Finally, the moment for which we've waited an eternity: the kickoff of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
OK, we waited exactly two days. That's still excessive.
Surprises abound throughout Saturday's slate, with three of the day's four games ending in an underdog upset. Sunday's second salvo promises much of the same.
|Sunday's Playoff Schedule|
|Home||Away||Time||Home TV||Away TV||National TV||Odds|
|San Antonio||Dallas||1:00 p.m. ET||FSSW||TNT||SA -9.5|
|Miami||Charlotte||3:30 p.m. ET||ABC||MIA -10.5|
|Chicago||Washington||7:00 p.m. ET||CSNC||CSNB||TNT||CHI -4.5|
|Houston||Portland||9:30 p.m. ET||CSN Houston||KGW||TNT||HOU -4.5|
|ESPN.com / VegasInsider.com|
Where the series stand:
Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8): ATL leads 1-0 (+8 point differential).
Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7): Series tied 0-0.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6): BKN leads 1-0 (+7).
Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5): Series tied 0-0.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8): Series tied 0-0.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies: OKC leads 1-0 (+14)
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors: GSW leads 1-0 (+4)
Houston Rockets (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5): Series tied 0-0
3 key storylines for Sunday's games
1. Can the Mavs at least make it a series?
The San Antonio Spurs swept their season series with the Dallas Mavericks 4-0, scoring 100 or more points in each of their four victories.
To say that's not a winning formula for success is putting in mildly. For the Mavericks to even stand a chance of hanging in this series, they'll need transcendent performances from both Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and they need more than a bit of foul-trouble luck on the other end (from Tim Duncan, in particular).
For his part, Dirk has been cautiously optimistic, telling the Associated Press (via Fox News) the following:
"How big our shot is, we'll see. But we have a shot. It's better than being ninth, so we're going to go for it."
Still, there's a reason Dallas' regular-season finale with the Memphis Grizzlies was so important: Neither team wanted anything to do with these Spurs. And we might be about to find out why.
2. Does Miami have an answer for Al Jefferson?
Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson is having a career year. He just so happens to play the position at which the Miami Heat are weakest.
Charming anecdote, or recipe for an epic upset? While we're inclined to say the latter, don't chalk these Bobcats up to mere sweep fodder just yet.
Not convinced? Take a gander at this here video and tell us with a straight face that Big Al and company are here to give the Heat a cakewalk to Round 2.
3. Will the Rockets and Trail Blazers score all the points?
Next to Clips-Dubs, the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers offer perhaps the most potential for first-round craziness.
The two teams scored 100 points or more in all four of their regular-season meetings, a slate the Rockets won 3-1.
Perimeter defense will be key for both squads throughout the series, loaded as Portland and Houston are with long-range threats and space-conscious playmakers.
As Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver aptly points out, the deciding factor in this series might well end up being who can better take care of the pill:
Although these squads are similar in a number of ways, they fit distinctly different profiles when it comes to turnovers. The Blazers rank No. 3 in turnover percentage and No. 30 in opponent turnover percentage, meaning they protect the ball well on offense and play very conservatively on defense. The Rockets, on the other hand, rank No. 29 in turnover percentage and No. 28 in opponent turnover percentage, meaning they can be quite careless on offense while not really generating many free possessions on the other end.
Houston's seeding and past performance certainly gives it the overall edge. But if there's one series ripe to go the full seven, this is it.
4 Takeaways from Saturday's action
1. Roy Hibbert has issues
We dove a bit deeper into this question earlier Saturday, so consider this the Cliff's Notes version: Roy Hibbert was awful in Indy's 101-93 loss, a game that wasn't as close as the final score might let on.
In fact, he was so bad—and has been so bad against the Hawks all season long—that head coach Frank Vogel has to start seriously considering reducing his minutes.
With Pero Antic, the Hawks boast a center capable of drawing Hibbert away from his preferred defensive location, i.e. the huge rectangle of paint. That doesn't just neutralize Hibbert; it throws Indy's entire defensive scheme into disarray.
Here's USA Today's Bob Kravitz on why Vogel ought to consider going small against the pesky Hawks:
It's time to think about fighting Atlanta's small lineup with a small lineup of their own. It's time to think about sitting Hibbert and starting Ian Mahinmi or playing a lineup that features David West and Luis Scola at power forward and center. It's time to give C.J. Watson more minutes; Hill is in his own sort of funk, and failed repeatedly to contain Teague. And, what the heck, why not find minutes for the forgotten one, Chris Copeland?
Benching Hibbert outright isn't feasible; he's simply too valuable, his presence too indispensable, for Vogel to consider further damaging his psyche by putting his All-Star center too deep in the doghouse.
To get back into the series, Indy must do a better job of containing Jeff Teague on the perimeter (perhaps by sticking Paul George on him) and playing lineups that at least offer the occasional semblance of floor spacing at the other end.
2. You can't blame the refs for L.A.'s loss
Can you blame the refs? Not if instant replay review rules mean anything.
L.A. fans looking to cast blame would be better served keying on any of the following three items:
1. Blake Griffin played a scant 19 minutes, owing to chronic foul trouble throughout the night.
2. The Clippers went to the line 35 times but made just 23 free throws.
3. Getting out-rebounded by a team missing Andrew Bogut and starting Jermaine O'Neal at center is seldom, if ever, advisable.
A team as two-way talented as these Clippers aren't out of a series until the hole's four deep. But if they have any chance of stealing back home-court advantage, they'll need to play sounder and smarter than they showed in Game 1.
3. The Grizzlies might not go quietly
Let's face it: The Memphis Grizzlies aren't exactly the 1984 Denver Nuggets on offense. And yet, they were somehow nearly able to erase a 25-point first-half deficit and steal Game 1 on Oklahoma City Thunder's home turf.
The Thunder eventually prevailed, of course (100-86). But you have to wonder what Memphis might've been able to do had it not gotten sub-par performances from its big three (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley).
Remember, this is the same Grizzlies team that upended the Thunder in last year's Western Conference semifinals. Of course, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, who was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.
Still, the psychic weight that holds can't be discounted. Should Memphis somehow manage to steal Game 2, expect the series to go a full seven.
4. Paul Pierce can still play basketball
The game ball might've belonged to Joe Johnson (24 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds), but Paul Pierce's 15—nine of which came during a crucial two-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter—were just as clutch.
The Nets were able to steal Game 1 thanks in large part to the contributions of Pierce and (to a slightly smaller extent) Kevin Garnett, the team's two prized offseason acquisitions.
Heading into the series, the prevailing question was whether the upstart Raptors—as youth-laden a team as you'll find in this year's playoffs—had the moxie to trade blows with Brooklyn's grizzled core.
After one round, it's clear that, despite being the No. 6 seed, the Nets should be considered the favorites to advance.
Player of Saturday: Kevin Durant
The Thunder needed every one of KD's 33 points to withstand—and eventually pull away from—the pesky Grizzlies. With his team's lead dwindling and Memphis' confidence surging, Durant made big play after big play at both ends of the floor to cap off a scintillating, stat-stuffing performance.
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