Wednesday, April 23 NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions

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Wednesday, April 23 NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions
USA TODAY Sports

If it feels like the NBA playoffs have been getting more nerve-racking by the day, you’re right—they have. At this rate, Wednesday night will see every store in America sold out of Kleenexes, on account of all the bloody noses.

In the evening’s opening number, a hobbled Al Jefferson will give it a go to try to help his Charlotte Bobcats even the series at one all against the Miami Heat.

Next, the San Antonio Spurs look to make it 11 straight (regular season and playoffs included) over their interstate rivals, the Dallas Mavericks, and take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Finally, the rematch we’ve all been waiting for: Following a show-stopping overtime thriller Sunday night, the Portland Trail Blazers—led by the top playoff-scoring duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard—will attempt another road win against the Houston Rockets.

It's actually pronounced prim-er, you know. Philistines.

Today's Games
Home Away Time Nat'l TV Home TV Away TV Series
Miami Charlotte 7 p.m. ET TNT MIA 1-0
San Antonio Dallas 8 p.m. ET NBA TV FSSW SAS 1-0
Houston Portland 9:30 p.m. ET TNT CSN-Houston KGW POR 1-0

NBA.com

 

Key Storylines

1. How will Miami attack Al Jefferson?

From the beginning, Charlotte's one advantage over Miami lay in the fancy footwork of its smooth-shooting center—the one position where the Heat's emphasis on speed and floor spacing can come back to haunt them. 

So when word got out that Big Al had suffered a considerable left foot injury in Game 1, it didn't take long for the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell to seize on exactly what the Bobcats would face next.

By forcing Jefferson into a position where he has to constantly react, the Heat hope to, at the very least, get him into foul trouble and, at most, make his life a living hell on the court.

Beyond Big Al, the Bobcats have nowhere near the offensive firepower to account for Miami's quick-hitting runs and smart, disciplined offense—to say nothing of its helter-skelter, opportunistic defense.

 

2. Will Dallas' Big 2 rise to the occasion?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Twenty-two points on 8-of-28 shooting. No, it's not the shooting line from your second grader's weekend parks and recreation game—it's what Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combined to shoot in the Mavs' 90-85 Game 1 loss.

That Dallas was able to keep the game as close as it did with its bench scoring more than half (46) of the team's points speaks to how ripe the Spurs are for a challenge. At 35 years old and on the cusp of yet another summer of roster-tweaking moves on the horizon, Nowitzki can't count on too many more playoff opportunities, particularly in a Western Conference only bound to get better.

The gravity of the task at hand is not lost on Dirk, of course, who said the following, via The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw, after Sunday's defeat:

"They’re living with Monta and Devin shooting, it was clear. All night they’re not gonna give me much. They’re not necessarily athletic and long, but they’re smart. They force you to do a ‘B’ move, not your most comfortable move."

Dirk will find his groove. That's what Hall of Famers do. Ellis, on the other hand, presents a curious case: After authoring a renaissance year based largely on his newfound desire to attack the tin, only four of Monta's 14 Game 1 attempts came in the paint—a dream come true, if you're the Spurs.

 

3. Can the Rocket stop LaMarcus Aldridge?

Dwight Howard, Omer Asik and Terrence Jones all took their turns on Portland's All-Star forward Sunday night. The result: a career-high (and franchise playoff-record) 46 points and 18 rebounds on 18-of-31 shooting and—most important of all—a huge Game 1 win by the visiting Blazers.

Keeping Aldridge in check isn't just about rooting him out of the post and getting a hand up on his patented mid-range jumpers; it's also about keeping him off the glass.

Stopping Aldridge might be necessary for Houston to win the series, but it's by no means sufficient. Despite its shallow bench, Portland has plenty of weapons with which to wreak well-spaced havoc on the Rockets, led by pugnacious point guard Damian Lillard.

Make no mistake, though: This is LMA's team, and so long as he's putting up Wilt Chamberlain numbers, the Rockets have less than no hope to take this series. Even if it means more regularly cross-matching Jones on the offensively limited Robin Lopez and keeping Howard on Aldridge, Houston has to make the Blazers' supporting cast work harder.

