NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions for Thursday, April 24

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NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions for Thursday, April 24
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Three series, six games to date, a win and a loss for each team.

If you don't have NBA playoff fever by now, stick your head in a freezer and watch NBA TV until you get one.

Following a much-needed Game 2 smackdown of the Atlanta Hawks, the Indiana Pacers look to recapture home-court advantage in Thursday evening's opening game. After all the embarrassing press, it's high time the Pacers remind everyone why they nabbed the No. 1 seed to begin with.

A little later, the Oklahoma City Thunder aim to avenge their crippling overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies by getting back to basics—namely, giving the ball to Kevin Durant and letting him lay ruin to the Beale Street Bullies.

Tell me that's not trademarked. It's trademarked. What about nacho cheese Pop Tarts?

Anyway, the nightcap finds the Golden State Warriors—fresh off a 40-point thrashing Monday night—getting a chance to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers. Hopefully, the Dubs managed to scrape their pride off the Staples Center floor.

Thursday? Around these parts, we call it Thrills-day!

Hallmark just preemptively fired me.

Thursday's Games
Home Away Time Nat'l TV Home TV Away TV Series
Atlanta Indiana 7 p.m. ET NBA TV TSOH FSMW Tied 1-1
Memphis OKC 8 p.m. ET TNT TSOH FSOK Tied 1-1
Golden State L.A. Clippers 10:30 p.m. ET TNT CSNB FSW2 Tied 1-1

NBA.com

 

Key Storylines

1. Have the Pacers solved the Teague problem?

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Wielding Atlanta's spread-five attack with masterful aplomb, Jeff Teague torched the Indiana Pacers in Game 1. Desperate measures beckoned, however, and the Pacers adjusted by doing something a bit unconventional: sicking Paul George on the Hawks' cat-quick point guard.

Teague's Game 2 line wasn't terrible, per se (14 points on 6-of-13 shooting to go along with four assists). But George's length and athleticism were clearly bothersome. Given Indy's proficiency on navigating pick and rolls, Atlanta's options for neutralizing George—or at least putting him in compromising positions—are limited. How the Hawks attack will likely tell all in this, the all-important Game 3.

 

2. Can Russell Westbrook settle down, like, just a bit?

It's become as common an NBA social-media mantra as you'll find: "Let Westbrook Be Westbrook." This refers, of course, to OKC's precocious point guard, who hoisted 28 shots in his team's 111-105 overtime loss Tuesday night.

Westbrook's scoring is absolutely critical to the Thunder offense. But when so many shots (and misses) are of the ill-advised variety—pull-up jumpers in transition, early shot-clock heat checks—people are going to start asking questions. Especially, when you have the second best player in the world waving his flagpole arm out at the three-point line.

That's not to say Durant needs to be taking 10 of Westbrook's shots, of course. If anything, the ball needs to be better distributed all along. KD and Russ are both fantastic facilitators in the half court when they want to be. It's up to head coach Scott Brooks to demand they be.

 

3. Should the Warriors go small?

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So here's the thing: The way he's playing, no one—not David Lee, not 1962 Bill Russell, not NORAD—can stop Blake Griffin right now. With the loss of Andrew Bogut, the Warriors are in a bad place in the low post. Lee, who's always been something of a sieve, simply has his hands full, and Jermaine O'Neal for all his veteran grit, certainly isn't the answer.

Which is why Mark Jackson ought to consider going a bit smaller for large swaths of Thursday's tilt, in particular, giving Marreese Speights a healthy bit of burn. Indeed Speights' length and athleticism affords him a defensive versatility O'Neal no longer has.

Meanwhile, Jackson can essentially hide Lee on DeAndre Jordan on defense. If the Clippers choose to exploit the mismatch—it's better than Griffin adding to his poster sales.

 

Key Matchups

Paul George (Indiana) vs. Jeff Teague (Atlanta)

Darron Cummings

Let's assume Frank Vogel opts to put George on Teague throughout. Just as interesting as the showdown itself is how it will affect other matchups. Does Indy put Lance Stephenson on Kyle Korver, thereby leaving George Hill to check the taller, longer DeMarre Carroll? Or will Korver be firing away over the less pesky Hill?

