The 2014 NBA playoffs don’t promise the insanity of March Madness. Instead, the playoffs guarantee an extended period of highly competitive basketball between the best players on the planet. In other words, March Madness is the appetizer for the glorious entree of postseason basketball at the highest level, and you can’t miss any of the action.
To aid you in your quest, below are breakdowns of every first-round series, along with the schedule and where you can find every game on TV.
No. 1 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks
|1 (ATL 101, IND 93; ATL leads series 1-0)||7 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 19|
|2||7 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 22|
|3||7 p.m.||NBATV||Apr. 24|
|4||2 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 26|
|5*||8 p.m.||NBATV||Apr. 28|
What to Watch For: Can the Pacers Regain Their Chemistry?
The unfathomable collapse of the Indiana Pacers has been the most fascinating storyline of the season, and that’s why you have to watch this series. No offense to the Atlanta Hawks, but they’re not the reason to turn on your TV (unless you’re from the ATL). They’ve done a tremendous job without Al Horford, but they shouldn’t be able to hang with Indiana.
Yet the Hawks came out and stole Game 1 in convincing fashion.
Should that even surprise us, though? The Pacers haven’t just fallen off from their blistering start to the season. They’re playing legitimately terrible basketball right now, and if they don’t turn it around, they could be in for a shocking upset.
Why Pacers Will Win in 7
Perhaps this is too optimistic for Indiana, but it still should have no business losing this series. The Pacers have way more talent on the roster, and that should eventually win out. Paul George is the best player in this series, and the combination of George Hill and C.J. Watson will do a better defensive job on Jeff Teague moving forward.
Furthermore, this isn’t just an overreaction to Atlanta’s Game 1 victory. The Hawks pose some intriguing problems for the Pacers defense, but the biggest one is Pero Antic. His three-point shooting ability drags Roy Hibbert away from the basket and makes him largely useless on defense since his best ability is as a rim-protector.
It will be a struggle for the Pacers, but having a Game 7 on their own floor will be the difference-maker.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks
|1 (SAS 90, DAL 85; SAS leads series 1-0)||Noon||TNT||Apr. 20|
|2||7 p.m.||NBATV||Apr. 23|
|3||3:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 26|
|4||8:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 28|
What to Watch For: Coaching Battle and Duncan vs. Nowitzki
There are two major reasons to watch this series (in addition to the fact that it pits two of the best Western Conference teams of the last decade). The first reason is the inevitable chess match between two of the best coaches in the game: Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle.
Not only do they have their teams playing a beautiful brand of basketball with lots of ball movement, but they are also both excellent at making in-game and in-series adjustments.
Be prepared to see a lot of intriguing defensive matchups all over the place, like the small forwards guarding the opposition’s best perimeter threats (Kawhi Leonard on Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion on Tony Parker) in crucial situations.
Watching the coaches go back and forth as they respond to each other’s maneuvers will be fascinating and is reason enough to pay close attention to this series.
The second reason to watch is because it pits two of the best power forwards of the last 15 years against each other. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki won’t spend too much time guarding each other, but both are still capable of dominating games offensively. We’re bound to get a duel between the two at some point.
With both players getting closer to retirement, this might be the last time we see them face off in a playoff series.
Why Spurs Will Win in 5
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle may be an excellent coach, but Popovich is the best coach in the league. He also has a better roster to work with and has won nine straight games against the Mavericks. With role players like Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills in excellent form, it’s going to be a quick series.
That said, Nowitzki still has enough ammunition to go berserk and steal a game on his own—with some help from Monta Ellis.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats
|1||3:30 p.m.||ABC||Apr. 20|
|2||7 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 23|
|3||7 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 26|
|4||7 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 28|
What to Watch For: How do the Heat Contain Al Jefferson?
It’s no secret that size is Miami’s kryptonite, and the Heat should be concerned about the prospect of going up against Al Jefferson—especially with how he’s playing at the moment. “Big Al” is averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds over his last 10 games of the regular season, and those numbers could increase against the underwhelming frontcourt rotation of Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Greg Oden.
