Predicting the NBA playoffs' second round
BRIAN MAHONEY AND TIM REYNOLDS
The NBA's second round matchups are set after the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets won game-seven victories today.
The Nets led the Toronto Raptors by 11 early in the fourth quarter but needed a last-second stop on Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry to hang on for the win. They'll play the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the next round.
The Spurs, meanwhile, defeated the Dallas Mavericks 119-96 to win at home and advance to face the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who upset the Houston Rockets in a six-game series.
All-Star point guard Tony Parker scored 32 points in the victory, going 19 from the field and 10 for 13 on free throws as Dallas was unable to keep him from attacking the lane, despite a series of hard fouls.
"I just knew that I had to be aggressive if we wanted to have a chance to win the game because of the strategy that the Mavericks chose," Parker said. "They just dared me to score."
There were an unprecedented five Game 7s in the first round of the NBA playoffs. On Saturday (local time), the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City all capitalized on home-court advantage to win their respective Game 7s and progress to the second round. Los Angeles beat California rival Golden State 126-121; Indiana won 92-80 to finally see off eight-seeded Atlanta; and Oklahoma City defeated Memphis 120-109, with Kiwi Steven Adams playing a leading role.
Round 2 begins at 11am tomorrow (NZ time) when the Washington Wizards take on the Indiana Pacers at Indiana.
Then at 1.30pm, Steven Adams' Oklahoma City Thunder will play the LA Clippers at Oklahoma.
On Wednesday at 11am (NZ time) the Brooklyn Nets play the Heat at Miami.
The last series begins Wednesday at 1.30pm (NZ time) when the Portland Trail Blazers play the San Antonio Spurs in Texas.
No. 2 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (59-23, 4-3) vs. No. 3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (57-25, 4-3)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. How close was it? Combined score: Thunder 432, Clippers 428. Oklahoma City won once in Los Angeles, the Clippers won once on the Thunder's home floor. They've met only once since February 23, and that was the Thunder winning on the road 107-101 in a game that helped Oklahoma City lock up No. 2 in the West.
Story line: For the Clippers, maybe this series will have some sort of sense of normalcy. After the unbelievable roller-coaster of Round 1 - a fierce series with Golden State, the lifetime ban of the team's owner over racist comments - dealing with the widely presumed MVP in Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant might actually seem like a welcome change of pace.
Key matchup I: Russell Westbrook vs. Chris Paul. Westbrook is as explosive as can be, and Paul is physically banged up with who-knows-how-many injuries along with a certain emotional toll over the Donald Sterling mess. When these guys go 1-on-1 in this series, the highlight reels will fill quickly. It's also worth mentioning that Paul has never been to a conference finals, and it's a safe bet that's weighing at least somewhat on his mind.
Key matchup II: Durant vs. Everybody. No one person can successfully guard Durant, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers won't disagree. It's going to take a collective effort, of course, but this is why Rivers went to the Clippers - to find a way to take championship-calibre parts and turn them into a championship team.
X-factor: Jamal Crawford. He scored 36 points in a win at Oklahoma City back in February, and comes in riding high after scoring 22 points in the Clippers' Game 7 victory over Golden State.
It'll also be interesting, of course, to see how if Adams continues to get playing time over Kendrick Perkins. Adams was just used sparingly in Games 2, 4 and 5, and didn't play at all in Game 3. But he played a solid 20 minutes in Game 6 and 25 in Game 7.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
No. 2 MIAMI HEAT (54-28, 4-0) vs. No. 6 BROOKLYN NETS (44-38, 4-3)
Season series: Nets, 4-0. And that doesn't even count a 2-0 mark in the preseason. It's one-sided in terms of wins and losses, and really not in most other categories. Three of Brooklyn's wins in the regular season were by a single point, and the fourth was in double overtime. Dwyane Wade played in only two of four games for Miami, and Brooklyn's Kevin Garnett also missed two meetings in the series.
