NBA Playoff Schedule 2013: What to Watch for in Wednesday's Slate
The most impressive first-round performances of the 2013 NBA playoffs belong to the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, but the more intriguing series belong to those still in action.
After Wednesday night's action is in the books, we could have two more teams move on to the second round.
With a pair of 3-1 series leads, both the Western Conference No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder and the Eastern Conference No. 2 New York Knicks can close out their opponents on their home floor on Wednesday night.
In what could be the most surprising outcome of the first round so far, the Atlanta Hawks will travel back to Indiana to face the Pacers after taking two straight games to knot the series up at two.
Besides the normal aura of playoff basketball, what should you be watching for during these three postseason showdowns?
We've got you covered with that answer and more in the bottom section of this piece, complete with where you can catch the action on TV and what time you'll need to kick the DVR into full gear to avoid missing any of the action.
*For a complete look at the 2013 NBA playoff schedule and what we know so far, click here (courtesy NBA.com).
No. 7 Boston Celtics at No. 2 New York Knicks
Series Count: Knicks, 3-1
When: Wednesday, May 1, at 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden; New York, N.Y.
What to Watch For: The Return of J.R. Smith
The Celtics fought back and forced a Game 5 of this series on Sunday, as Jason Terry's late fourth-quarter heroics helped compliment Paul Pierce's big game (29 points, eight rebounds, six assists) en route to a home win, and a series-saving one at that.
It was an impressive, vintage display of defense and late-game execution by the C's, who now face the daunting task of winning four straight games just to stay alive.
New York can certainly learn something from that game heading into Wednesday night's home contest at Madison Square Garden, but one Knick is taking only one thing away from the contest—that he wasn't allowed to participate.
J.R. Smith was forced to sit out Game 4 after throwing an elbow at Terry's chin during the Knicks' Game 3 win, and the Knicks' half-court offense down the stretch really struggled in his absence. Carmelo Anthony had 36 points, but he did so on 35 shots, while Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert couldn't provide the second-option spark New York needed to officially advance.
Smith believes he will provide it in Game 5 (h/t Ian Begley writing for ESPN.com).
He'll certainly help, as his 16.3 points per game through the first three games was sorely missed in the Knicks' first loss of the postseason. The Celtics hit their groove late by forcing some turnovers and getting lucky with Melo misses, but they also performed well on offense and got the most fourth-quarter production from Terry they've gotten all season.
Can it continue in Game 5?
Odds say no, but the Celtics and Doc Rivers are a resilient bunch of folks. They played their best when their backs were against the wall, but the return of Smith and the inconsistency on offense might be too much to handle in a hostile environment.
No. 6 Atlanta Hawks at No. 3 Indiana Pacers
Series Count: Series tied, 2-2
When: Wednesday, May 1, at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
What to Watch For: Paul George vs. Josh Smith
When the weekend began, it looked like Indiana was ready to cruise to a series sweep and some much-needed rest in preparation for the winner of the Knicks and the Celtics.
Things have changed in this series.
The home-court advantage has proved to be the biggest advantage for both teams in this all-tied-up affair, and the Hawks are heading back to Indiana with the same confidence that the Pacers entered Atlanta with.
Look no further than this tweet by Chris Sheridan to confirm how home court has shaped the winner of each game so far:
Will the Hawks be able to capitalize?
Head coach Larry Drew inserted Johan Petro into the starting lineup for Atlanta on Monday, a move that enabled Josh Smith to slide down to the small forward position and guard—you guessed it—Paul George.
After two big games in Indianapolis, George cooled off in Atlanta, shooting under 40 percent in both games. He did manage to crack double digits, like most star players do in this type of situation, but his 6-of-16 shooting from the field was a direct result of Smith's defense.
It also helped the Hawks on the offensive end. Playing in a position where he has a size advantage on smaller defenders, Smith finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and four assists and made quick work of the defense for most of the evening. He got to the free-throw line 16 times and had three steals, numbers that helped the Hawks win going away.
The big question for this game is simple—which player emerges from this matchup on Wednesday? George has had two days to rebound from knowing that Smith will likely draw the defensive assignment, while Smith has had two days to build on his strong Game 4.
This battle of All-Star, emerging players should be a fun one to watch, and one that helps decide this series.
No. 8 Houston Rockets at No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder
Series Count: Thunder, 3-1
When: Wednesday, May 1, at 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena; Oklahoma City, Okla.
What to Watch For: Kevin Durant's response
Kevin Durant had a bad day on Monday.
His teammate, Russell Westbrook, was still out after surgery to repair his meniscus, and the final stat line had point guard Reggie Jackson taking more shots (18) than he did at the end of the night (16).
It added up to a Thunder loss and a trip back to OKC that could have been avoided.
We saw flashes of the offensive tweaks that Oklahoma City would use to beat the Rockets and any other team it draws in the playoffs this year, and Durant finished with 38 points on Monday night against Houston in the two-point loss.
There were positives to build on for the NBA Finals or bust Thunder, but Durant not being able to shine late and being the subject of a dunk that has gone viral in the matter of 24 hours can't have him in good spirits at the start of Game 5 (h/t Bleacher Report on Twitter):
Stars come back from this kind of treatment extremely motivated and usually poised to have huge games.
At home, without Westbrook and with the weight of the city on his shoulders, Durant will have another chance to rise to the occasion on Wednesday night. He's done everything asked of him in the two games without fellow star Westbrook so far, but sometimes you have to go above and beyond the call to move on in the playoffs.
Durant is up for the challenge; we'll see if his game is at a similar level.
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