Previews and predictions for the NBA’s Conference Finals—Heat vs. Pacers, Thunder vs. Spurs


We started with 30 and are now at that point in the season where we have arrived at the NBA’s “Final Four”, basically.

Officially, for this season, these were the four best teams in the NBA all season long. Both Conference Finals ended up with matchups with the number one and number two seeds, despite one team in the East (Indiana) appearing at various points of the past couple of months as if they were not going to arrive at their second consecutive Conference Finals.

In the end, all’s well that end’s well—at least right now it has.

Eastern Conference Finals—Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

May 28, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) in game four of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

May 27, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) takes a shot over San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the first half in game one of the Western Coneference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Not much at this point has to be said about the Miami Heat. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and company have advanced to their fourth conference finals and are two-time defending NBA Champions. Their first two opponents in the playoffs have not given Miami much of a challenge.

The Charlotte Bobcats (soon to be Hornets again) were swept, and the Brooklyn Nets, despite acquiring the veteran leadership of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason, turned out to not be much of a match for the Heat as they beat them in five games.

Meanwhile, things have been less than certain on the Indiana Pacers’ side. Most pundits sensibly picked Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and the Pacers to be the biggest threat in the East to Miami’s chances to three-peat. Unfortunately, for Indiana fans, this number one seed has not played like a number one seed that intimidates opponents.

Indiana had to survive barely against the eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round, then were taken to six by a Washington Wizards team that is young and does not possess the playoff experience of the Pacers.

This series is all about how Indiana performs. We know that Miami is going to be ready and should be favored to win this series. In the last 14 games, LeBron has averaged nearly 30 points.

How does Indiana respond?

There are essentially two Indiana Pacers teams. There’s the team we see when Paul George and Roy Hibbert are performing up to expectations, and then there’s the team we see when George and Hibbert are virtually non-existent.

This, in particular applies to Hibbert. In wins, he’s averaged over 20 points a game and almost five rebounds. In losses, he’s only averaged five and one and has played as if he belongs back at Georgetown. If that’s not Jekyll-and-Hyde, I don’t know what is.

Interestingly, Frank Vogel and the Pacers set a goal for themselves this year to earn the top seed in the East so they could get back to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, but with the home court advantage so games one and seven would be at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They got it, but this proves that in the end, it is all about how a team performs on the court regardless of the venue. Home teams in the last 14 games between Miami and Indiana are 12-2.

Erik Spoelstra’s Heat have beaten the Pacers in their past two playoff series when there was more certainty about Indiana playing consistent and where Hibbert’s head was at. With this Pacers team that seemingly operates with on-and-off switch, the Heat should beat them again.

Prediction—Heat in six.

Western Conference Finals—Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

May 27, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) takes a shot over San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the first half in game one of the Western Coneference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

To say that these two teams have developed a rivalry is an understatement. OKC reached the NBA Finals in 2012—only to be defeated by the Miami Heat in five games.

The Spurs reached the Finals last year—only to be defeated by the Heat in seven, thanks in large part to that late fourth-quarter three-pointer from Ray Allen that still gives fans in Central Texas nightmares.

The last time they met, the Thunder won, in large part due to the fact that their entire team was healthy and had a “Big Three” of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Harden, of course is now a Houston Rocket.

OKC should be favored by many given the fact that they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Spurs and has won 10 of the last 12 matchups against San Antonio. This year’s MVP, Durant, has averaged 26 points a game against Gregg Popovich’s team.

Now, similar to last year’s team, this year’s Thunder is no longer fully healthy. Last year, they lost Westbrook for the playoffs and it showed as Durant had to try to carry the team last year against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals.

This time, Oklahoma City is losing a key interior presence. Known shot blocker Serge Ibaka has been sidelined for the remainder of the postseason with a calf injury. Thunder general manager Sam Presti has said that such an ailment requires time to heal because of a higher rate of re-injury as opposed to problems with other body parts.

Oklahoma City has had a tougher time than have the Spurs these playoffs. The Thunder have been made to look vulnerable in both of its series up to this point. The seven-seeded Memphis Grizzlies pushed OKC to seven games in the opening round.

In the Western Conference Playoffs against an emotional Los Angeles Clippers team engulfed in the maelstrom that is the Donald Sterling controversy, they were in danger of losing that series, and may have if the Clippers held on to win Game 5 with a seven point lead with less than a minute to go.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were also pushed to seven by the eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks (thanks in large part to Vince Carter’s “Vinsane” (dare I say) buzzer-beating three pointer to win Game 3 for Dallas. In the conference semis, they defeated Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

Tim Duncan has averaged 15 points against the Thunder this season. San Antonio would be smart in exploiting that injury and going inside to the paint to Duncan a lot this series. In addition, injury questions about Tony Parker appear to be not much of an issue as it looks as if he’ll be available for Game 1.

Because of the Ibaka injury, many are changing their picks to San Antonio and are already calling a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals. But, this team knows how to beat the Spurs, perhaps moreso than any other team in the Western Conference. This team has the league’s MVP in Durant, Westbrook as their second leading scorer, and a Reggie Jackson who is becoming…I should say…a huge straw that stirs OKC’s drink.

We will have a rematch of the NBA Finals—the 2012 NBA Finals.

Prediction—Thunder in seven.