as Kevin Ding of Turner Sports noted:

Health may start to be a concern for Oklahoma City between Ibaka and Reggie Jackson as the series progresses and continues to take a physical toll.

For the Spurs' part, they are already looking ahead, as Tony Parker noted in the aftermath of Game 4, according to the Yahoo Sports: "We're just going to have to play better, bottom line. We didn't play well here. Now all we can control is Game 5."

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK  MAY 27: The Oklahoma City Thunder prepare for a game against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 27, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NO
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

This veteran-laden group understands what it has to do. Between Parker, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs, they will figure out a way to attack the Thunder defense that has locked down the paint with Ibaka.

Expect the Spurs to look for some open threes early in Game 5 just to get some initial momentum. Parker can create with penetration and suck Ibaka and wing defenders in, which will open up shooters on the outside. If nothing else, the familiar shooting backdrop of San Antonio will help Thursday.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 27: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs looks to pass the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 27, 2014 in Oklahoma City,
Richard Rowe/Getty Images

We are talking about two of the best home teams in the entire league. San Antonio finished 32-9 in front of its fans in the regular season while the Thunder countered at 34-7. Each squad has proven itself at home time and again, and the pattern will continue as the Spurs make the necessary adjustments in Game 5 and the Thunder respond with an emotional performance in Game 6.

That will force a decisive Game 7, which seems like the appropriate way for this series to end.

The veteran leadership, home-court advantage and health concerns from the Thunder front will be just enough to carry the Spurs to the Western Conference crown. They know how to move on from one game to the next better than almost anyone in sports, thanks to Popovich, and the eggs they laid in Oklahoma City will ultimately not matter. 

The Spurs will in all likelihood need to win on the road in the NBA Finals at some point, though, to capture the crown.


Follow me on Twitter: