The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder began the postseason as the favorites to meet in the 2013 NBA Finals.
The two clubs face crucial Game-four matchups on Monday night that will test their chances of winning their Conference titles.
The Heat are in a good position to take their second-round series with the Chicago Bulls. They have a 2-1 series lead, and would go home with a chance to clinch, if they can win Game Four in Chicago. Oklahoma City is in a more precarious situation, having dropped the last two games. They need a road win against the Memphis Grizzlies to avoid falling in a 3-1 hole.
Both contests will air in succession on TNT, beginning with the Eastern Conference matchup at 7 p.m. ET. Viewers can watch a free live stream online of Miami vs. Chicago with TNT Overtime.
Will both No.1 seeds be able to pull out a victory away from home?
Miami Heat (-8) vs. Chicago Bulls
It’s not an elimination game, but Game Four against the Heat is very close to being a “must-win” situation for the Bulls. A loss for Chicago would send them back to Miami and force them to win three straight against a 66-win team.
Despite a Game Two blowout and injuries to Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, Chicago has proven that they can beat Miami. They stole the first game of the series at American Airlines Arena and almost took Game Three.
LeBron James registered a 25-8-7 performance on Friday, but he wasn’t the biggest reason for the Heat victory. Chris Bosh fell one board short of a 20-point, 20-rebound performance, and Norris Cole didn’t miss from behind the arc, totaling 18 key points.
Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson did a good job of containing the MVP, and Dwyane Wade was limited to just seven shot attempts. If Chicago can play the same type of defense on Miami’s stars, they’ll have a good chance to even up the series.
Chicago’s lack of depth, however, may be what ultimately does them in. With none of the injured Bulls likely to play, Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson will barely have any time to rest. The Bulls looked sluggish in the fourth quarter of Game Three, and could suffer from the same fate on Monday night.
Prediction: Miami 93, Chicago 89
Memphis Grizzlies (-4.5) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Since Russell Westbrook went down for the rest of the playoffs with a torn MCL, the Thunder have not looked like the team finished as the No.1 seed in the West. They have lost four of their last six and are one defeat away being on the brink of elimination.
The Grizzlies have taken advantage of Westbrook’s absence by focusing on stopping Kevin Durant. The three-time scoring champ is the Thunder’s only major time threat on offense, and the best defensive team in the West has forced others to make plays. Durant attempted just 19 shots in Game Three, compared to 17 and 15 by Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson, respectively.
With other Thunder players like Jackson and Derek Fisher forced to make plays down the stretch, Oklahoma City failed to mount a late comeback on Saturday night. Now, they must outscore a team with Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, all of whom were just named to either the NBA All-Defensive first or second team.
Durant is so talented that he was still able to lead the Thunder in points, assists and rebounds in the last game. However, he has been called upon to do so much in recent weeks, and it could be too challenging for him to lead his club to victory at FedEx Forum, where the Grizzlies have gone 36-9 this season.
Prediction: Memphis 89, Oklahoma City 84