By Andrew Gilstrap
While the Western Conference boasts two dominant teams that quickly ousted two formidable Los Angeles teams in the Playoff Semifinals, the Eastern Conference has two series that just won’t seem to end. None of the four remaining Eastern teams look like they’ll be stiff competition in the NBA Finals for either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. And this was the year that the East was supposed to look just as strong as the West for once.
Eschewing a trend of the last few years, all eight Eastern playoff teams were well above .500 in the regular season. Finally. The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were as strong as any team in the league during the regular season. But, injuries to Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh during this year’s playoffs have weakened not only their respective teams, but the entire Eastern Conference as well. The Philadelphia 76ers dispatched the depleted Bulls in the first round and became just the fourth 8th-seeded team to beat a number 1 seed. The Heat currently is having a tough time with the Indiana Pacers in the Semifinals. Yes, the Pacers are much better this year, but they are not on the Heat’s level when Bosh is healthy.
Meanwhile in the West, the Thunder has officially arrived, and the Spurs continue to surprise everybody by how dominant they are even with their aging superstars. The Spurs have swept both of their first two series against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. You can chalk the success up to Gregg Popovich’s coaching and a deep rotation where young players like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have plugged holes that the team had in the past couple years.
The Spurs and Thunder begin their Goliath-esque series this Sunday. The Spurs won all three of the two teams’ regular season meetings. Both teams come in with a lot of momentum. I’m not going to make a prediction for how many games this will go, but I do think the series will be downright ‘epic’ (to borrow an adjective from 2009), and it won’t be a sweep.
Just a few days ago, it seemed like we could have a Pacers-76ers matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami now leads Indiana 3 games to 2, and I think the Heat will win the series even without Bosh. A Miami-Boston series could be decent, but I don’t think either team will stand a chance if they play the Spurs in the Finals. (And Boston may not even make it to the Eastern Finals.) Miami could have a shot against Oklahoma City, but, as much as I enjoy watching the Thunder, my prediction is we’ll have a Spurs-Heat Finals, and the outcome will be similar to the last time LeBron James faced San Antonio in the championship series.