The Golden State Warriors smashed the Houston Rockets 104-78 on Saturday, proving that this team needs no respite after completing a record-setting 73-win regular season.
They are the clear favorites to win the 2016 NBA championship and sent a message with their opening salvo, but two of the Warriors' biggest challengers for the Larry O'Brien Trophy are set to start their playoff journeys on Sunday.
The San Antonio Spurs, proud owners of a 40-1 record at home this season, will play host to the depleted Memphis Grizzlies, who stumbled into the postseason with one win from their last 10 games. In the East, LeBron James and the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the hungry Detroit Pistons.
Fans can also catch the Miami Heat hosting the Charlotte Hornets, and finish the evening with the Los Angeles Clippers at home against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Here's the viewing info for Sunday's slate, with a preview and predictions for the outcomes.
|2016 NBA Playoff Schedule for Sunday, April 17|
|1||3 p.m.||Detroit Pistons (44-38)||Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)||ABC||Cleveland|
|1||5:30 p.m.||Charlotte Hornets (48-34)||Miami Heat (48-34)||TNT||Charlotte|
|1||8 p.m.||Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)||San Antonio Spurs (67-15)||TNT||San Antonio|
|1||10:30 p.m.||Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)||Los Angeles Clippers (53-29)||TNT||Los Angeles|
|NBA.com, predictions by author|
Here Comes Playoff LeBron James
Buried beneath the hype of the Warriors' run at the win record and Kobe Bryant's farewell tour, LeBron James cranked up his game at the end of the season, which should have the Detroit Pistons and any other team in the Eastern Conference more than a little worried. James averaged 28.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.8 assists in five April games, building off a couple of impressive triple-doubles notched in late March.
The Cavaliers may have lost three of their last four games, including a 112-110 loss to Detroit on Wednesday, but James didn't play in two of those defeats. Cleveland should fare well in this series thanks to its talismanic forward.
Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy admits he is going to throw the kitchen sink at the 31-year-old, though he acknowledges there is no clear way to slow him down, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor:
When you're preparing you have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. What you're really doing is throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. As I say all the time if there was a way to play those guys that actually worked, if there was a book on those guys then they wouldn't be who they are. If there was a way to play them and shut them down, people would latch on to that and they wouldn't be the great players they are.
And it's not just a crafty, veteran James that Detroit has to deal with. According to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin, he's had a fine season dunking all over his competition despite plenty of mileage on his body:
James finished ninth in the league in total dunks with 111 in 76 games. Out of the top 10 dunkers, he was one of only four wing players along with Kevin Durant, Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was also, not surprisingly, the elder statesman of the group. Dwight Howard was the only other name on the list over 30 and he plays in the post. The other nine players besides James were an average age of 24.3 with 5.3 seasons experience in the league.
While James might be able to have his way with Detroit, the Pistons can counter with a couple of their own stars. Andre Drummond has been a rebounding machine all season and dominated the boards in a couple of matchups against the Cavs this year. He snagged 18 rebounds in a November win over Cleveland, nine more than any Cavaliers player.
Drummond's play was a big reason why Detroit went 3-1 against the Cavaliers this season, although it should be noted Wednesday's win saw both teams rest their starters.
Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson is expected to play in Game 1 despite missing the final two games of the regular season with an abdominal strain, per MLive.com's David Mayo. Jackson averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game this season, using his quick feet and strong decision-making to run an effective one-two game with Drummond.
Kyrie Irving, for all his gifts on offense, isn't much of a defender. His battles with Jackson will be key to this series.
The Pistons don't have much outside of their big stars, but CBS Sports' Zach Harper singled out Tobias Harris as an X-factor to watch in this series:
There is a very logical reason for Harris being the X-factor and there's a very fun reason, as well. First, we'll look at the logical reason. Acquiring Harris around the trade deadline was a coup for Van Gundy. All he gave up were the cap-friendly contracts of Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. What he got was a stretch-4 who improved to 37.5 percent from deep and is an absolute load on the low block. He's not the perfect stretch-4 for them, but he's a tremendous option. The Pistons are 6.9 points per 100 possessions better with Harris on the floor than off.
Cleveland is of course more than James. Kevin Love is a strong rebounder who can stretch the floor with strong shooting. He shot a blistering 47.6 percent from three in April to close out the regular season. Irving is good for 19.6 points and 4.7 assists per game. He will prove difficult for the Pistons to contain.
As long as Love and Tristan Thompson don't get completely overwhelmed in the post, the Cavaliers should be able to dictate most games.
The Pistons have had some success against the Cavaliers this year, but Cleveland's best is simply better than Detroit's best effort. James will lead Cleveland to a comfortable Game 1 win, and a sweep is hardly out of the question. However, Detroit's strong performances against Cleveland this season are no fluke, so they should be able to snag a game before bowing out of the postseason.
Prediction: Cleveland wins Game 1 big, will take the series in five games