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The NBA's Final Four: Two Match-Ups Worth the Season-Long Wait
By Mike Jasko

For over a month now the NBA's postseason has been rattling on. There has been many outstanding individual and team performances as expected by the greatest individuals and teams in the sport. There have been surprising performances by young teams such as the Wizards and the Trailblazers; who battled gallantly against proven champions. There has been the most unsettling, most untimely revelations about the privately held, now publicly known and admonished views held by the league's longest tenured owner. This was followed by the swift and commendable action by the the new commissioner, Adam Silver, of seeking all possibly remedies to sever any and all ties between the NBA and Donald Sterling. On Thursday night, his Clippers became the final team to be eliminated from the second round of the playoffs, ultimately unable to overcome the tremendous burden that circumstance had placed upon them. With that, we are left with two conference finals match-ups that seemed more likely at the beginning of the playoffs than at various times over previous month. 

In any case, both match-ups carry the potential to be among the all-time great series when they are complete. Both series will feature multiple-time champions (the Spurs and the Heat) facing off against challengers that have yet to achieve that ultimate goal (the Thunder and the Pacers). Both series consist of the two top seeded teams. It was around college basketball's Final Four that I wrote a piece which defended the NBA from those who critique the league in favor of the college game. These two conference finals series, as well the ensuing Finals, shall undoubtedly serve as the ultimate support to my contentions about the entertainment value of the NBA in 2014. Over the next month or so, I will be covering both of these series on a game-by-game basis, but here is a brief preview of both conference finals' series, and a brief explanation on why I am particularly excited for each of these match-ups.

Eastern Conference Finals: (1) Indiana Pacers v. (2) Miami Heat

This is a match-up that I have been salivating over, essentially since the conclusion of the 2013 finals, but one that has seemed more or less destined to occur since Christmas. Of course, this is a rematch of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Heat won in an epic seven game series. The key difference this season of course, is the reversal of home court advantage, which now lies in the hands of the Pacers. If this series were to go a decisive seventh game, it would be held in Indianapolis. It was a stated goal of the Pacers to obtain home-court advantage for this series, and the psychological boost of playing a game seven at home is not statistically insignificant. Of the 119 game sevens in NBA playoff history, only 24 (20.1%) of those games were won by the road the team. 

Through the first half of the regular season, the Pacers were looking like they were destined to be the favorite to win. But as the season wore on, Indy began to struggle and they nearly lost their home-court advantage in the final week of the regular season. They were then forced to dig their way out of a 3-2 hole against eighth-seeded Atlanta. Despite these tribulations, the Pacers now find themselves exactly where they wanted to be; a re-match with the Heat in the Conference Finals, this time with potentially pivotal games 5 and 7 to be played on their home-court. 

The Heat meanwhile are in a quite different position. They have won the previous two NBA titles, winning their second title last season in one of the most remarkable NBA Finals in recent memory. The Heat played through this season as defending champions often do; coasting at times, understanding the importance of peaking at the right time in the marathon that is the NBA season. They finished the regular season just behind the Pacers in the eastern conference; made quick work of the Bobcats in the first round, then experienced little more than expected trouble against an experienced Brooklyn team. Miami is looking to play in their fourth consecutive finals, which is a feat that has not been accomplished since the Celtics from 1984-87. At this point, I'd have to lean on the experience of the Heat, but this match-up looks like a virtual toss-up and could certainly be decided in that game seven in Indianapolis.

Western Conference Finals: (1) San Antonio Spurs v. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Spurs are looking to return the finals after the painful (and first for Popovich's Spurs) experience of losing in the 2013 edition of the finals to the aforementioned Heat. Many analysts wrote the Spurs off after last years' gut-wrenching losses in games six and seven, considering their championship window shut with an aging core of veterans, and improving competition in the Western Conference. But the coaching maestro that is Gregg Popovich had his team plugging right along all season. He rested his veterans well, playing none of his starters more than thirty minutes per-game, a first for one-seed. The Spurs then also benefited from a favorable draw in the playoffs, with the potentially troublesome Clippers and Warriors located on the other half of the bracket.Kevin Durant

The Thunder have been led all year by the unanimous MVP Kevin Durant. (You know you're a unanimous MVP when the second place guy is LeBron James, and even he acknowledges you deserve the trophy). His individual performance was incredible, and he was forced to fill a void left by Russell Westbrook when he was injured at times this season. Most notably, Durant easily broke Michael Jordan's record of games in which he scored 25 or more points. His scoring has continued into the playoffs, propelling the Thunder to victory once again Thursday night to eliminate the Clippers. He appears determined to get back to the finals and get an opportunity to prove that he can compete with Lebron when it comes to being the superior star of this league.

This match-up will be an intriguing clash between one team, the Thunder, which have the most potent one-two punch in the NBA at the moment in Durant and Westbrook, and another team in the Spurs, which has the game's greatest active coach and strategist, and play the best “team-ball” of any team in the league. It will be incredibly interesting to watch to see which style wins out in this match-up. Due to the way that Durant has played, I'll say I'm leaning toward the Thunder, I'll say in six games. However, as with the Eastern Conference Finals, this match-up is a virtual toss-up and the only thing that appears to be certain, will be the quality of the competition. 

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