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Sunday, 18 May 2014

NBA Conference Finals Picks 2014

And then there were four... The NBA season is winding down with the four teams that most would have predicted would be facing off in the Conference Finals all taking their seats.

Eastern Conference Finals Picks and Preview

Indiana Pacers (1) v Miami Heat (2)
The two teams that were considered the best in the Eastern Conference get a chance to meet once again with a place in the NBA Finals on the line and this should be a better series than what some may expect after seeing what we have in the Play Offs to this point.

The Indiana Pacers have looked vulnerable as they struggled to see off the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards in the first two Rounds of the Play Offs. After losing just six home games during the regular season, the Pacers have lost four times on this court in the Play Offs and the hard work to earn the Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference.

However, the Pacers clearly match up very well with a Miami team that have crushed Charlotte and Brooklyn for the loss of one game so far in the Play Offs. Roy Hibbert provides the height and power to prevent the easy access to the rim, while they have enough length and speed to close on the three point shooters that make the eat so dangerous.

An issue for Indiana is going to be try and get a consistent performance from the team through this series as their up and down games against their first two opponents won't cut it. They've only won back to back games once in the Play Offs and failed to do that at home.

I do think the series will be closer than the form may indicate simply because Indiana have played Miami so close as shown by the 7-7 record over the last 14 games. Even with that in mind, I can't go against the Heat making to their fourth straight NBA Finals simply because the Pacers have been too inconsistent to beat them four times in my mind.

Prediction: Miami Heat in Six Games

Sunday 18th May
Miami Heat @ Indiana Pacers Game One Pick: The Indiana Pacers certainly can make life difficult for the Miami Heat with the rotations they can put on the court and this is a bad match up for the defending NBA Champions, but it also means ignoring what we have seen over the last two months from Indiana.

If they can impose their style on Game One, the Pacers will always be able to win their share of games against Miami, but home court hasn't been much of an advantage for the team over the last three weeks. Losing four games on their own floor in the Play Offs doesn't inspire confidence in the Pacers to win this series and Miami have plenty of experience to come to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse and steal at least one of the first two games here.

Indiana have rarely put together back to back impressive performances in the Play Offs so Game One might be a real chance for Miami to take away home court that the Pacers invested so much energy into taking in the regular season. A couple of extra days of rest is also on Miami's side in time for Game One and I believe they win and cover the spread to open the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tuesday 20th May
Miami Heat @ Indiana Pacers Game Two Pick: Before the Eastern Conference Finals began, it was clear that the Indiana Pacers would give Miami plenty of match up problems, but I doubt anyone would have predicted the performance they were going to produce in Game One.

Indiana were hitting plenty of shots outside of the three point perimeter and managed to earn a big lead when it came to free throws attempted and that raises the question of whether they can achieve the same thing for two games in a row.

I would have to expect Miami to improve their defensive effort in Game Two than they had on Sunday, but the Heat will be confident they can steal home court advantage if they can replicate their own offensive success from Game One. The Heat will also expect to be better from the three point perimeter where they struggled on Sunday and I do think this will be a lot closer in Game Two.

This Pacers team is built to beat Miami, but they are so inconsistent that it is hard to see them back up their Game One almost perfect performance with another one on Tuesday. I expect a tough, tense Game Two, but one where the Heat make the adjustments to take away home court before the series returns to South Beach at the weekend.

Saturday 24th May
Indiana Pacers @ Miami Heat Game Three Pick: The Indiana Pacers certainly do match up well against the Miami Heat and better shooting in the Fourth Quarter of Game Two would have given the Pacers a two game lead in the series. However, their offensive problems are well-documented and the lack of consistency, especially once they get down to the bench players, is going to be tough to overcome.

The three days rest will have given Paul George enough time to recover from the concussion he suffered in Game Two and I would expect him to take to the court. However, if he is limited or unavailable, the Miami Heat will have a big advantage when they have the ball in hand.

Even with George on the court, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade showed what they are capable of doing in the Fourth Quarter of Game Two and they will need a little more help from their role players to get away from the Pacers. Chris Bosh is yet to show up in the series so could be due a big game and Miami have found a way to get it done against Indiana at home in recent games of the series.

Miami have covered the spread in 3 of the last 4 games against Indiana overall and have also covered in 3 of their last 4 at home. I will back them to cover the spread in Game Three.

Monday 26th May
Indiana Pacers @ Miami Heat Game Four Pick: The Miami Heat have overcome slow starts to win the last two games in this series and I think they have a little too much depth and offense for the Indiana Pacers to deal with.

With the chance to really put their foot on Indiana's throat, I think Miami extend their home winning run against the Pacers.