Story line: Brooklyn has already won four games that count against Miami. Can the Nets do it now when it really counts? The Nets are coming in after going on the road and winning a Game 7 against Toronto, while Miami will have had more than a week off after sweeping away the Charlotte Bobcats.
Key matchup I: LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce. This is the fifth time those two will duel in the postseason, Pierce (with Boston) ending James' season (with Cleveland) in 2008 and 2010. James, after joining the Heat, returned the favor with Miami topping Boston in 2011 and 2012. There's no question who the better player is today, but Pierce has a knack for coming up big at the biggest time of year.
Key matchup II: Wade vs. Joe Johnson. When Wade is good, Miami tends to be great, and Wade says he's feeling good physically after getting more time off between rounds. Johnson had 13 points in the final 12 minutes of Game 7 at Toronto, and if he gets hot, Miami will certainly have some headaches.
X-factor: Bosh. Miami is 38-12 this season when he scores at least 15 points, 19-14 when he does not.
Prediction: Heat in 6.
No. 1 INDIANA PACERS (56-26 regular season, 4-3 in playoffs) vs. No. 5 WASHINGTON WIZARDS (44-38, 4-1)
Season series: Pacers, 2-1. Indiana routed Washington at home twice during its sizzling start before the new year, then lost on the road during its late-season slide. The Wizards shot under 40 percent in all three games and averaged 70.5 points in their losses, when John Wall shot 8 of 29. Wall rebounded with 20 points and eight assists in the Wizards' 91-78 home victory on March 28.
Story line: Forced to seven games in the first round before getting by a 38-win Atlanta team, the Pacers will try again to find the level they played at in the first half of the season. The Wizards had a surprisingly easy five-game victory over Chicago and are in the second round for just the third time since 1979.
Key matchup I: Roy Hibbert vs. Marcin Gortat. After a mostly miserable series against the Hawks' nontraditional centers, maybe Hibbert will be more comfortable and effective in this round against someone who plays more his style. Gortat had a pair of 17-point games against Indiana during the season and averaged 10.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in the first round.
Key matchup II: Paul George vs. Wall. Besides his six double-doubles in the series, George defended Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, and sticking with that strategy means trying to cool off Wall, who averaged 18.8 points in his first postseason series. George struggled a bit against the Wizards, shooting 2 for 14 and 6 for 22 in the final two games.
X-factor: Trevor Ariza. The Pacers gave up a number of open 3-point looks to the Hawks and will have to keep a better eye on the Wizards' swingman, who was 13 of 28 behind the arc against Chicago.
Prediction: Pacers in 6.
No. 1 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (62-20, 4-3) vs. No. 5 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (54-28, 4-2)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. Both teams won once on the other's home floor. The Trail Blazers won the first two matchups of the season, and one of the Spurs' wins came with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard all sitting out a game at Portland.
Story line: It's the veterans against the up-and-comers. San Antonio held things together perfectly after losing in last season's NBA Finals, finishing this season with the league's best record. The Spurs got taken to the limit by Dallas in the first round, while Portland got a buzzer-beater from Damian Lillard to oust Houston in six games - and the Blazers surely won't be feeling any pressure now.
Key matchup I: Tony Parker vs. Lillard. The guard play in this series could be phenomenal, and it starts with these two. Game 1 of this series will be Parker's 180th postseason game. Lillard hasn't appeared in that many games - regular-season and postseason combined - in his career.
Key matchup II: Tim Duncan vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. There might have been no better player in the first round of the postseason than Aldridge, who averaged 29.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in the six games against Houston. Duncan, though, is still widely considered the gold standard when it comes to post play, especially in the playoffs.
X-factor: Danny Green. The San Antonio sharpshooter was enormous for the Spurs in last season's NBA Finals, his 3-point barrages giving Miami fits. If he gets remotely close to that hot again, Portland will have to take attention away from Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili - which plays right into San Antonio's hands.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.
-AP, with Stuff
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