The NBA’s Conference Finals tip off on Sunday and given the rollercoaster ride these Playoffs have provided so far, it would be hardly a shocker if there was at least one more twist in the tale before we get to the Finals.
The champions, the Miami Heat, are still alive. The San Antonio Spurs have been here before. And with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder chasing a first-ever title, how do the final four stack up?
Indiana Pacers 3.55 – Miami Heat 1.28
Last year, at this same stage, it took seven games to separate the two big beasts of the East before the Heat advanced onward to claim their second successive title. In four regular season meetings, it was two wins apiece. And it could be another fight to the finish to decide who is left standing.
The problem with these two is that we don’t really know what we’re getting. Indiana has been up and down more times than a rollercoaster of late and even managed to make the Atlanta Hawks look good in the first round before stumbling past Washington in the second.
As for Miami, they ripped up a Charlotte side barely good enough for Euroleague before doing just enough to knock off Brooklyn’s prehistoric line-up. As tests go, it was barely harder than counting to two.
If we see the best of both, then we have ourselves a series. With obvious signs of decline, these are not your Heat of 2012. They look ripe for a dethronement. Yet it’s a reach that Indiana, who are 51.00 for a shock sweep, can pull off four perfect games with that strangulating defence that bored the league into submission up to All Star break.
Which is why it’s worth backing the champs to move on.
Prediction: Miami 4-2 Indiana at 3.25
San Antonio Spurs 1.50 – Oklahoma City Thunder 2.55
Prior to Friday, this was shaping up to be a humdinger of a scrap, the superhero Spurs – with all their old-fashioned, oh-so-perfect team play – squaring off against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Batman and Robin act for the Thunder.
Then Serge Ibaka was ruled out for the series, and probably the season, with a thigh injury and Oklahoma City’s hopes took a major knock. The Spain international’s impact can be measured in a differential of +7.8 when he is on court. And now that leaves Kendrick Perkins as their premier big. Uh-oh.
OKC – who swept the regular season series 4-0 - have got more production than they expected from their lanky New Zealander Steven Adams but the reality is Ibaka’s defensive presence and his scoring on the block is the unseen component of the Thunder’s success.
With the need for an alternative small line-up, it may push the total points tally between these two into the stratosphere with 200+ per game not unrealistic.
Yet it makes Tim Duncan’s life a little easier and for San Antonio, that’s a major – and probably decisive - boon.
Prediction: San Antonio 4-2 Oklahoma City at 5.75
Best bet: Double up on a Miami-San Antonio Finals at 1.92