The fact that they have also covered the spread in four of the last five games against Indiana at home is another plus for Miami and I think they can do the same again in Game Four.

Wednesday 28th May
Miami Heat @ Indiana Pacers Game Five Pick: The close out game of any series is always a much tougher game to play, but the experience of the Miami Heat over the last four years should give them the confidence to get this Eastern Conference Finals completed as soon as Wednesday night. The Heat will also be very much aware that they have got the Indiana Pacers on the floor and they will not want to allow this dangerous opponent get up and force a pressure filled Game Six back in Miami.

Being without Ray Allen could present some problems as he has been very effective from the three point line and has been provided Miami with another offensive spark outside of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but these two players have been the best players during the series at clutch time which has helped Miami lead 3-1 when they could easily be at 2-2 or 1-3.

I do expect a big effort from the Indiana Pacers, but I think they are lacking another consistent offensive weapon outside of Lance Stephenson and Paul George, while the bench isn't providing enough to allow Indiana to pull away from the Heat.

I've backed Miami in every game in the series and they have come up trumps three times out of four games- I would feel I've over thunk this situation if I don't back the Heat to close the show on Wednesday evening.

Friday 30th May
Indiana Pacers @ Miami Heat Game Six Pick: There were a few very strange calls in Game Five from the officials that gave Indiana the chance to win after being in a big hole and all with LeBron James having to have extended time on the bench. The calls of James were ridiculous with at least three of the five fouls he picked up being very poor decisions from the officials, but the Heat, unlike Indiana, didn't do any talking about that and are simply focusing on Game Six and closing the series.

The other major talking point of Game Five was Lance Stephenson and his antics during the entire evening, one that may come back to bite him on the backside after he was caught blowing in James' ear.

With the pent up disappointment of Game Five that saw James log a Play Off low in minutes and points, I can see him reclaim his place on the throne with a huge performance in Game Six.

Can Paul George really replicate his performance from Game Five that saw the Pacers stave off elimination? I think it would be much harder when he is mentally trying to keep up with James and I also like to remember how close Miami came to winning Game Five even without their best player on the court for much of it.

I tweeted that Miami will blow Indiana out in Game Six after the third quarter of Game Five because of all the poor decisions that went against them and James sitting for all but 13 minutes to that point- the last couple of days haven't seen me change my mind.

Western Conference Finals Pick and Preview

San Antonio Spurs (1) v Oklahoma City Thunder (2)
The Western Conference Finals should be very good fun to watch, although I think the key injuries on both sides of the court are going to cast a shadow over the series. The Oklahoma City Thunder look like they will be missing Serge Ibaka for the rest of the Play Offs and that will only put more pressure on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to take over offensively.

On the other hand, the San Antonio Spurs are going to have a limited Tony Parker who should take to the court in Game One of the series, but who is going to have to look after the hamstring that forced him out of Game Five of the Semi Final series win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

It is a difficult series to predict because the Thunder have the two best players on the court, as far as I am concerned at least, but the San Antonio Spurs have a deeper rotation that can provide a spark and are a better unit.

I think the absences of Ibaka is going to be critical for the Thunder who have dominated San Antonio in recent games in the series between the teams. However, without another scorer on the court besides Westbrook and Durant, Gregg Popovich is likely to find the formula to force enough stops and then find the hot hand on the offensive side of the court.

Danny Green, Patty Mills, Kahwi Leonard or Marco Belinelli are all capable of going off from outside the three point perimeter and the Spurs may just get their rematch with the Heat that they have wanted ever since last season.

Prediction: San Antonio Spurs in Seven Games

Monday 19th May
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Game One Pick: Oklahoma City's speed and athleticism goes against the San Antonio experience and proven system and this should be a fascinating Conference Finals. The loss of Serge Ibaka may just have swung the pendulum in favour of the San Antonio Spurs, but I also can see Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson causing big problems for Tony Parker and testing the hamstring out to the full.

The Thunder have also had a strong recent record against San Antonio which will give them a boost in confidence for the series.

Game One should be a close one to call with both teams able to go on scoring streaks but I think Oklahoma City are being given a little too many points in the point spread market. They have found a way to deal with San Antonio over the last couple of years and I expect this series to be similar to the one the Thunder played against the LA Clippers with games likely to be very close throughout.

Wednesday 21st May
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Game Two Pick: It was a largely impressive performance from San Antonio in Game One of this series and I am not sure what adjustments Oklahoma City can make in time for Game Two. The absence of Serge Ibaka was always going to be instrumental in the series, but I still think it was surprising to see the Thunder give up the paint as much as they did in Game One.

