Top NBA seeds advance after wild early rounds
Oklahoma City • After a wild start to the NBA playoffs dramatic Game 7s, overtime games the league's postseason has returned to normal.
The top seeds in the East and West have advanced to the conference finals.
The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have been the most dominant team in the postseason, losing just once. Meanwhile, top-seeded and wildly unpredictable Indiana has staggered into the East finals rematch with the Heat, although the Pacers did win five road games to advance.
It took San Antonio seven games to eliminate Dallas in the first round, but then the top-seeded Spurs rolled past Portland in five to advance to the West finals. Oklahoma City rallied from a 3-2 deficit against Memphis, then fought through a dramatic six-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The East finals begin Sunday with Indiana hosting Miami; the West tips off Monday night when OKC travels to San Antonio.
The Pacers have made no secret they were looking forward to rematch with Miami after pushing the Heat to seven games before losing on the road in last year's East final. Oklahoma City beat San Antonio 4-2 in the 2012 West final, and many felt they might have beaten the aging Spurs last year if the teams had met, but Russell Westbrook was injured and the Thunder were eliminated. The Thunder know it will be challenge, but are confident after sweeping San Antonio this year in their four-game regular-season series.
"There aren't really any surprises," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's the conference finals, and players step up and play well. That's basically what it's all about. Everyone is going to have energy, passion and those sorts of things, but execution for more of those 48 minutes is what it's all about. To make sure that you don't have too many dry possessions offensively, to make sure defensively that everybody is on track and communicating.
"It's the same for both teams, but who will do it more for the 48 minutes. We'll see."
The Heat, led by four-time MVP LeBron James, are looking for their third straight title.
James is averaging 30 points and 7.1 rebounds in the playoffs while shooting 56 percent from the field. He told Pacers coach Frank Vogel during All-Star weekend that he expected to see him in May, and both teams held up their ends of the deal.
"It's the two best teams in the Eastern Conference," James said. "It's that simple. Both teams defend at a high level, both teams share the ball. Both teams get into the paint, and both teams have a desire to win."
After talking all season about having home court in a potential Game 7, they have earned it. But the Pacers haven't played well at home in the playoffs, giving up homecourt advantage in the first round against Atlanta and in the second against Washington. James said none of that matters.
"I don't believe the Pacers who struggled at home will be the team we play on Sunday," James said.
The Pacers believe the challenges they have overcome self-inflicted or otherwise have made them a dangerous team.
"We worked so hard to get here," Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said. "The Hawks, the Wizards, they put us through a lot. And we had [the media] talking bad about us, and I think it made us stronger."
The Spurs and the Thunder are both a little banged up.
San Antonio point guard Tony Parker strained his left hamstring in Game 5 against Portland. The Spurs aren't sure what shape the All-Star will be in for the opener
"I'm hopeful that he'll be ready to go," Popovich said Friday. "He's going to stay off it again today and tomorrow. They're going to put him on the treadmill a little bit and a bike and shoot a little bit and see where he's at. So, we'll know more tomorrow."
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka hurt his left calf in the third quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers, and the Thunder announced that he is out for the postseason.
Still, this shapes up to be an entertaining series: The savvy and wily Spurs trio of Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili vs. the youthful, talented tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Eastern Conference finals
MIAMI vs. INDIANA
Sunday • at Indiana, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4
Tuesday • at Indiana, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Saturday, May 24 • at Miami, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Monday, May 26 • at Miami, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
x-Wednesday, May 28 • at Indiana, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
x-Friday, May 30 • at Miami, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
x-Sunday, June 1 • at Indiana, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Western Conference finals
San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City
Monday • at San Antonio, 7 p.m., TNT
Wednesday • at San Antonio, 7 p.m., TNT
Sunday, May 25 • at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m., TNT
Tuesday, May 27 • at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m., TNT
x-Thursday, May 29 • at San Antonio, 7 p.m., TNT
x-Saturday, May 31 • at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m., TNT
x-Monday, June 2 • at San Antonio, 7 p.m., TNT