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Playoff Journal, May 19

   by Larry Ness - 05/19/2014

The Pacers stumbled to the 'finish line' of the regular season, edging the Heat by two games for the East's best record, earning the No. 1 seed. However, while the two-time defending champs cruised through the first two rounds (4-0 sweep of the Bobcats / 4-1 win over the Nets), the Pacers found themselves down 3-2 in their first to playoff series to the 38-44 Hawks and then lost Games 1 and 5 at home to the Wizards, finally ousting a franchise which had last won a second round series in 1979, in six games.

It wasn't pretty but the Pacers reached the conference finals for the second straight year and according to Elias, the Pacers are the first No. 1 seed to enter the Conference Finals with a postseason home record below .500 (3-4) in NBA playoff history.

However, the Pacers sure "came to play" in Sunday's Game 1. All five starters reached double digits, as the frontcourt of George (24-4-7), West (19 & 7) and Hibbert (19 & 7) were terrific (Hibbert's turnaround is nothing short of remarkable!). The backcourt also played well, with Stephenson getting 17-4-8 and Hill, despite making just 3 of 9 from the floor, scoring 15 points (all three made FGs were three-pointers and he went 6 of 6 from the FT line). The Pacers shot 51.5% as a team.

The Heat, the NBA's top-shooting team during the regular season (50.1%), connected on 51.3% but converted only 6 of 23 on threes. LBJ and Wade shot a combined 63.9% (23 of 36) while scoring 52 points but even though reserves Anderson (14 points on 6 of 7 shooting) and Allen (12 points) each contributed, Miami still lost by 11 points! The team's total of just FOUR offensive rebounds spoke volumes regarding to how badly the Heat were outplayed.

The win and cover by the home team makes them 39-34 SU (.534) in the postseason to-date but it will be nearly impossible for home teams to get out of the ATS 'hole' they have dug for themselves. Indiana's cover on Sunday leaves home teams 28-42-3 ATS (40.0% or minus-18.2 net games). The total 'flew' over which is nothing new, as there have now been 43 overs and 30 unders in the 2014 playoffs (58.9% favoring the over).

The Western Conference finals open tonight at 9:00 ET on TNT, as the Thunder meet the Spurs. San Antonio finished 62-20, which was three games better than OKC, giving Spurs the highly-desirable No. 1 seed and home court edge in ALL 2014 playoff series. However, as I'm sure MOST know, the Thunder made it a perfect 4-0 sweep of the Spurs this regular season.

San Antonio needed seven games to get past the hated-Mavs in the first round but the team's 119-96 Game 7 win over Dallas, 'lit a spark' under the Spurs. They easily took care of the Blazers in five games in the second round, losing only Game 4, after taking an insurmountable 3-0 lead in that series. Doing the math, the Spurs have won FIVE of their last six postseason games, with those victories coming by margins of 23, 24, 17, 15 and 22 points!

As for OKC, they lost a critical Game 5 at home against Memphis and needed to win Game 6 at Memphis, then Game 7 back at home vs Grizzlies to escape the first round. Taking NOTHING away from the Thunder, a timely injury to Memphis PG Mike Conley plus a controversial Z-Bo punch (which resulted in Randolph being suspended for Game 7), didn't hurt. The Thunder then immediately fell behind the Clippers by getting blown out at home in Game 1 and after blowing a 16-point, 4th quarter lead at LA in Game 4 (could have gone up 3-1), benefited from Chris Paul's final-minute 'meltdown' in Game 5, giving them a 3-2 lead (Clipps looked 'spent' down the stretch in Game 6).

However, OKC surely was looking forward to playing the Spurs, with the confidence of the team's 4-0 regular-season sweep but the Game 6 win over the Clippers came at a HUGE price, as valuable power forward Serge Ibaka is out for the series with a calf injury. Ibaka was averaging 12.2 & 7.3 this postseason and is OKC's best defender (inside and out!).

Durant (31.4-9.5-4,3) and Westbrook (26.6-8.0-8.4) are having terrific postseasons but without Ibaka, only backup PG Jackson (10.7) is averaging more than 6.5 PPG. Six others get between 11.2 and 24.5 PPG but Butler leads that group with a only 6.5 PPG average.

In comparison, the Spurs saw NINE players average between 8.2 and 16.7 PPG in the regular season. Here in the playoffs, the "Big 3" have reminded all just why the trio will play in their seventh Western Conference finals together, starting with Game 1 Monday night in San Antonio (group has won three titles since 2003 / Duncan won a fourth in 1999). Parker leads the team in scoring this postseason (19.3-4.9 APG), followed by Duncan (15.8-8.3) and Ginobili (13.9-3.7-4.3). Leonard's (14.0-7.5) had an excellent postseason and FIVE more players chip in between 5.9-to-9.1 PPG.

The Spurs are about a 2-to-1 favorite to win the series and a 5 1/2-point choice in Game 1 with a total of 209.

Good luck...Larry

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