That only opened things up for the Spurs to get their three point shooting going and I think there isn't enough Oklahoma City can do defensively to change things with just one day between games.

The Thunder might have to resort to the small line up that gives them a real offensive identity, but also means they may struggle defensively, and I will back this game to finish above the total points line that has been set.

Sunday 25th May
San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game Three Pick: I am of the belief that this series is dead in the water unless Serge Ibaka has made a miraculous recovery and not just takes to the court, but is also at his best to keep the San Antonio Spurs from doing what they want for a third game in a row.

If Ibaka sits again, the Spurs are going to be incredibly difficult to stop if they continue hitting their shots from the three point mark and dominate the paint as they have in the first two games of the series. This is leading to foul trouble against Oklahoma City, who also need to find a consistent third scorer on the court from one of the role players to turn this series around.

Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook also need to be more efficient with the points they are scoring, but both are dealing with a San Antonio defensive scheme that is effectively playing 5 on 2 basketball.

If they can't get another playing going, this is going to be an incredibly short series, but I feel the Thunder are going to have recouped and come out in a better manner than they finished Game Two. Whether that is enough to win the game is another matter and the layers aren't quite sure either as to which way this game goes.

However, I expect more scoring from Oklahoma City which could help this game head over the total points set.

Tuesday 27th May
San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game Four Pick: The return of Serge Ibaka in Game Three highlighted why his presence is so important for Oklahoma City on both ends of the floor- he finished with 15 points on the offensive side of the court, but added 4 blocks defensively and also clogged up the paint where San Antonio had made hay in the first two games of the series.

It also showed why the Thunder have such a strong record against San Antonio over the last couple of years as their athleticism and length caused problems for Tony Parker and the outside shooters that the Spurs rely upon.

I do think the Spurs are going to play better in Game Four than they did in Game Three, but I also have a lot of respect for the fact that Oklahoma City have dominated them at home in recent games in the series.

With another big performance from Serge Ibaka, I think the Thunder find a way to level this series as it moves back to San Antonio in two days time.

Thursday 29th May
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Game Five Pick: When looking at this series, you can see a definite shift in momentum since the return of Serge Ibaka for the Oklahoma City Thunder and now they can really make that point with Game Five taking place back in San Antonio and the Spurs seemingly reeling.

Ibaka's return has shown why the Thunder have posed so many problems for San Antonio over the last couple of years and they improved to 6-0 with the big man in the starting line up and 0-2 without him.

There have to be some tension in the Arena today too as the fans will only be too familiar with the pattern of the series that is replicating the Western Conference Finals of two years ago that saw the Thunder come back from 0-2 down in the series and win four straight games to make the NBA Finals.

All four previous games have been won easily by whichever team has gotten away, but I think Game Five is so pivotal for both teams with the winner the clear favourite to win the Western Conference. That should have both teams focused, but I can't ignore how well Oklahoma City match up against San Antonio.

With Ibaka in the line up and Reggie Jackson cleared after turning an ankle in Game Four, all the momentum is with the Thunder and I am going to take the points on offer and look for them to make this a very close Game Five, even a game that Oklahoma City could win outright.

Saturday 31st May
San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game Six Pick: There was a feeling that the Oklahoma City Thunder were a little fatigued when they were blown out in Game Five on Thursday and now they face an elimination game at home against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Miami Heat will be resting up at home in the hope that this series is extended to Game Seven, which is scheduled to be played on Monday (three days before the NBA Finals are due to begin), and the Heat may just get their wish.

Oklahoma City were able to rest their starters towards the end of the blow out in Game Five so I expect a fresher team to take to the court, while they have dominated San Antonio at home including blow out wins in Game Three and Four.

The concern is trying to slow down the momentum San Antonio picked up on Thursday as an adjustment in bringing in Matt Bonner to the starting line up opened up the shots for the Spurs. However, I think the Thunder will have at least one more big stand and I can see the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook duo finding a way to help the Thunder extend this to one more game.

MY PICKS: 18/05 Miami Heat - 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
19/05 Oklahoma City Thunder + 5.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
20/05 Miami Heat - 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
21/05 San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder Over 211 Total Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
24/05 Miami Heat - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
25/05 Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs Over 208 Total Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
26/05 Miami Heat - 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
27/05 Oklahoma City Thunder - 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
28/05 Miami Heat - 1 Point @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
29/05 Oklahoma City Thunder + 5 Points  @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
30/05 Miami Heat - 8 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
31/05 Oklahoma City Thunder - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

Conference Finals Update: 5-7, - 2.20 Units

Conference Semi Finals12-10, + 1.36 Units
First Round Final22-19, + 2.02 Units

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