Czar’s Finals Preview

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty

The 2014 NBA Finals kick off tonight in San Antonio and there will be something for everyone, from the NBA cognoscenti to the casual, Johnny-come-lately roundball fan.

This Finals rematch between the Spurs and the Heat is the first since 1998, when the Bulls topped the Jazz for their second threepeat.

This series features 17th-year Tim Duncan, possibly the greatest power forward of all time, against the current best player in the world LeBron James, possibly the greatest forward of all time.

A series win would give Duncan and coach Popovich five titles, equaling league royalty like Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant among others.

The Heat are participating in their fourh consecutive Finals and going for the illusive three-rings-in-a-row, not done since the Lakers’ triple championship run from 2000-2002. However, if the South Beach Big 3 come up short this year, massive speculation will be focused on the possible break-up of LeBron and company, as they all can become free agents this summer.

Miami Heat v New York KnicksThrow in the fact that San Antonio was just a few ticks away from taking Game 6 and the title last season before Ray Allen’s unbelievable 3-pointer saved Miami. It was possibly the closest a squad has come to winning the title and then having it ripped away in modern times. That ultra-disappointment and outcome has admittedly haunted Coach Pop and his players for the past 350 or so days.

With all of this layered-background and historical hoops significance, this year’s quest for a ring will come down to X’s & O’s, team and individual execution and poise. The Spurs have home-court this championship rematch courtesy of their league-best 62-20 regular season. Both sides finished a protective 32-9 on their respective courts, so ‘stealing’ a game on the road will be crucial, especially for Miami.

Some factors to consider about the Heat this series:  How many times will LeBron just take his game to a level no one else in the series can match? Will Dwyane Wade show extended flashes of ‘Flash’ and step up when James is overburdened? Who on the Heat’s 2014 production-weak bench will score, steal or board his way to significant floor time? Having lost a mere three post-season games thus far, how will Miami react if and when their backs are against the proverbial wall?

Some factors to consider about the Spurs this series:  First and foremost, how will Tony Parker’s sore left ankle affect his ability to break down Miami’s switching and swarming defense? 14X NBA All-Star Tim Duncan is 38 years old – will he be able to continue to elude Father Time and play extended, intense minutes this series? Will all the year-long hand-wringing and second guessing about last year’s Finals be more of a weight or motivation for the cerebral veterans on San Antonio?

The professional prognosticators are split as to who will take home the 2014 Larry O’Brien trophy. However, all agree that this series will be one for the ages.

Czar’s Finals Preview

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Czar’s Playoff Preview

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

Copyright 2014 NBAE - Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesBrooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat

The Heat, led by the All-Universe LeBron James, hold a solid 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series over the veteran-heavy Nets squad.

Even as Brooklyn swept the regular season series 4-0 against Miami, most hoops-heads predicted the Heat in 5 or 6 games. Miami took Game 1 by 21 points and a closer Game 2 by 12 points. In the opening 48, Kevin Garnett failed to score a single point, while in Game 2 heavily-scrutinized PG Deron Williams put up a glaring goose egg.

For Game 3 back in Brooklyn, the Nets splashed 15 three-bombs to hand Miami its first postseason L this year.

And then came LeBron in Game 4. Hard. Assassin-style. He poured in 49 points and essentially willed his side to a tough, 6-point victory. The Heatles could very well finish this series tonight in the Sunshine State.

 

Washington Wizards vs. Indiana Pacers

If ever a team in the 2014 postseason needed a psychiatrist or a detective, it is this Indiana roster. After securing the East’s number 1 seed, the up-and-down Pacers were forced to a Game 7 by the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks in Round 1. And now they find themselves in a battle with the hungry and young Wizards. Although they lead the series 3-2, they were embarrassed last night at home by 23 points, and it wasn’t even that close. As the Polish Hammer Marcin Gortat dominated inside with 31 points and 16 boards, Indiana grabbed a meager 23 rebounds, a playoff franchise low. After the Wiz took Game 1 in Indy, the Pacers rallied behind a rejuvenated Roy Hibbert (28 points, 9 rebounds) and won a close Game 2 to knot the series. In Game 3 Indiana crushed the Wizards 85-63 on their home court. And in a backbreaking loss, the Pacers came back from a 19-point deficit to take Game 4. Paul George exploded for 39 points and 12 boards in the demoralizing defeat. Indiana has two games to win one, but with a collective fragile psyche, who knows how this series plays out.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

