On Saturday, a 2,460-game NBA season will be thrown out the window.
And we couldn't be happier about it.
The start to the 2013 NBA playoffs is here, and with it the 16 teams fortunate enough to still be going to practice and the gym each day without the cold shoulder that is the offseason are prepared to do battle with one goal in mind—an NBA Finals win.
Miami and Oklahoma City sit atop their respective conferences yet again this season, each the favorites to navigate through the playoff field to reach the Finals for the second-straight season. However, both teams are off on Saturday, leaving the rest of the field to make up for the lack of high-seeded action on opening afternoon.
It's something the field can handle.
The league is gracing us with four games on Saturday afternoon on into the evening, starting at Madison Square Garden and ending at Staples Center. If you're not an NBA fan—stop reading, because we're going in depth with an eye toward the four matchups on the docket for Saturday.
Check out our complete viewing guide for Saturday below.
*For a complete look at the dates, TV schedule and times for the entire 2013 NBA first-round schedule, check out NBA.com.
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
When: Saturday, April 20, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden; New York, N.Y.
Season Series: Knicks 3-1
X-Factors: Knicks F Carmelo Anthony, Celtics F Jeff Green
Key Matchup: Knicks C Tyson Chandler vs. Celtics C Kevin Garnett
The Knicks and the Celtics did battle four times as division rivals this season, with the Knicks winning three out of four and taking command of the series after the Kevin Garnett-Carmelo Anthony spat ran its course.
In a matchup that has an old-school, physical feel to it (particularly on Boston's end), the Knicks and Celtics will square off on Saturday afternoon at the Garden after injuries ravaged both teams' ability to be 100 percent healthy when the playoffs began.
Missing stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Rajon Rondo, the Knicks and Celtics won't be the same teams they were at the start of the regular season. There's good and bad in that statement, as the Knicks have seen Carmelo Anthony go nuts just in time for the playoffs to begin, while Boston continues to survive with veteran experience and a different guy stepping up every night.
As the Knicks try to beat the Celtics into submission with the three-point shot, the Celtics will try to control the pace and force Anthony to be a passer. Don't forget about Celtics forward Jeff Green, either, likely the only player that has the scoring chops to consistently go toe-to-toe with Melo in a seven-game series.
Elsewhere, Tyson Chandler is expected to be fully healthy (via Newsday.com) and the battle of former NBA Defensive Players of the Year between he and Garnett could determine which defense survives this series—and the playoffs.
Expect an emotional, motivated game from both teams and coaches on Saturday, but we'll give the edge to the Knicks in Game 1 with the Garden crowd on hand and no answer in sight for what to do to slow down No. 7.
Game 1 Prediction: Knicks 102, Celtics 93
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
When: Saturday, April 20, at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center; Denver, Colo.
Season Series: Nuggets 3-1
X-Factors: Nuggets G Ty Lawson, Warriors F David Lee
Key Matchup: Nuggets G Andre Miller vs. Warriors G Jarrett Jack
Although the Nuggets come into the playoffs somewhat struggling and missing one of their best players (Danilo Gallinari), while not expecting another (Kenneth Faried, via the Denver Post) to play Game 1, the Nuggets are the team to beat in this series.
Golden State might have something to say about.
In what's sure to be one of the most exciting, up-and-down games and series of the 2013 playoffs, the Stephen Curry-led Warriors will try to play spoiler in a playoff series for the first time since 2007—when they infamously took down the Dallas Mavericks as a No. 8 seed.
While Curry is the Warriors' most important player, expect David Lee to be an X-factor for Golden State. He'll have the chance to feast in Game 1 if Faried isn't in the lineup, and might just give JaVale McGee fits if matched up with the overeager center.
On the other side, Ty Lawson is healthy and eager to prove he's the best point guard in this matchup, something to note with so many shooters and big men on both sides that need the ball to do damage.