Jefferson will be the focal point of Miami’s defensive game plan, and it will be intriguing to see how the Heat attempt to cover him. Double-teams will be plentiful, be prepared to see plenty of fronting, and it wouldn’t even be surprising to see LeBron James take a crack at him.
Why Heat Will Win in 5
Daniel Friedman of Sports Illustrated touches on two key points that will lead to a Miami victory:
The Bobcats couldn't defend the perimeter enough to give themselves a chance, allowing the Heat to shoot 57 percent from downtown. Charlotte also had trouble keeping up with Miami's quickness.
Another factor tipping the odds in the Heat's favor is the fact that they'll have Dwyane Wade back at full strength, though we may see his minutes limited in the first round. But even with possible restrictions on Wade, the rest of the Big Three will be rested and should be able to flip the switch like they have in the past.
But the biggest reason for a Miami win is James. The same James who dropped 61 points on this Bobcats team earlier in the season.
Charlotte has no answer for him(who does?), and that will lead to a quick series as the Heat look ahead to the second round.
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies
|1 (OKC 100, MEM 86; OKC leads series 1-0)||9:30 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 19|
|2||8 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 21|
|3||8 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 24|
|4||9:30 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 26|
What to Watch For: Can Kevin Durant Continue His MVP Performance in the Playoffs?
Kevin Durant dominated the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Coaches will be focusing all their energy on how to stop him, and continuing that level of play won’t be easy—especially against a great defensive team like the Memphis Grizzlies.
Durant is the best scorer in the game, and it will be fascinating to see if he can keep up that scoring pace in the playoffs.
Why OKC Will Win in 5
Last year’s playoff series doesn’t factor into this year’s series at all, except for serving as motivation for the Thunder. With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant back in the postseason, it’s going to be too tough for the Grizzlies to contain both of them.
Furthermore, the Thunder have the size to deal with the talented Memphis frontcourt. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams give head coach Scott Brooks a number of viable frontcourt options—defensively at least—which will be enough to keep the Grizzlies from dominating the paint.
OKC’s biggest weakness defensively is against the three-pointer, and Memphis can’t shoot the ball well enough to take advantage. For that reason, the Thunder make quick work of a very good team.
No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets
|1 (BRK 94, TOR 87; BRK leads series 1-0)||12:30 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 19|
|2||8 p.m.||NBATV||Apr. 22|
|3||7 p.m.||ESPN 2||Apr. 25|
|4||7 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 27|
What to Watch For: How Legitimate are the Brooklyn Nets?
The Brooklyn Nets were built (or bought) for this time of the year. They have rebounded very nicely from a terrible start to the year and a season-ending injury to their best player, Brook Lopez.
But it is still hard to figure out this team. They swept the Heat in the regular season, which implies that a potential second-round matchup between the two could be trouble for the defending champs.
This first-round series against an underrated Toronto Raptors team will give us an idea of where Brooklyn stands.
Why Nets Will Win in 6
Though Brooklyn stumbled to four losses in its past five games, the Nets boast 399 games of playoff experience with the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on their roster. Meantime, the Raptors’ young but upstart squad has just 24 combined postseason games under its belt.
Second word: scoring. Brooklyn just has too many scoring options with which to attack the Raptors, as we saw in Game 1. Deron Williams is not the same as when he played for the Utah Jazz, but he is still capable of lighting it up from deep and herky-jerkying his way to the rack.
Paul Pierce is still a crafty scorer, and Joe Johnson is always ready to hit a clutch shot. Heck, even Shaun Livingston was doing work in the post.
These games will be fairly close, but the experience and go-to scorers on Brooklyn will help head coach Jason Kidd win his first playoff series.
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
|1 (GSW 109, LAC 104; GSW leads series 1-0)||3:30 p.m.||ABC||Apr. 19|
|2||10:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 21|
|3||10:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 24|
|4||3:30 p.m.||ABC||Apr. 27|
What to Watch For: Everything
This is unquestionably the best first-round series of the playoffs for a multitude of reasons, starting with the teams themselves. Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry are arguably the two most watchable stars in the game for the never-ending highlight reels that they produce.
