NBA Playoffs 2013: Breaking Down Top Matchups in Sunday's Game 1 Action
The 2013 NBA playoffs are in full swing now after things started with a bang on Saturday. We will see four more first-round series get under way on Sunday, with plenty of fascinating matchups to be found.
The 66-16 Miami Heat will look to get their title defense going in the strongest possible fashion when they welcome the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks to town. Meanwhile, the top two seeds in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, are both looking to avoid unlikely first-round upsets.
Read on to see the top matchups in Sunday's Game 1 action.
NBA Playoffs Schedule: Sunday, April 21
Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers: 1 p.m. ET on TNT
Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Milwaukee Bucks at Miami Heat: 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder: 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Dwight Howard vs. Tim Duncan
Without Kobe Bryant to run their offense, much of what the Los Angeles Lakers will do going forward will center around their big men: Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
The pair have been simply scintillating of late, but they'll face a very big test in Spurs big man Tim Duncan in this one. Duncan has once again been outstandingly consistent all season and will be a big threat to the Lakers big men inside the paint and on the offensive glass all night.
If Howard can muscle up on Duncan and restrict his movement inside, then the Lakers will stand a big chance of stopping the Spurs offense in this one.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are definitely not at 100 percent at the moment and will be looking to their big man to dictate the offense—something that Howard could be the difference-maker in.
Monta Ellis vs. Dwyane Wade
The Bucks' chances of winning a single game against the Miami Heat aren't great, so it's no surprise they are 13-point underdogs on the road in Game 1 (via Odds Shark).
Milwaukee has won just three of its past seven, has a sub-.500 record for the season and is taking on the hottest team in basketball that boasts some of the biggest names in the game.
However, if Monta Ellis has the series of his life, he could make things interesting.
Though Dwyane Wade isn't scoring at the clip he once did in his younger days before LeBron James joined the team, he is shooting a career high from the field. He is also still very capable of playing lockdown defense on Ellis.
Wade has dominated Ellis in the matchups that they've played throughout the season, but Ellis is a natural scorer (19.2 points per game, 11th-best mark in the NBA) who could well go big at any time.
If Wade can shut down Ellis, the Bucks have no chance at victory. However, if the star guard can explode on the night, then who knows what might happen.
Josh Smith vs. Paul George
Indiana will come into this one with a strong size advantage inside with Roy Hibbert and David West. It will no doubt look to use its strong all-around defense to restrict the Hawks' go-to scorers—namely Josh Smith and Al Horford, who are the keys to an Atlanta victory here.
Smith has been very strong at times for the Hawks in 2013 and, regardless of where his future lies, will be looking for a strong postseason this year.
And because Indiana has a big size advantage over Atlanta, Smith will need to be a big presence inside and outside for the Hawks. He can stuff a stat sheet, even though his mid-range game is often suspect.
Paul George will look to dominate Smith inside, but if the star forward can work his opponent outside and use his athleticism, then the Hawks have a genuine chance at upsetting the home team in this one.
James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook
Harden might not be listed as a point guard this year, but the very nature of his play this season has seen him spend the majority of the time with the ball in his hands. That makes a matchup with former teammate Russell Westbrook a very fascinating one to watch.
Having won Sixth Man of the Year in Oklahoma City, the Rockets' star guard has again shown how devastating he can be on the court. He has led Houston's offense with some incredible performances throughout the year, leading to an unlikely playoff appearance out West.
Against the best in the West, the Rockets will be looking for some more Harden magic throughout this first-round series. Westbrook has again been strong for the Thunder, with his quickness and natural abilities making him a very tough player to stop when he gets going.
The same, however, can easily be said for Harden. If the Rockets are going to launch an incredible upset here, then Harden is going to need to have a very big night. Which, as we all know, he's completely capable of.
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