Denver and Golden State both have scoring and athleticism abounding from their rosters, but the most intriguing matchup might be between two backup point guards (Andre Miller and Jarrett Jack) who do far more for their respective teams than just come off the bench.
Jack is an NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate, while Miller continues to defy the odds despite any noticeable semblance of a jump shot or ever slowing down.
Throw in Andre Iguodala trying to lockdown budding star Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes contending with Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler, and this series has all the firepower you need to quit watching before the final two games.
Don't—the other two games have some, too.
Game 1 Prediction: Nuggets 110, Warriors 107
No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls
When: Saturday, April 20, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, N.Y.
Season Series: Bulls 3-1
X-Factors: Nets C Brook Lopez, Bulls G Derrick Rose
Key Matchup: Nets G Joe Johnson vs. Bulls G/F Jimmy Butler
While the Chicago Bulls are a fifth seed, they certainly have more talent to prove that designation is a farce because of the injury situation.
With Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and former MVP Derrick Rose all expected to miss part or all of the first-round series against the Nets, that might not matter, as Chicago has survived all season without talent but not yet so in the playoffs.
Can Chicago survive again?
More importantly, is help (Rose) on the way?
If the answer to the latter is no, Brooklyn has a huge leg up in this series. While Chicago will have a distinct advantage at the power and small forward positions, Brooklyn will have a similar one at point guard and center with two All-Stars leading the way.
Deron Williams is surging in the second half after a slow start, while Lopez has looked dominating at times this season. That puts the matchups at 2-2, by my count, with only one matchup to play.
On paper, that would go to the Nets, as Joe Johnson is a former All-Star who has game-winning shots under his belt and the ability to take over a game in his back pocket. Likely opposing him will be Jimmy Butler, the second-year forward taking over in the starting lineup to add energy and defense to the mix. His offense has been a plus.
It's a matchup that could determine the series.
While Chicago should be commended for staying afloat this long without its leader and the drama that came along with it, Brooklyn is playing good basketball at the right time and has home-court advantage to boot.
Expect this series to go at least six games, in large part because Chicago is so resilient, but the kind of talent Brooklyn put together before the season started was built for this kind of situation. Without Noah for Game 1, Lopez has a field day, and Brooklyn takes a one-game lead.
Game 1 Prediction: Nets 93, Bulls 80
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
When: Saturday, April 20, at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center; Los Angeles, Calif.
Season Series: Clippers 3-1
X-Factors: Clippers F Blake Griffin, Grizzlies F Tayshaun Prince
Key Matchup: Clippers G Chris Paul vs. Grizzlies G Mike Conley
This series went the distance in the first round in 2012, and to be honest, it has the potential to be far and away the best series of the first round yet again.
After winning the season series 3-1, the Clippers come into this matchup as the top dog this year. That's in stark contrast to last season, when the Clippers were the five-seed when the first game of the matchup went down.
It didn't matter to LA, as it turned the tables on the series by winning the first game.
It's a position Memphis now finds itself in.
The Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay in the middle of the season, but really haven't skipped a beat with Tayshaun Prince more than taking up for Gay's production on defense while allowing the offense to be centered around stud inside players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph more than ever before.
The Grizz are also a good defensive team, allowing the least amount of points per game (89.3) in the league as the playoffs begin.
All that said, the Clippers have the most-recent victory over the Grizzlies, a 91-87 decision in Memphis that will surely be a point of reference as this series begins. The Clippers are stacked with depth—evident as every player that played in that game scored five points except starter Caron Butler.
Although Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are the two marquee names for the Clippers, the depth is the key for the team. With Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Eric Bledsoe all coming off the bench, punching the right buttons against the Grizzlies will be huge for Vinny Del Negro's long-term future with this team and the outcome of the series.
The stage is set for a classic duel, and both these clubs have been here before. The roles are reversed in 2013, but the outcome will not be. Home team steals Game 1 on the road.
Game 1 Prediction: Grizzlies 87, Clippers 85
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