Griffin is good for at least two jaw-dropping moments per game, and nothing compares to that moment when you text your buddy because Curry is starting to heat up.
Given the pace at which these teams play, we’re in for a thoroughly entertaining series with plenty of up-and-down action and three-pointers.
But we’re also guaranteed to get more than a few scuffles, as these teams really don’t like each other. The physicality was on display early in Game 1:
David Lee elbowed Blake Griffin twice in the face in this game's first 15 seconds and those were the soft fouls so far.— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) April 19, 2014
Two exciting teams stocked with playmakers with bad blood between them? Sign me up.
Why Warriors Will Win in 6
Andrew Bogut’s injury that knocked him out of the playoffs was actually a blessing in disguise. He is the defensive backbone of this team, make no mistake about that. But his absence forces the Warriors to play small ball, and that’s their only chance of winning this series.
It allows them to get Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green more playing time, and that will be crucial for Barnes in particular. The North Carolina product has struggled this season but thrived in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball 4, so head coach Mark Jackson will be hoping for a similar resurgence against the Clippers.
Without Bogut on the floor, the Warriors are forced to play at breakneck speed and let it fly from beyond the arc—not a bad strategy when you have Curry and Klay Thompson manning the backcourt.
Additionally, let’s not lose sight of the Clippers’ personnel. They have no depth in the frontcourt, and DeAndre Jordan will not be able to capitalize on Bogut’s absence. Golden State will be just fine throwing David Lee or Draymond Green at Jordan.
Ultimately, this series will come down to the charity stripe. Both Jordan and Griffin made a pair of clutch free throws in Game 1, but you know they’re going to miss a costly free throw at some point in this series.
No. 4 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards
|1||7 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 20|
|2||9:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 22|
|3||8 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 25|
|4||1 p.m.||ABC||Apr. 27|
What to Watch For: Can the Bulls Keep This Magical Ride Going?
The Chicago Bulls lost their best player (and a top-five player in the league) in Derrick Rose. Then they traded away Luol Deng. Look at their roster and explain to me how they are the No. 4 seed in the East. It’s inexplicable.
Chicago has been one of the best teams in the East over the second half of the season thanks to unselfishness, great ball movement and lockdown defense.
Will that formula continue to work in the playoffs? In their first-round series, the Washington Wizards arguably have three of the best four players on the court, and that would normally mean a fairly comfortable win.
That’s not the case against these Bulls.
Why the Bulls Will Win in 7
The Bulls are the better team, and their combination of experience, coaching and defense will see them prevail...eventually.
But they also severely lack the go-to scorer that is needed at the end of playoff games, and their anemic offense will cost them more than one game in this series.
Additionally, Washington's duo of Nene and Marcin Gortat provides the size necessary to bang with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson down low.
Gibson will be the X-factor in this series, however, as his athleticism will make him a tough cover for anyone on the Washington roster.
Game 7 at the United Center also helps, and the Bulls will advance to face Indiana in the second round.
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers
|1||9:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 20|
|2||9:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 23|
|3||10:30 p.m.||ESPN||Apr. 25|
|4||9:30 p.m.||TNT||Apr. 27|
What to Watch For: How Many 3s Will Be Made/Attempted in This Series?
This series should rival the Warriors vs. Clippers in terms of competitiveness and beautiful basketball. Both teams execute very well on offense and are not that great defensively. But the hallmark of both teams is the three-ball.
Houston and Portland are Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in terms of threes attempted per game, so we could see a new record set for most three-pointers made/attempted in a playoff series if this one goes the distance.
Why the Rockets Will Win in 7
Ultimately, Houston will come out on top because it has the two best players in the series. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have been terrific this season, but James Harden and Dwight Howard are better.
Additionally, in a series with an abundance of offense, Howard is the great equalizer on the defensive end and will be able to lock down the paint.
Throw in the frustrating Patrick Beverley to hound Lillard all series, and the Rockets should eventually advance to Round 2.