After two rounds of stellar basketball in the 2014 Playoffs, which featured the best first round in NBA Playoff history, the conference finals are set to kickoff on Sunday. Even with the unpredictable nature that consumed the playoffs to this point, the teams that made it to the Final Four–NBA style–are not too surprising for the fans.
The final series to determine which team will represent the East in the Finals is highlighted by the two teams that just about every basketball fan expected to be there late last Fall: the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. Meanwhile, the two teams that ruled the top of the Wild Wild West during the regular season–the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder–will face each other in the Western Conference Finals.
Now that we know what teams will play for their respective titles, let’s take a look at which three individual one-on-one matchups are the ones to look out for in the round before the NBA Finals.
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3. Russell Westbrook vs. Tony Parker
The battle of the point guards is quite interesting in the Western Conference Finals because Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker play their position in the opposite fashion. Parker is a playmaking, pass-first point guard that is essentially the definition of consistent. In contrast, Westbrook is a ball-dominant, shoot-first type of point guard that is streaky but a constant threat.
Parker has averaged 21.5 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds on 48.1 percent shooting in six playoff games against Westbrook. On the other end, Westbrook has posted 18.2 points, 7.3 dimes and 5.8 boards in those six playoff games against Parker (per Basketball-Reference).
In the regular season, Parker averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 assists on 46.8 percent shooting in four losses against Westbrook and the Thunder. Westbrook put up similar numbers in three games against Parker and the Spurs this season, averaging 21.3 points and 7.3 assists on 43.1 percent shooting.
Westbrook is coming off a huge series against the Los Angeles Clippers, where he put up nearly 30 points, over eight assists and nearly seven boards per game. Meanwhile, Parker had another solid performance (18.4 points and 5.2 dimes) in the Spurs’ second-round series against the Trail Blazers despite only playing 10 scoreless minutes in Game 5 due to a hamstring injury (grade 1 strain).
Russ represents the edge that OKC needs to have success. His decision-making on the court can be frustrating, but more often than not, his superior athleticism, quickness and explosive skills are too much to handle. As the saying goes, “Let Westbrook be Westbrook.” Parker is the cool and collected veteran, who has the high basketball I.Q. that allows him to dictate and orchestrate the court at all times. He may not be the scoring threat that Westbrook is, but he can manipulate and overpower his opponent by using fundamentals that make any basketball nerd swoon.
2. Paul George vs. LeBron James
This particular one-on-one matchup has gained the most attention and hype since they met up in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. We all remember the handshake of approval LeBron James gave to Paul George mid-game, which sparked debate among fans. Further, the Pacers/Heat series during the regular season provided some of the most competitive and entertaining battles the NBA had to offer.
In the four thrilling games this season against Miami, George averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals on 42.9 percent field goal shooting and 42.3 percent shooting from downtown. During this season the 24-year-old recorded an offensive rating of 107, a defensive rating of 97, and a usage percentage of 28.3, according to Basketball-Reference.
Meanwhile, LeBron averaged 28.9 points, 9.3 boards, 4.8 dimes and 1.5 steals on 52.2 percent shooting from the field and 35.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc in four games against Indy during the regular season. The two-time champ posted an offensive rating of 121, a defensive rating of 105, and a usage percentage of 31 this season, according to Basketball-Reference.