In what is undecidedly the most exciting series this round, the Thunder hold a 3-2 lead by the slimmest of margins over the Lob City Clips. After both teams were taken to the 7th game in the first round, few prognosticators knew what to expect from these superstar-laden sides. In Game 1, LA routed OKC 122-105, largely fueled by CP3’s 32 points and 8 three-pointers. Coach Doc Rivers’ guys led by 14 after one quarter and 26 at the end of three. In Game 2, on the night KD accepted his first NBA MVP award, the league’s top scorer went for 32, 12 boards and 9 dimes and the Thunder prevailed. Assisting the Slim Reaper was Russell Westbrook, who tallied a triple double with 31, 10 & 10. Back in SoCal for Game 3, OKC’s dynamic duo did it again in a 118-112 victory. Between the two of them they combined for 59 points, 16 rebounds and 19 dimes.

In Game 4, the Clippers rallied from a 15-point, 4th quarter hole and came out on top 101-99 to even the series. Reserve guard Darren Collison led LA’s improbable comeback, adding 8 points in the final 3 minutes. OKC was outscored 38-24 in the final frame. Which brings us to last evening’s Game 5 back in Oklahoma. In an even more outrageous finish than Game 4, the Thunder erased a 7-point deficit in the final 50 seconds to snatch a controversial 105-104 victory. Russell Westbrook scored a career playoff-high 38 points and hit 3 crucial free throws with just seconds remaining to eke out the W. After the game Doc Rivers and his players were furious over a late out-of-bounds call that gave possession to OKC. They believed the ball went out off of the Thunder. Either way, Game 5 will go down as a playoff classic. The Thunder can close out this grueling series on Thursday night in LA, but look for the Clippers to defend home court and send it to 7.

 

Portland Trailblazers vs. San Antonio Spurs

In Game 1 the NBA’s number one overall seed won by 24 points. In Game 2, the Spurs defeated the Blazers by 17. Back in Rip City for Game 3, the machine-like San Antonio team scored a 15-point W. Up an insurmountable 3-0 in this Western Conference semifinals, NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich’s guys were denied the sweep in Game 4, 102-93. As a team San Antonio shot 3-18 from deep ,and Manu Ginobili had just 2 points. Neither side performed particularly well. However, the proud Blazer squad played hard with the backing of one of the league’s most loyal fan bases. After a tough seven-game opening round against Dallas, look for the Spurs to end this series tonight at home where they were 32-9 in the regular 82.

 

Czar’s Playoff Preview

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Gameday Dish

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty ImagesWhen the dust settles after tonight’s duel between Western Conference top guns San Antonio and Oklahoma City, several significant streaks will either continue or get stopped cold.

Coach Popovich’s guys own the NBA’s best record at 59-16 and have won an incredible 19 contests in a row, including last night’s home dismantling of the Golden State Warriors, 111-90.

The 54-19 Thunder hold the league’s second best mark. Leading 2014 NBA MVP candidate Kevin Durant has scored at least 25 points in 38 consecutive games, second only to Michael Jordan’s 40-game streak way back in the ’86-’87 season.

Also on the line this evening are OKC’s four straight W’s over their Western Conference brethren, including all three meetings this season. In addition, the Spurs have lost six straight in Oklahoma City including the playoffs.

Not only do the Spurs have something to prove, but with about two weeks left in the regular season, a San Antonio victory tonight would give them a five-game cushion over the Thunder for the top slot in the West.

Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images-Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty ImagesHowever, with tonight’s 48 being the back half of a back-to-back and SAS’s fifth game in seven nights, it will be interesting to see if the wizened Popovich decides to limit his stars’ minutes, bearing the big playoff picture in mind, or to put the pedal to the metal in what could possibly be a preview of this year’s Western Conference Finals.

The rested Thunder, winners of 6 of their last 7, last played on Sunday night against the Jazz. In their 116-96 home W over Utah, Coach Scott Brooks’ squad shot 55% from the field, 61% from 3 and 89% from the line. The always spectacular Durant had 31 points and 9 dimes in only 29 minutes of floor time.

These two sides last matched up on January 22nd in San Antonio. In the 111-105 Thunder win, KD went for 36 and, playing for the injured Russell Westbrook, 3rd-year PG Reggie Jackson put up 27 points, 8 dimes and 2 steals. It was more of an offensive than a defensive battle, with both teams shooting above 50% as well as lighting it up from the 3.

Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to see if the team with both the best overall record as well as the best road record can finally take one from KD & Company.

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