Heat in 6
Each of the last two years, the Heat needed to beat the Pacers on the way to winning the NBA Championship. In both seasons it was one of their toughest tests, as they needed six games in 2012 in the second and last year went the full seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers have used those losses as motivation all season to get home court in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers despite a late season slump accomplished their mission posting a record of 56-26. However, a big reason for the Pacers getting home court in the East, as the Heat treating the regular season like a warm up for the playoffs. The Heat still managed to win 54 games, but sometime in December put it in cruise control as the rigors of three straight trips to the NBA Finals has taken its toll. Of course since the playoffs began the Heat have stepped on the break and showed everyone they are still the team to beat, sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats and outslugging the Brooklyn Nets in five games. The Pacers meanwhile have continued to struggle as they barely got passed the 38 win Atlanta Hawks in seven games, and needed six games to make the Washington Wizards disappear. However, what should concern the Pacers most is their struggles at home as they have won just three of seven games at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in the first two rounds.
If the Pacers are to beat the Heat, they will need a big series from Roy Hibbert, and after playing terrible through the first round he began to find his game against the Wizards, the Pacers have also got strong performances from Paul George. Both will need to raise their game to an even higher level in the Conference Finals. Winning games at home is also a must as the Heat have not lost two straight playoff games in any of the last two seasons. Simply threading water at home will not be good enough as they will at least need to win three of four in Indiana as they will not be able to get more than one win in Miami. The Pacers can’t fall too far behind in the series and will need to win Game 5 if they split the first four games. The formula is there and the Pacers worked hard to get Game 7 at home, if they can send the series the distance again they will have a shot.
The Heat are read hot since the start of the postseason, as they have won eight of nine games so far and have had little trouble doing so. Each time the game has been on the line and close the Heat have won and they have been masters at getting those key second chance points. They may have a little harder time doing that if the Pacers can get a big performance from Roy Hibbert, but if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh continue their strong play it will not matter. LeBron James has been his usual MVP self, averaging 30 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in the playoffs. However, with both Wade and Bosh healthy and playing at a high level the Heat are getting contributions from everyone as so far the end of the season resting of players has paid off.
The Pacers and Heat split four games this season, with the home team winning all four games. If the Pacers can continue that trend they will win this series, but winning two straight against these championship tested Heat will be difficult at any point in the series, and the Pacers struggles at home in the playoffs is a huge concern. In the end the Big Three will be too much and the Pacers will not get that seventh at home, as the Heat end the series in six games advancing to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
Spurs in 7
There is no question that two best teams in the Western Conference are the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Each team has had their turn at the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in the last two years and has gone down in defeat. As expected the two teams with the top records in the NBA will meet in the Western Conference Finals for another shot at the Heat (or Pacers). Both team have survived a tough seven game test in the first round and beaten a young team with lots of energy in the second round. As the Spurs bested the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers, while the Thunder struck down the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams have big question marks heading in, as it is likely that Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka, while Tony Parker has a questionable hamstring for the Spurs. This series is about as even as possible and looks like it has seven games written all over it.
The Thunder, who beat the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in 2012, have the physiological head to head edge, winning all four regular season matchups. However, without their best defensive player in Serge Ibaka, the depth of the Spurs could pose a big problem. The Thunder are eight points a game better when Ibaka is on the floor, and they will miss certainly miss his shot blocking ability and rebounding, and in a series this tight it may be the deciding factor. Without Ibaka the Thunder will need somebody to fill the role in getting defensive boards and blocking shots, which likely will shift the pressure to Kendrick Perkins, who thus far has struggled in the postseason. The Thunder will also need Russell Westbrook to realize he is Robin, and set up their Batman Kevin Durant to take over the series. So far in the playoffs Durant the league’s MVP is averaging 31.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. If he can continue that pace and take over this series the Spurs will have their work cut out for them.
What more can you say about the Spurs, they should be golfing they should be too old, but every year they are one of the best teams in the NBA. Last year they lost in heartbreaking fashion and only came back more motivated to win this year. If Tony Parker is not at 100% the Spurs could have some problems, as he has been their leading scorer at 19.3 ppg. However, the Spurs are all about balance getting everybody minutes and keeping everyone fresh, as Coach Gregg Popovich has become a master at adjustments and mix and matching. No matter what happens the Spurs will not got down easily, and if the game is one the line late they have the experience and the ability to win in any situation.
The Spurs have been on a mission since losing to the Heat in the Finals last year, they know that Game 6 was their chance to win and they let it get away. The Spurs also know they can’t keep this up forever, as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all are closing in on retirement as they are well past the age of 30. The big edge is Game 7 at home, and they will use that to win this close hard fought series to go on to the NBA Finals where they hope to ride into the sunset with a championship.