The highly anticipated showdown between 2015 NBA MVP Stephen Curry and runner-up James Harden kicked off the conference finals Tuesday night. The matchup didn't disappoint, as the duo combined to score 62 points while Curry's Golden State Warriors held off Harden's Houston Rockets in a nail-biting 110-106 victory.
That contest is quite a precursor for Wednesday's conference finals showdown between a very well-rounded Atlanta Hawks squad and LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. These Eastern Conference teams are built in an entirely different manner, and that will result in some very compelling playoff basketball.
With the Association's four best teams vying for two spots in the NBA Finals, we can expect plenty of edge-of-your-seat action and jaw-dropping moments in the days to come. That said, you'll want to be sure to catch every moment of the impending hardwood thrillers.
Before the playoffs continue Wednesday night, let's take a look at the complete schedule for the conference finals, followed by the predicted outcome for each series.
Conference Finals Schedule
|2015 NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Schedule|
|Game||Date||Western Conference||Time (ET)||TV|
|2||Thu., May 21||Rockets at Warriors||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|3||Sat., May 23||Warriors at Rockets||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|4||Mon., May 25||Warriors at Rockets||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|5*||Wed., May 27||Rockets at Warriors||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|6*||Fri., May 29||Warriors at Rockets||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|7*||Sun., May 31||Rockets at Warriors||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Game||Date||Eastern Conference||Time (ET)||TV|
|1||Wed., May 20||Cavaliers at Hawks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|2||Fri., May 22||Cavaliers at Hawks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|3||Sun., May 24||Hawks at Cavaliers||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4||Tue., May 26||Hawks at Cavaliers||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|5*||Thu., May 28||Cavaliers at Hawks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|6*||Sat., May 30||Hawks at Cavaliers||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|7*||Mon., June 1||Cavaliers at Hawks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|*denotes "if necessary" games|
NBA playoff schedule courtesy of NBA.com.
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
When these two teams face off, there's no shortage of offensive fireworks—especially from distance.
Curry was a well-deserving MVP for the 2015 season, and he's continued to shine throughout the playoffs, leading his team past both the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies with relative ease. Curry remains the highest-scoring player remaining in the postseason, averaging 28.7 points per game, and he's complemented nicely by some solid wing play and a strong backcourt complement in Klay Thompson.
Still, despite Golden State's offensive prowess, the team's defense has as much to do with its postseason success. The Warriors rank third on that side of the court in the playoffs, allowing an average of just 95.3 points per game and holding opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the floor. That's not too shabby considering the high level of scoring talent in this year's playoffs.
Houston is in a similar situation on the offensive side of the court. Harden has been brilliant this season, and he's continued his strong play through the postseason, averaging 26.8 points per game. An unselfish player, he's also averaging 8.1 rebounds per contest. With Dwight Howard controlling the paint and Trevor Ariza on the wing, the Rockets have a very well-rounded offense.
Defensively, however, Houston hasn't been nearly as efficient as Golden State. Howard is a rebound machine and Josh Smith is a force on that end of the court, but the Rockets are still giving up an average of 111.4 points per game and allowing opposing teams to shoot an average of 51.0 percent from the floor. That's not a good omen when dealing with the reigning MVP.
Prediction: Warriors in six
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Cavaliers have been adjusting nicely to life without Kevin Love. In fact, the forward's absence has forced Cleveland to become a more well-rounded squad. The result has been impressive, as the Cavaliers have been defending well, facilitating nicely and aggressive in the paint. It's been a winning formula.
James is still the team's catalyst, but he hasn't been afraid to take a step back in recent games. The Cavaliers' Game 6 victory over the Chicago Bulls was a perfect example. He wasn't exactly on point from the floor, connecting on just seven of 23 attempts, so he moved to a supporting role, racking up 11 assists and allowing more hot-handed players to take over the scoring.
That paved the way to excellent performances from J.R. Smith, Mathew Dellavedova and James Jones off the bench. Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson controlled the boards, collecting a whopping 17 rebounds while the Cavaliers held the Bulls to shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. Now, that Cleveland defense enters the conference finals allowing an average of just 92.6 points per game.
The Hawks cruised past both the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards to get to the conference finals thanks to plenty of well-rounded and unselfish play from their starting five. Atlanta has been solid on both ends of the court, as it has playmakers at every position.
Offensively, the Hawks are dangerous due to their versatility—practically every starter has a nice stroke from downtown. That was apparent in the team's recent Game 6 victory over the Washington Wizards, as the team downed a total of eight three-pointers despite a 0-of-7 day from three-point specialist Kyle Korver. That led to three players—DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague—scoring at least 20 points.
Atlanta is just as sound on defense. A mix of strong interior play and perimeter defending has led to the team giving up an average of 95.7 points per game while allowing opponents to connect on an average of 47.5 percent from the floor. Still, James has had his way with Atlanta's defense this season, averaging 29 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. That will be the difference in this close series.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven