If ever there was a year to watch the NBA postseason, it's 2014. We already have three first-round series going to seven games, with the potential for three more depending on Friday's results. Only Miami and Washington have secured spots in the second round.
All of this drama is good news for basketball, which usually has to deal with complaints about how long the playoffs are. Now the only thing to regret is knowing that after this weekend, six teams will be going home.
We better enjoy what's left of this round while we can, because it's not going to be easy to duplicate. All the matchups lined up perfectly. Teams that we thought would coast to victories have come apart at the seams, newspaper headlines are getting all sorts of attention, and nothing has been settled.
As the weekend commences with the hope of getting six Game 7s, here is how the bracket stands right now and the latest odds heading into Friday night.
|2014 NBA Playoff Schedule|
|Date, Time (ET)||Matchup||Series|
|Friday, May 2 at 7 p.m.||Raptors at Nets||Raptors lead 3-2|
|Friday, May 2 at 8 p.m.||Spurs at Mavericks||Spurs lead 3-2|
|Friday, May 2 at 10:30 p.m.||Rockets at Trail Blazers||Trail Blazers lead 3-2|
|Saturday, May 3 at 5:30 p.m.||Hawks at Pacers||Tied 3-3|
|Saturday, May 3 at 8 p.m.||Grizzlies at Thunder||Tied 3-3|
|Saturday, May 3 at 10:30 p.m.||Warriors at Clippers||Tied 3-3|
Full bracket can be found at NBAPlayoffsBracket.com.
Eastern Conference Game 6: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets (Raptors lead 3-2)
Spread: Nets (-5)
While it's not surprising to see the Nets getting the advantage from the oddsmakers, the fact that they are getting five points seems high. These two teams have already split two games at the Barclays Center, with the Nets' victory coming by a scant four points.
Another problem the Nets have had in this series is head coach Jason Kidd. He's just a first-year coach, so there is a lot left to learn, but that doesn't excuse the way this series has gone.
Ian O'Connor of ESPN.com wrote that Kidd's recent tactic of blaming the referees isn't going to go over well with one more loss in this series:
Kidd went on about Toronto's alleged flopping, and how his guys, especially Joe Johnson, wouldn't reduce themselves to such low-rent tactics unless, of course, the officials forced them to in Game 6.
Only here's the thing, no matter how the refs react Friday night in the Barclays Center: If the Nets lose this series, Jason Kidd will be the face of the biggest flop of all.
Meanwhile, the Raptors just keep flying under the radar. Kyle Lowry played out of his mind in Game 5, scoring 36 points and shooting 67 percent from three-point range.
Toronto has been more aggressive in this series, which is one reason the Nets aren't getting the calls they want. Despite that physical style from the Raptors, the Nets were able to work their way back from a 26-point deficit in Game 5 to nearly steal a game on the road.
Carrying that momentum back home won't be hard for the Nets, who are going to force a Game 7. It will be a closer game than the experts think.
Western Conference Game 6: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks (Spurs lead 3-2)
Spread: Spurs (-3)
How do you not like San Antonio in this spot? It's been tough sledding for the Western Conference's No. 1 seed, losing one game on a Vince Carter buzzer-beater and being held under 95 points three times, but Gregg Popovich's defense has been stellar in limiting Dallas' offense.
Dirk Nowitzki has been a ghost through five games, making just one three-pointer on seven attempts and breaking the 20-point barrier just once. He was a problem for the Mavericks in the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a four-point loss in Game 4.
Even when he started making shots in Game 5, it didn't matter because San Antonio's offense came to life with 109 points on 47 percent shooting.
Dallas' problem is trying to figure out where the ball is going to be when it's in San Antonio's hands. Four Spurs had at least 15 points in that Game 5 win, while six players were in double figures in Game 4.
Popovich is so good at finding different ways and lineups that can beat a team. Dallas put forth a great effort, but if not for Carter's miracle in Game 3, this series would already be over. Instead, the Spurs will have to settle for putting it away on Friday night.
Western Conference Game 6: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (Trail Blazers lead 3-2)
Spread: Trail Blazers (-4)
This is the one series that's been hard to figure out because there hasn't been one overwhelming narrative. LaMarcus Aldridge looked like he was on the verge of superstardom with back-to-back 40-point games to start the series, but he had just eight points in Game 5.
All five games so far have been decided by 10 points or less, including three by five points or less.
Dwight Howard has to be the focal point for the Rockets to save their season. He's had a double-double in all five games this series but more importantly has shot 64 percent (34-of-53) from the foul line. It's not a great percentage but a vast improvement from the 55 percent he put up in the regular season.
Often accused of having soft skin, Howard told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle that he's trying to be more aggressive on the floor and more assertive in the locker room:
It’s very big that I come out aggressive and play well and I talk to the guys in the locker room and continue to lift up their spirits. A lot of these guys are new to a lot of these situations so if they miss a shot or it doesn’t go their way, they don’t know how to react. In these situations, you can’t allow mistakes to mess up your rhythm or allow you to stop playing defense. You have to concentrate on what you have to do to win.
It's still hard to look at a team with Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons as being eliminated in the first round. The Rockets are starting to play better after coming out with a much-needed sense of urgency in Game 5, so Game 7 seems inevitable.
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