Saturday, May 18, 2013
Capsule preview of the NBA's conference finals
A capsule look at the NBA's conference finals:
No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (66-16, 8-1) vs. No. 3 INDIANA PACERS (49-32, 8-4)
Season series: Indiana, 2-1. The home team won all three games, and every game was decided by double figures. The Pacers shot only 36 percent and still beat the Heat 87-77 on Jan. 8, then topped them again 102-89 on Feb. 1 -- the game that immediately preceded the start of Miami's 27-game winning streak. The Heat ran out to a 23-point lead before coasting to a 105-91 win in Miami on March 10.
Story line: Rematch, and it's one that Indiana wanted. The Pacers were up 2-1 when the teams met in a second-round series last season, led by 10 -- at home -- with 8:29 left in the third quarter, and got outscored by 62 points over the remainder of the series as the Heat advanced in six games. The matchup a year ago was physical, with 11 technicals or flagrant fouls in the last five games. And pleasantries will be few and far between this time.
Key Matchup I: LeBron James vs. Paul George. The league's best against Indiana's best, and this one might be fun to watch. James is now a four-time MVP and his teams have won 26 of their last 34 games against the Pacers -- maybe none of them better than the 40-point, 18-rebound, nine-assist effort in Game 4 that swung last season's Miami-Indiana series around. George is now the clear leader of Indiana's offense, and the Pacers will need him to set the scoring tone again, though he has not shot the ball well at all in his relatively brief postseason history.
Key Matchup II: Dwyane Wade vs. Lance Stephenson. Wade was Miami's top scorer in the three games against Indiana this season, but his right knee will be an issue throughout the series since those bone bruises that have lingered for two months almost certainly aren't going anywhere soon. Stephenson and Miami didn't exactly get along in last year's series, and he figures to come into this matchup with plenty of confidence.
X-Factor: Chris Bosh. He got hurt midway through Game 1 of last year's series, and the Heat got five points in the five games that followed from starting centers Ronny Turiaf and Dexter Pittman, neither of whom are still with Miami. A healthy Bosh could change plenty for Miami in this series, which starts Wednesday night.
Prediction: Heat in 6.
No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24, 8-2) vs. No. 5 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (56-26, 8-3)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. Each team won twice on its home floor in a series in which three games came before the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay at the end of January. The Spurs rang up 103 points against the rugged Memphis defense in a 21-point victory on Jan. 16, but the other three meetings were decided by a combined nine points. The Grizzlies won the most recent one, a 92-90 victory on April 1 on Mike Conley's layup with 0.6 seconds left. Neither Tim Duncan nor Manu Ginobili played in that game.
Story line: Playing in their first conference finals, the Grizzlies face a Spurs team that blew a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma City in this round last year and is still seeking its first NBA Finals berth since 2007. The Grizzlies had never even won a series before stunning the top-seeded Spurs in 2011 in the first round.
Key Matchup I: Tony Parker vs. Conley. Conley finished with 23 points in that April 1 win, one of the many strong performances during the best season of his career for the player Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls "the real key to their basketball team." Even the Grizzlies' defense couldn't slow down Parker, who had a pair of 30-point games, 25 in another, and finished with 17 points and 11 assists in the lone blowout.
Key Matchup II: Duncan vs. Marc Gasol. Gasol, the Defensive Player of the Year, and Duncan were both voted to the All-Defensive second team by coaches. Gasol played well in the two Memphis wins but managed just 11 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the Spurs' victories. He's averaging 18.3 points in the playoffs, a number that will hard to maintain if Duncan is defending him.
X-Factor: Danny Green. The Spurs guard was 1 of 6 in the most recent meeting and missed all seven shots when the teams played the first time this season. San Antonio will need him to make some perimeter shots to loosen the Memphis defense, a tough challenge if the Grizzlies use defensive ace Tony Allen on him.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6.