The matchups are set. Indiana against Miami and San Antonio against Memphis.
The Indiana Pacers overcame the New York Knicks on Saturday night, led by, among others, Lance Stephenson. Stephenson has been something of a breakout star for the Pacers this season, after having drifted since becoming a high school phenom in New York during the second half of the last decade. Serious concerns over Stephenson’s character and disciplined arose from an altercation with a high school team-mate and other professional concerns. For example, Stephenson took a tour of Under Armour’s facility before signing a letter of intent. This may have constituted a recruiting violation as the UA CEO is a Maryland grad. Stephenson ended up at Cincinnati where he finished his sole season with relatively underwhelming stats of 12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 2.5 apg.
These questions persisted into last season when Stephenson did this:
In case you were wondering what LeBron James’s locker will look like ahead of the Indiana series…
The Pacers do offer a serious threat to Miami. In Roy Hibbert, they have a big man who nobody on the Heat can guard. David West will cause problems for whoever matches up on him as well. Then you have the talented guards of the Pacers in Paul George, Stephenson and George Hill. The Pacers do, however, lack depth. Tyler Hansbrough has become more or less the pro we expected. Decent, but unspectacular. DJ Augustin is also solid. Beyond them, you are starting to get into the world of Ian Mahinmi and Ben Hansbrough. While the Pacers should destroy Miami inside (don’t forget, Roy Hibbert’s massive contract is largely a product of his performances against Miami a year ago), Miami should do the same to Indiana on the outside. Paul George can’t guard everyone.
The Pacers best chance is if Miami again suffers from a week’s rest (but how likely is that to happen twice?) and if Dwyane Wade’s knee hasn’t healed in the week off. That said, he seemed to do alright in the fifth game against Chicago with only a few minutes rest.
Prediction: Miami in 6.
Out west, it is the old guard of the San Antonio Spurs against the young (ish) upstarts of the Memphis Grizzlies. This series offers some enticing battles, notably between Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. The old and new faces of NBA bigs. Tony Allen is a defensive stopper and will probably work on whichever Spurs guard heats up. Tayshaun Prince can do likewise if another gets hot. Austin Daye can do the same, if you mistake him for Tayshaun Prince. Memphis has absorbed the blow of Rudy Gay’s departure and actually come out better off. Mike Conley against Tony Parker should be an interesting clash of two of the NBA’s quickest point guards.
For the Spurs, the key, as ever, will be their three old heads: Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili. These three have been there and done that. The Spurs have created a nice squad around their veterans, notable performances coming throughout the season from Kawhi Leonard and Tiago “giant Paul Dick” Splitter.
I expect Memphis’s youth to lead them through this series. The Spurs started the western conference finals last year in electric fashion, going 2-0 up on Oklahoma City, only to reel off four straight defeats. Look for huge contributions from one of Gasol or Zach Randolph to lead the Grizzlies to their first ever finals.
Prediction: Memphis in 7