The NBA playoffs are getting downright scandalous, which is a shame.
Much of the focus leading up to Sunday's slate of games will be on the ugly stories of racism surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. And those not talking about Sterling are likely debating whether Washington Wizards big man Nene should have been suspended for Sunday's Wizards-Bulls clash.
But let's keep the focus on the court, as their are four quality matchups on the slate for Sunday. If the Rockets-Blazers nightcap goes into overtime—as it has in two of three games so far in this series—you could be watching NBA playoff basketball for nearly 12 hours!
|Home||Away||Time||Nat'l TV||Home TV||Away TV||Series|
|Washington||Chicago||1 p.m. ET||ABC||Wizards lead 2-1|
|Golden State||L.A. Clippers||3:30 p.m. ET||ABC||Clippers lead 2-1|
|Brooklyn||Toronto||7 p.m. ET||TNT||YES||TSN||Nets lead 2-1|
|Portland||Houston||9:30 p.m. ET||TNT||KGW||CSN Houston||Trail Blazers lead 2-1|
Will the Donald Sterling Controversy Affect the Clippers?
While it is impossible to quantify the impact of allegations of racism charged against owner Donald Sterling on the Clippers players heading into Sunday's crucial Game 4 matchup with the Golden State Warriors, it cannot be good.
Head coach Doc Rivers already had to take a break from his game preparation to address rumors that the team was considering boycotting the game, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi:
I thought we needed to talk about it because everyone else is and so we needed to talk about it and all things came up. We've heard all the stuff, the boycotts and all the stuff and all those things are things you could do but we choose to play and we're going to play tomorrow. ... It was brought up because I'm sure 20,000 people have suggested it but honestly I'm completely against that and they were, too.
Why should we let someone's comments stop us from what we're trying to do? We're trying to do something here and we don't want that getting in the way of what we're trying to do.
When coaches talk about something not "getting in the way of what we're trying to do," it usually means there is something getting in the way of what they're trying to do.
The Sterling news probably won't affect the atmosphere at Oracle Arena—Warriors fans are always some of the loudest in the NBA, and they already hated the Clippers—but it could affect the mindset of the L.A. players at a time when focus is paramount.
Will Nene's Suspension Doom the Wizards?
Washington Wizards fans were walking on air after the first two games of their first-round series, as their team went into Chicago and took two games from the battle-tested Bulls.
Oh, what a difference 48 hours can make.
Not only did the Wizards lose Game 3 at home, but they lost power forward Nene, as he has been suspended for head-butting Bulls guard Jimmy Butler.
But the Wizards do have two things working in their favor. Young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal have played well after struggling in their first playoff game, and they are more than capable of carrying the scoring load for Washington.
Also, the Bulls will have to find ways to score. They got 35 points from forward Mike Dunleavy...and still barely hung on against Washington. Dunleavy isn't likely to score 35 again, so somebody else will have to step up for Chicago.
Are the Raptors a One-Man Team?
After struggling in Game 1, All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has been a one-man gang for the Toronto Raptors, scoring 30 points in both Games 2 and 3.
Unfortunately for Raptors fans, basketball is still a team sport. Point guard Kyle Lowry and power forward Amir Johnson have looked sluggish (both were injured late in the regular season). Small forward Terrence Ross has been a complete non-factor. Center Jonas Valanciunas has been great on the boards but hasn't been getting the touches he needs.
After Game 3, coach Dwane Casey acknowledged that the Raptors need somebody else to step up, per NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
Casey: "We just got to get more productivity out of one more position."— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 26, 2014
Will it be Lowry? Valanciunas? It doesn't really matter...it just has to be somebody.
Omer Asik (Rockets) vs. LaMarcus Aldridge (Blazers)
Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale needed someone to guard Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who eviscerated the Rockets for 46 points in Game 1 and 43 points in Game 2. Regular starting power forward Terrence Jones, who had thrived alongside Dwight Howard in the regular season, was simply too small to stay with Aldridge.
So Houston resurrected the twin towers frontcourt, starting center Omer Asik with Howard, despite the fact the two had not played well together during the regular season.
But the move paid off in Houston's Game 3 win Friday night. Aldridge had by far his worst performance of the series, scoring 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting from the field. He was even worse than that in the first half, scoring just four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Was Asik's defensive performance a factor, or were Aldridge's shooting numbers simply bound to regress to the mean?
This isn't a true two-way matchup, as the Warriors prefer to put shooting guard Klay Thompson on Paul defensively. But there will be a little extra heat when Paul is guarding Curry, based on what happened at the end of Game 3.
With mere seconds left on the clock and the Clippers clinging to a two-point lead, Paul checked Curry as he attempted to hit a game-winning three-pointer.
Paul, long known as one of the league's cagiest defenders, appeared to hit Curry in the hip area as he released the shot. Curry immediately went to the officials and complained that Paul didn't give him enough space to land, notes ESPN's J.A. Adande.
Just another juicy subplot in this battle between All-Star point guards.
Kyle Lowry (Raptors) vs. Deron Williams (Nets)
In yet another duel of point guards, Lowry and Williams seemed to have switched places. In the regular season, it was Lowry who staked his claim as one of the best floor generals in the Eastern Conference, while the former All-Star Williams struggled through an injury-plagued season.
But Williams looked rejuvenated in Game 3, putting up 22 points and eight assists in a Brooklyn Nets win. According to the New York Post's Tim Bontemps, Williams seemed to relish beating the Toronto guard:
Deron Williams wants to beat Kyle Lowry as much as I've seen him want to beat any player this side of Jeremy Lin in three years covering him— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 26, 2014
The Raptors need Lowry to win this matchup to get back in the series.
Playoff Stat Leaders
Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan, LAC (15.0); Dwight Howard, HOU (14.3); Jonas Valanciunas, TOR (14.0); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (12.0); Paul George, IND (11.0)
Steals: Chris Paul, LAC (3.7); John Wall, WAS (3.0); Mike Conley, MEM (2.2); seven players at 2.0
Blocks: DeAndre Jordan, LAC (5.0); Serge Ibaka, OKC (3.5); Dwight Howard, HOU (3.3); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (2.7); Taj Gibson, CHI (2.7)
Chicago vs. Washington
John Wall and Bradley Beal look like they could be two of the breakout players of this postseason. And if they truly want to put themselves on the NBA postseason map, this is their moment.
The team and the D.C. fans will be riled up by the loss of Nene—the only question is whether the Wizards will be able to control their emotions.
It says here that they will.
Score: Wizards 92, Bulls 87
L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State
Doc Rivers is a title-winning coach. Chris Paul is the league's best floor general. If any combination of player and coach can overcome the distractions caused by its owner's alleged comments, it's this one.
Still, the Clippers came achingly close to blowing Game 3, and Stephen Curry and the Warriors are likely still fired up over that last-second no-call.
The Warriors will take this game.
Score: Warriors 107, Clippers 103
Toronto vs. Brooklyn
The Raptors have looked skittish throughout this series. Brooklyn's crowd doesn't exactly give its team a home-court advantage on par with most of the other playoff teams, but the Nets were very tough to beat at home during the second half of the season.
Ultimately, the Raptors haven't shown enough to pick them on the road just yet.
Score: Nets 99, Raptors 91
Houston vs. Portland
James Harden needs to start playing better at some point, right?
The Rockets may have been the more talented team during the regular season, but not by much. Portland is very good, and it has been out-executing Houston throughout this series.
Harden will eventually break out...but until he does, it's hard to pick Houston.
Score: Blazers 110, Rockets 109