Atlanta's entire offense hinges on the ability to exploit space and create open looks, and in that respect, Teague's ability to get to the rim—thereby collapsing the opposing D—is paramount. Look for Teague to put George in myriad of pick and rolls in an attempt to force switches, or better yet, get George a few silly fouls.

 

Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City) vs. Zach Randolph (Memphis)

We all know the Grizzlies feed off their defense. But it's when they feed the best—e.g. Zach Randolph—that Memphis' offense is at its most effective. But while Z-Bo may boast the low-post brawn, Serge Ibaka's ability to stretch the floor is key to OKC's offensive scheme.

Only, the two weren't matched up much in Game 1, owing to what Bleacher Report's Luke Petcak sees as a strategy that could come back to haunt the Thunder:

[Kendrick] Perkins, [Steve] Adams and Nick Collison are all good defensive bigs, and OKC freely switches them onto its opponents' best post players so that Ibaka can focus on providing weak-side help. In Game 1 against Memphis, Ibaka rarely guarded Zach Randolph and instead was tasked with using his length and athleticism to bother Gasol.

The problem with switching Ibaka like that is the Thunder's three other bigs all foul a ton—Randolph went to the line 12 times, and it could have been more if the officials decided to call the game tightly.

Playing at home, those calls are liable to be there for Randolph in Game 3. Should Brooks elect to take his chances with Perkins and company on Marc Gasol and put Ibaka on the burly Randolph, the resulting front might well be the one that decides the battle.

 

Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers) vs. Klay Thompson (Golden State)

Speaking of home cooking, the Warriors better hope Thursday's refs don't do to Klay Thompson what Tuesday's crew did, namely, whack him with three fouls in the first eight minutes. Thompson has been Jackson's go-to option for guarding Chris Paul, with mixed-to-terrible results.

The rationale is all too obvious, of course: Stephen Curry has enough to worry about orchestrating the Golden State offense and navigating around secondary screens without having to stop the world's best point guard at the other end. Also: Curry is kind of a terrible defender.

Thompson's foul trouble wasn't the cause of L.A.'s gangbusters performance. But it certainly didn't help. If the Warriors have any hope of corralling CP3 and company, not leaning too heavily on Steve Blake will be an important precursor.

 

Playoff Stat Leaders

Points: LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (44.5); Kevin Durant, OKC (34.5); Dwight Howard, HOU (29.5); LeBron James, MIA (29.5); Russell Westbrook, OKC (26.0)

 

Rebounds: Jonas Valanciunas, TOR (16.0); Dwight Howard, HOU (14.5); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (13.0); DeAndre Jordan, LAC (11.5); Al Jefferson, CHA (11.5)

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Assists: Mike Conley, MEM (11.5); Chris Paul, LAC (9.0); Damian Lillard, POR (8.0); Greivis Vasquez, TOR (8.0); Stephen Curry, GS (7.5)

 

Steals: Chris Paul, LAC (4.5); Paul George, IND (4.0); Andrei Kirilenko, BKN (4.0); 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); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (2.5)

 

Predictions

Indiana vs. Atlanta

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Those wary of chalking up Indiana's decisive Game 2 win as a genuine awakening are entitled to their skepticism. At the same time, it feels like the Pacers may have solved the Teague puzzle.

Score: Pacers 92, Hawks 89

 

Oklahoma City vs. Memphis

FedEx Forum will be bananas Thursday night. That extra mojo alone will be enough for Memphis to keep it close. Unfortunately, Durant doesn't like it when four-point plays are made in vain. Expect a monster performance from the imminent MVP.

Score: Thunder 101, Grizzlies 95

 

L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State

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Anyone who watched L.A.'s unmitigated dismantling of Golden State now understands just how dangerous this team can be. The Bogut injury, unfortunately, is one from which the Dubs simply can't recover.

With the Warriors sure to focus more on stopping Blake, look for CP3 to take matters into his own, well-insured hands at key stretches throughout.

Score: Clippers 110, Warriors 106

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