NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions for Sunday, May 4

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NBA Playoff Primer: Schedule, Storylines and Predictions for Sunday, May 4
Glenn James/Getty Images

Farewell, 2014 first round. You were too beautiful for this world.

Perhaps the greatest round in NBA playoff history wraps up Sunday. It was a wild two weeks, rife with overtime periods and buzzer-beaters. And the four-points plays...so many four-point plays!

But we can hope for one final bit of first-round magic, with two Game 7 matchups set for Sunday afternoon.

We first head north of the border, as two franchises that have never won a Game 7 (Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets) will clash. Toronto hasn't played in a Game 7 since the infamous "Vince Carter college graduation" loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001, while the Nets were beaten on their home floor by the shorthanded Chicago Bulls just last season.

In San Antonio, a couple of proud old foes will duke it out, as the No. 8 Dallas Mavericks have proven to be far better than their seeding. Will this be the last time NBA legends Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki face each other in the postseason?

Sunday's Games
Home Away Time Nat'l TV Home TV Away TV Series
Toronto Brooklyn 1 p.m. ET ABC Tied 3-3
San Antonio Dallas 3:30 p.m. ET ABC Tied 3-3

ESPN.com

 

Key Storylines

Will DeJuan Blair complete his vengeance?

Glenn James/Getty Images

Fun fact: The Dallas Mavericks have won the last three games of this series in which reserve big man DeJuan Blair has been able to play the entire game.

The Mavericks won Games 2 and 3 with help from the power forward, who was ejected in the second half of their Game 4 loss for kicking Spurs center Tiago Splitter. Blair was suspended for Game 5 (another Dallas loss) before he helped the Mavs stave off elimination in Game 6.

This has to be a satisfying series for Blair, who wasn't tendered a contract from San Antonio—the only pro team he's ever known—after the 2012-13 season. He fell out of the Spurs' rotation in the 2013 playoffs, playing just 76 total minutes in the Spurs' 21 playoff games.

By comparison, Blair has played 66 minutes so far in these playoffs for Dallas, despite the Game 4 ejection and Game 5 suspension. It must be frustrating for the Spurs fans who wrote him off.

Can DeJuan Blair complete his masterpiece of revenge?

 

How is Deron Williams' ankle?

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams came up huge with his team facing elimination Friday night, with 23 points (including four made three-pointers), five rebounds and four assists in a Game 6 victory.

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The performance was all the more spectacular given that he was playing through a bum ankle. Williams appeared to twist the ankle during the second half, yet he stayed in the game and immediately buried another three. The gutsy performance seemed to inspire his teammates.

"Deron showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit. I would like to use another word but I can't," Nets big man Kevin Garnett said, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News."... He could have took another route you know? But that's our leader."

Williams says he plans to get as much medical attention as he can before game time on Sunday, per ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo:

That bum ankle could very well decide Game 7.

 

Can Monta Ellis change his legacy?

Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis has made it past the first round just once in his first eight years in the league. Coincidentally enough, that moment of triumph came when his No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors upset the No. 1 seed Mavericks.

Ellis was just 21 years old at the time—a second-round pick who won the NBA's Most Improved Player award in his second season. He was a budding star in the Bay Area.

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But Ellis would not win another playoff game over the next seven years. He was traded to Milwaukee amid whispers that he would never be more than an inefficient scorer, the kind of player who put up big numbers on bad teams.

A 28-year-old Ellis signed a free-agent deal with Dallas, and he has been a revelation in these playoffs, averaging 21.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. 

Ellis has connected on only 42.2 percent of his shots from the field, but he's helped himself out by hitting three-pointers (35.7 percent) and free throws (85.2 percent). 

The Mavericks may still be Dirk Nowitzki's team, but they rise and fall with Ellis, per Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News:

The Mavs go as Monta goes. When he’s knocking down triples and having success at the rim, the Mavs are extremely difficult to defend.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked after the game: what makes Ellis so difficult on his drives? In typical Pop fashion, he followed with a short, one sentence answer: "It’s called speed."

The Mavericks will need Ellis to win this game, and Ellis needs this chance to show the basketball world that he is a winner.

 

Key Matchups 

Kyle Lowry (Raptors) vs. Deron Williams (Nets)

This series has often swung on the play between Williams and Lowry, and Game 7 won't be an exception. 

Lowry didn't bring quite the same energy to Friday's matchup after igniting the Raptors with 36 points in Game 5, and Williams clearly outplayed him. Will Lowry turn the tables when the series shifts back to Canada? If he doesn't, the Nets could take Game 7 on the road.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

 

Andray Blatche (Nets) vs. Joe Namath (Jets: retired) and Mark Messier (Rangers: retired)

Reserve center Andray Blatche certainly wasted no time building the tension for Game 7.

Just after the completion of their Game 6 win over the Raptors, Blatche publicly guaranteed a victory Sunday to the media, per the New York Post's Brian Lewis: “Yeah, we guarantee it. We’re going to go there, take care of business and go to Miami." 

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Of course, New York fans are no strangers to their athletes making bold predictions in the postseason. New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed victory over the favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Twenty-five years later, New York Rangers captain Mark Messier promised that his boys would win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils.

But Namath and Messier are Hall of Famers, and Andray Blatche is just...well, Andray Blatche. Will he back up the big talk, or did he simply give the Raptors bulletin-board material?

 

Playoff Stat Leaders

Points: LeBron James, MIA (30.0); Kevin Durant, OKC (29.9); LaMarcus AldridgePOR (29.8); James Harden, HOU (26.8); Dwight HowardHOU (26.0).

Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan, LAC (15.1); Dwight Howard, HOU (13.7); Joakim Noah, CHI (12.8); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (11.2); Paul Millsap, ATL (10.9).

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Assists: Chris Paul, LAC (9.0)Stephen Curry, GS (8.4); Russell Westbrook, OKC (8.0); Mike ConleyMEM (7.9); John Wall, WAS (6.8).

Steals: Chris Paul, LAC (3.1); Paul George, IND (2.4); LeBron James, MIA (2.2); John Wall, WAS (2.2); five tied at 2.0.

Blocks: DeAndre Jordan, LAC (4.0); Dwight Howard, HOU (2.8); LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (2.7); Robin Lopez, POR (2.7); Serge IbakaOKC (2.6).

 

Predictions

Brooklyn vs. Toronto

Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry might be the most intense competitor in the NBA, but he clearly isn't 100 percent healthy. The good news for Toronto fans is that he was able to feed off the energy of the home crowd in Game 5. 

This series has been remarkably close, despite the fact that DeMar DeRozan has been the only consistent player for Toronto (after Game 1, at least). If the real Kyle Lowry shows up for Game 7, it should be enough to push Toronto over the top.

Score: Raptors 93, Nets 89

 

Dallas vs. San Antonio

Eric Gay/Associated Press

The Spurs know full well the pain of being upset as a No. 1 seed, having lost in the first round to the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies in 2011.

But Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, and it says here he won't allow his team to suffer that same result twice in one lifetime.

Score: Spurs 105, Mavericks 95 

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