While five months of the NBA regular season helped shape the playoffs, nothing done up until this point matters.
Obviously, there is a great deal of accomplishment for making the postseason and even more for winning a division or earning the top seed in a conference. However, these moments are not remembered as much as success in the playoffs.
Each of the 16 teams still alive are fighting to bring home an NBA title (some have a better chance than others), which requires winning 16 games from here on out. That all starts on Saturday as half of the series gets started with Game 1.
Here is a look at the full schedule for the first day of the playoffs with a preview and predictions for each game.
|Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors||12:30 p.m.||Air Canada Centre, Toronto||ESPN|
|Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers||3:30 p.m.||Staples Center, Los Angeles||ABC|
|Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers||7 p.m.||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis||ESPN|
|Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder||9:30 p.m.||Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City||ESPN|
Day 1 Preview
No. 6 Brooklyn Nets at No. 3 Toronto Raptors
Despite losing four out of the last five games, the Nets have played very well in the second half of the season and have plenty of confidence going into the playoffs. Paul Pierce explained to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:
If we can stay healthy, I definitely believe that we can play with anybody in the Eastern Conference and we can beat anybody in a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference. You know, things just gotta come together, and I think they are right now. We're full strength, and like Kevin [Garnett] says, 'Anything is possible.
While it is true that Brooklyn has the talent and experience necessary to make a title run, it is important not to overlook the fact that the team finished the year just 16-25 on the road. Without home-court advantage, it will need at least one win in the Air Canada Centre.
That win is unlikely to come in Game 1, where the young Raptors and their hungry fans will be ready to go. The franchise has not had a playoff game since 2008 and the arena will be packed with excitement.
This will help DeMar DeRozan and company throw down some big dunks as they use the adrenaline from the biggest game of their lives. Brooklyn might be able to pull out the series win, but the Raptors will have the advantage in the first game.
Prediction: Raptors 102, Nets 94
No. 6 Golden State Warriors at No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, this series was set to be one of the most exciting we have seen in years. It is pretty much the dream scenario to have two teams competing that can score points in bunches with shooters and athletic players all over the floor.
Unfortunately, this series is dramatically altered due to Andrew Bogut's rib injury. According to ESPN, this will keep the center out for most of the playoffs.
Bogut was by far the team's best interior defender, and he was likely the only person capable of slowing down Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. NBA analyst Nate Jones thinks this will be the end of the series:
Golden State has zero chance against the Clippers without Bogut. See ya next season.— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) April 15, 2014
Golden State still has a chance to make things interesting thanks to the outside shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The problem is on the defensive end of the court, where Chris Paul and the Clippers should be able to score almost every time they have the ball.
At least at home, the Clippers should have an easy time pulling out a win.
Prediction: Clippers 118, Warriors 104
No. 8 Atlanta Hawks at No. 1 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers struggled mightily in the final few weeks of the season. Once looked at as the dominant squad in the Eastern Conference, Indiana finished the year going 10-13 in the final 23, barely holding onto the No. 1 seed while the Miami Heat were just as poor.
ESPN Stats and Info points out that a slide like this usually does not lead to success in the playoffs:
Bad news for the Pacers? pic.twitter.com/mPShFb682t— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 18, 2014
Against any other team, Indiana would probably be concerned about losing in the first round. However, the Atlanta Hawks are simply not good enough to take advantage of the struggling team.
Atlanta finished the year with a 38-44 record, which would not even sniff the playoffs in the Western Conference. The squad has a poor defense that struggles to defend the paint, and this should only help the Pacers fix their scoring struggles.
Indiana might not be ready to contend for a title just yet, but it will not lose too many games in this series.
Prediction: Pacers 96, Hawks 85
No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies at No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder
For a series between an elite No. 2 seed and a No. 7 that struggled for much of the year, you would think this would be a blowout. However, the Grizzlies will provide the Thunder with plenty of trouble throughout.
Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman points out why the Thunder cannot underestimate their Round 1 opponent:
Don’t let their playoff position fool you. The Grizzlies aren’t your typical 7-seed. A season of instability and incessant injuries made Memphis have to creep into the playoffs. But the Grizzlies have gotten healthy at the right time and enter Saturday night’s Game 1 as the most dangerous low seed on either side of the bracket.
Memphis has the No. 1 scoring defense in the Western Conference with the experience to cause some major problems in this series. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can certainly find ways to score inside on offense as well.
With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have a good chance of coming away with a win in this series. However, the Grizzlies are coming into Game 1 with a five-game winning streak and will surprise Oklahoma City right out of the gate.
Prediction: Grizzlies 99, Thunder 98
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