Welcome back to the HoopsHabit Roundtable! In the last round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, our writers gave their predictions for the conference semifinals.Now that the conference finals matchups are officially set, we’re back to do it again. Before we get started, let’s take a look at how everyone fared with their predictions through the first two rounds. As you can tell, we’re all still super unique, even after two rounds of predictions:
Michael Dunlap, Hoops Habit Editor-in-Chief: 9-3
Phil Watson, Hoops Habit Assistant Editor: 9-3
Shane Young, Hoops Habit Staff Writer: 9-3
Nathan Giese, Hoops Habit Staff Writer: 9-3
The second round of the playoffs didn’t quite live up to the thrill of one of the best first rounds in NBA history, with the Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers being ousted in a quick five games, not to mention the number of just unbearable games we had to endure between the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. Then again, there’s nothing quite like playoff basketball and an epic six-game series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers more than made up for it.
So here we are. After weeks of drama on and off the court, we’ve arrived at the conference finals matchups that most were predicting from the very beginning of the season: The Miami Heat in an Eastern Conference Finals rematch with the Indiana Pacers and the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder against the ever-consistent San Antonio Spurs. Can the Pacers shake off the turmoil of the last few weeks and capitalize on having home court advantage, or will LeBron James and company continue to roll through the postseason? Are the Spurs heading a repeat appearance in the NBA Finals or can the Thunder find a way to prevail without Serge Ibaka? Here’s what our writers have to say with their conference finals predictions.
(1) Indiana Pacers vs. (2) Miami Heat:
Regular season head-to-head record: 2-2 all
Dunlap: No matter how badly the Pacers looked over the last few months of the season, they still found a way to get up for the Heat. I don’t see any difference with this series. David West and Roy Hibbert create a real challenge for the Miami defense and when they’re able to take advantage of that size, they’ll be able to steal some games. With that said, LeBron James can’t be stopped and if the Heat are making their three-pointers, the Pacers can’t win. I’m going with Ray Allen and company to make those shots, rendering the Pacers’ inside advantage null and void. Prediction: Heat in 6
Watson: Miami is rolling, going 8-1 so far in the postseason. Indiana has home-court advantage, where they are 3-4 in the playoffs after going 35-6 during the regular year and they are just 8-5 in the playoffs. The Heat aren’t the 38-44 Hawks or the young Wizards. Prediction: Heat in 5
Bourguet: After all the turmoil of the past few months, both on the court and in the locker room, the Pacers are exactly where everyone predicted them to be: the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, after killing themselves all season long trying to get home-court advantage, they haven’t done much with it, losing four home games in the postseason after only dropping six games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the entire regular season. That won’t get it done against Miami. If the Pacers can’t protect their home floor, if Paul George can’t carry this team offensively, if the Monstars steal Roy Hibbert‘s talent again or if LeBron James goes into full-on cyborg mode as he often does, Indiana is heading home. Even though Indiana is tailor-made specifically for beating the Heat and always gets up for a chance to play Miami, I just can’t trust the Pacers. Get ready for Angry Bird. Prediction: Heat in 6
Young: Sports also applies to the general rule: the third time’s a charm. Meeting in the playoffs for the third straight year, the Pacers have done their homework on Miami more than any other team, and eventually, it has to be time. Home-court advantage matters, for more than one reason. Where does Lance Stephenson, Indiana’s energy provider, always spark? At home. He’s the X-factor, and this time, I don’t even think Roy Hibbert has to score 22 points per game like he did in the 2013 East Finals. Paul George has matured, and David West is pissed. A collective team effort on defense, and an offense that will try it’s hardest not to be stale, will finally dethrone LeBron James. Prediction: Pacers in 7
Giese: Well…after all the back and forth about whether or not the Pacers will even make it to the highly anticipated Eastern Conference Finals rematch from last year, here we sit, exactly where we thought we’d be at the beginning of the season. Let’s all take a moment to reflect upon what has happened for us to get to this point. Okay, now with Indiana, they have shown they can finally step up and put some quality basketball together, but they’re still very inconsistent. We don’t know what we’re going to get from Roy Hibbert every night. Lance Stephenson has already started putting bulletin board material out to the press regarding Dwyane Wade. These two teams don’t really like each other (although I think that’s more Indiana trying to play with some edge and Miami’s all like, “Okay. We’ve been the target four four years now. This is nothing new to us.”) This could be the last stand for Miami’s Heatles and I don’t see them being denied. Not with the way they’ve been playing this postseason and not with how much we don’t know about this Pacers squad anymore. Plus, I mean, how can you get completely and utterly dominated at home in a closeout game of a playoff series and expect us to take you seriously? Prediction: Heat in 6
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder:
Regular season head-to-head record: 4-0 OKC
Dunlap: The loss of Serge Ibaka completely changed my opinion on this series. Ultimately, playoff series come down to which team can come up with key stops. Both of these teams can score in bunches, but without Ibaka, I see Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili slashing to the bucket at will. The Thunder will have to run up the score in order to win and won’t be able to lean on Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Nick Collison to defend the rim. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will get their offense in, but they’re going to be on the wrong side of things at the end. Prediction: Spurs in 6
Watson: The Thunder swept the Spurs 4-0 during the regular season. Meaningfulness of that statistic? See Brooklyn vs. Miami, Eastern Conference Semifinals. The loss of Serge Ibaka leaves the Thunder without a rim protector, something their defense is absolutely predicated on. Prediction: Spurs in 6
Bourguet: The Thunder swept the Spurs in the regular season and have beaten San Antonio in 10 of their last 12 matchups. OKC has the MVP in Kevin Durant, who is on pace to become the sixth player in NBA history to average 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game in a single playoffs, joining the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon and Oscar Robertson (per ESPN Stats & Info). Russell Westbrook is nearly averaging a triple-double this postseason with 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game. Yet almost all of this is rendered meaningless with Serge Ibaka missing the rest of the playoff with a calf injury. As much as it seemed like this could be the year Durant stopped finishing second, this Spurs team is much deeper, better coached and they’re peaking at the right time. KD and Westbrook will dazzle us, but it won’t be enough to prevent a 2013 NBA Finals rematch. Prediction: Spurs in 5
Young: I thought we were going to get the best conference finals in the last five or six years. It was heading that way, trust me. Who else wanted a different matchup than this, given that San Antonio is clearly the best team in the West, and best coached? The Spurs have questions to answer, but the main one is whether or not they can stop a two-man gun show. They have the athlete to guard Kevin Durant (Kawhi Leonard), but I’m nervous for Tony Parker being able to contain Russell Westbrook’s penetration when the Frenchman is hit with screens. Wait. You say Serge Ibaka is out for the Playoffs? End this discussion, and let’s prepare Tim Duncan‘s trophy case for a new addition. Prediction: Spurs in 7
Giese: For the second year in a row, San Antonio has avoided facing Oklahoma City in the conference finals while the Thunder are at full health. It’s truly disappointing because while the Spurs are the veterans with great experience, the Thunder have enough talent and energy to take down the giant monster know as Gregg Popovich. I guess OKC will just have to throw in Steven Adams and let him take over the NBA on their way to the Finals. While that’d be really fun to watch, I don’t see it happening. Durant and Westbrook could overcome the Spurs by themselves but they’d need somebody else to step up to help out and I just don’t see who does that. San Antonio is very good (spoiler alert) and their bench is as deep as it has ever been. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve underestimated a team, but San Antonio has that “one last chance” feel to it this year. Prediction: Spurs in 6
What are your thoughts? Did our Hoops Habit experts get it right or are you more clairvoyant? Let us know in the comments or sound off with us on Twitter!