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Make way for May Madness and June Drama in NBA playoffs

NBASportsPro BasketballBasketballRoy HibbertKevin DurantMiami Heat
The craziness of NBA playoffs could give way to straight-up basketball in conference finals
NBA's Final Four includes top two seeds in each conference: Spurs-Thunder in West, Heat-Pacers in East

March Madness suddenly seems like such a bore by comparison.

The NBA's Final Four commences Sunday after four weeks of April Anarchy and May Mayhem.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant was dubbed "Mr. Unreliable" by a headline writer from his local newspaper, which is viewed by some in the community as an extension of the team.

Indiana's Roy Hibbert was involved in salacious rumors involving his girlfriend and teammates that swirled on social media amid a pair of zero-point, zero-rebound games by the Pacers center.

Miami's LeBron James dragged himself into the Donald Sterling brouhaha by emphatically stating there was no room in the league for the embattled Clippers owner after his derogatory comments about blacks.

San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich shed his notoriously prickly exterior during a heartwarming exchange with TNT fill-in sideline reporter Craig Sager Jr., whose father, the longtime TNT broadcaster, is battling leukemia.

Maybe the "NBA Cares" campaign isn't just an empty slogan after all.

Of course, it would be nice to get back to basketball after a month largely spent discussing a Twitter threat made against the Washington Wizards; former Golden State assistant coach Darren Erman's allegedly having surreptitiously taped conversations between players and coaches; and the unexpurgated verbiage of Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri, who dropped an F-bomb directed at the Brooklyn Nets during a fan rally.

It's amazing anyone made it out of the first round given all the distractions.

Order has been restored, in a sense, given that both conference finals match the top two seeded teams.

Indiana versus Miami in the East was the matchup expected by nearly everyone inside and outside of Indianapolis and South Beach.

The trendy pick before the season was that this would finally be the Pacers' year after they pushed the Heat to six games in 2012 and seven games last year. Many quickly readjusted their prediction to Miami in four games after watching the top-seeded Pacers slog through seven games in the first round against eighth-seeded Atlanta.

It's probably not going to be that easy for the two-time defending champion Heat. Hibbert has finally shaken off whatever real or imagined controversy enveloped his team to resemble the 7-foot-2 stumbling block Miami has feared since he averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in last year's conference finals.

The Heat signed 7-footer Greg Oden last summer with hopes that he could neutralize Hibbert, leading to an elongated arms (and legs) race after the Pacers countered by signing 7-footer Andrew Bynum in March.

Whoops. Neither big man figures to matter much in this series since Oden hasn't appeared in the playoffs and Bynum is no longer with the Pacers. That leaves Miami's 6-8 Udonis Haslem as the probable primary defender on Hibbert. Whoops.

Oklahoma City is still riding the whoop-de-do of Durant's most valuable player speech, which immediately became the most stirring sports address since New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig's retirement speech.

The Thunder is undefeated since that tearjerker moment, if you take away a weep-inducing fourth quarter in Game 4 against the Clippers.

Oklahoma City's chances of carving up the top-seeded Spurs evaporated the moment Thunder forward Serge Ibaka suffered a calf injury that is expected to sideline him for the duration of the playoffs.

San Antonio's Tony Parker is dealing with a mild hamstring strain but has told reporters he will be ready for the series opener Monday at the AT&T Center.

Oklahoma City swept the Spurs in the regular season and won the final four games of the 2012 conference finals between the teams, but San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard continues to emerge as the kind of gritty defender who can hold Durant to 25 points instead of 40.

And here's betting Popovich gets back to the testy persona that has worked for four championship runs, assuming the elder Sager doesn't show up for a sideline interview that causes the crabby coach to break down on national television.

Now that would be Madness.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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NBASportsPro BasketballBasketballRoy HibbertKevin DurantMiami Heat
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