 

Key Matchups

Al Jefferson (Charlotte) vs. Chris Bosh (Miami)

J Pat Carter

As we discussed earlier, the Heat will be looking to attack Jefferson—more specifically, his injured right foot. Look for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to run picks galore to put Big Al on the move and create openings for Bosh, either on the roll or from his mid-range sweet spots.

Charlotte looking for ways to protect Jefferson from this scenario will be fascinating to watch, not to mention an unenviable challenge. Which is why you should expect to see head coach Steve Clifford playing with lineups and matchups to assure Jefferson is matched up against Udonis Haslem or Chris Andersen rather than the viciously versatile Bosh.

 

Jose Calderon (Dallas) vs. Tony Parker (San Antonio)

For as effective an offensive cog as he's been, Calderon was nowhere to be found in Game 1, finishing with just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting and just two assists. All the while, his all-world counterpart, Tony Parker, was orchestrating a ho-hum 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting and six dimes.

Calderon has never been an elite perimeter defender. Far from it. But if we're to take his being a defensive turnstile as a forgone conclusion, Dallas absolutely must get Calderon involved on the other end—putting Parker through myriad pick-and-rolls and being at the ready to knock down open jumpers when needed. San Antonio is way too balanced for the Mavericks to get away with having Nowitzki and Ellis be their only contributors of consequence. Which is why it's time for Calderon to remind everyone this isn't his first Texas rodeo.

 

Patrick Beverley vs. Damian Lillard

After suffering a right knee sprain in his team's Game 1 loss (it looked much worse than that, trust us), Patrick Beverley—Houston's pit bull point guard—is expected to suit up in Wednesday's nightcap.

This is both good and bad news for the Rockets: good in the sense that a healthy Beverley is by far Houston's best perimeter defender and the natural choice to check Lillard; bad in the sense that, well, he might not actually be healthy.

Lillard was a revelation in Game 1, crippling the Rockets with a mix of three-point barrages and paint-probing fury (only three of his 19 attempts came from mid-range). How the refs interpret Beverley's patented in-your-face D will be a crucial Rorschach test for the Rockets.

 

Playoff Stat Leaders

Points: LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (46.0); Kevin Durant, OKC (34.5); Damian Lillard, POR (31.0); Dwight Howard, HOU (27.0); LeBron James, MIA (27.0); Tim Duncan, SAS (27.0); James Harden, HOU (27.0)

 

Rebounds: LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (18.0); Jonas Valanciunas, TOR (16.0); Dwight Howard, HOU (15.0); Terrence Jones, HOU (13.0); DeAndre Jordan, LAC (11.5)

USA TODAY Sports

 

Assists: Mike Conley, MEM (11.5); Chris Paul, LAC (9.0); Greivis Vasquez, TOR (8.0); Stephen Curry, GS (7.5); Kyle Lowry, TOR (7.0)

 

Steals: Chris Paul, LAC (4.5); Paul George, IND (4.0); Wesley Matthews, POR (3.0); John Wall, WAS (2.5); Alan Anderson, BKN (2.5)

 

Blocks: DeAndre Jordan, LAC (5.0); Serge Ibaka, OKC (4.5); Dwight Howard, HOU (4.0); Taj Gibson, CHI (3.0); Dirk Nowitzki, DAL (2.0)

 

Predictions

Charlotte vs. Miami

USA TODAY Sports

Even if Big Al gets the go-ahead, his effectiveness will likely be limited—more of a psychological decoy than anything. The Heat aren't one of the smartest teams in the league for nothing. In violent defiance of Game 1's blase beginning, expect Miami to come out looking to break Charlotte's will early.

Score: Heat 102, Bobcats 88

 

Dallas vs. San Antonio

Sometimes you just have the other team's number. In the case of the Spurs, they have Dirk and company's numbers, addresses, social security numbers and Taco Bell ordering histories committed to rote. This won't be a sweep, but Dallas is heading back north with some work to do.

Score: Spurs 106, Mavericks 100

 

Portland vs. Houston

David J. Phillip

Get your ponchos on, folks, because this one's fixing to be a classic. You just get the feeling these two teams were meant to go the distance. That's why we expect a bounce-back performance from the Rockets, who will ride the hot hand of James Harden to pull away down the stretch.

Score: Houston 110, Portland 104

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