***** NBA Previews from The Sports Network *****
Sunday, April 20th
(All times Eastern)
(8) DALLAS MAVERICKS (0-0) AT (1) SAN ANTONIO SPURS (0-0), 1 P.M.
(SportsNetwork.com) - For the sixth time since 2001, the San Antonio Spurs and
Dallas Mavericks will square off in the playoffs, starting Sunday afternoon at
the AT&T Center.
For the 17th consecutive season, the Spurs will be in the postseason.
For the seventh time since 1997, the Spurs finished with the best record in
the Western Conference. The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu
Ginobili returned intact and key contributors did exactly what Spurs' role
players do - they played sensationally.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and,
especially newcomer Marco Belinelli, played brilliantly for stretches this
Popovich is a master of resting his players as the season progresses and San
Antonio heads to the postseason in good health.
"We had an unbelievable regular season, we put ourselves in a great situation
to be No. 1 overall," said Ginobili. "We're going for it, like every year."
If there was ever a season the Spurs could've folded, this would've been the
one. Their longevity is stunning, but this season could've very easily been a
championship defense until Ray Allen stuck a dagger in the Spurs' hearts.
Miami's Allen made a crazy 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of the NBA Finals, a game
the Heat went on to win. Miami took Game 7 to win back-to-back titles, but the
inevitability of a San Antonio win in Game 6 was so clear, tape was being put
up around the floor in Miami to prepare for San Antonio's celebration.
"What does impress me about the group is that they've gotten themselves in
this position after a devastating loss in the Finals last year," Spurs head
coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the week. "I thought they were pretty
amazing after Game 6 to play as hard as they did in Game 7, when I think a lot
of teams would have just given in. Beyond that, they came back, put it aside
and have done what they've done. I think that's pretty impressive. I don't
think a lot of people have picked up on that but I have and I'm really
impressed with them."
The Mavericks are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence, meaning
Dallas has been in the postseason 13 of the last 14 years. They earned the
eighth seed after a gritty overtime loss on Wednesday to the Grizzlies in
"Yeah, we'll be OK," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said immediately after the
loss in Memphis. "I feel good about our team. I really do. And (Wednesday
night) is a great indication of the fight we have in us. We're going to take
that fight to San Antonio."
The Spurs have won nine straight against their Texas rivals, including a four-
game sweep this season, but that doesn't mean Dallas doesn't know what it
takes to beat San Antonio.
"What you've got to do against San Antonio is you've got to be a little
smarter than we were in the last couple of outings," said Mavericks forward
Dirk Nowitzki. "We feel like one little, two little mistakes and boom, it's a
three. A brutal missed boxout, pass out and three. Against that team you've
got to be smart, you've got to execute perfectly and we've got to shoot the
Nowitzki made yet another All-Star team with averages of 21.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
He shot 90 percent from the foul line, almost 50 percent from the field and
just about 40 percent from long range.
Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon joined the Mavs in the offseason and formed a
very strong backcourt. They combined to average 30.4 ppg and 10.4 apg.
(7) CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (0-0) AT (2) MIAMI HEAT (0-0), 3:30 P.M.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Heat begin their title defense in earnest on
Sunday afternoon when they welcome the Charlotte Bobcats to American Airlines
Miami has won the last two NBA titles and lost in the Finals three years ago
to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat have made the playoffs 10 times in the last
11 years and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Miami has won four straight Southeast titles and is trying to become the first
three-time champion since the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-00 to 2001-02.
"I don't need extra motivation. I'm motivated enough," said LeBron James.
"This is the best part of the season, it's the best time of the year. I'm
happy to be here once again."
The Heat had a real chance at the No. 1 seed, but head coach Erik Spoelstra
elected to sit James and Chris Bosh the last two games. Dwyane Wade missed
significant time toward the end, but he played late to get some timing back.
"We've got to carry the load," said James, who said all Heat players
participated in practice for the first time since training camp. "It's great.
I guess guys are ready for the playoffs."
The decision to concede the No. 1 seed could hurt later in the postseason, if
the Heat advance. Last season, Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference
Finals against the Indiana Pacers and Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San
Antonio Spurs in South Beach.
The Heat come into the postseason in a bit of a rut. They lost the last three
games of the regular season, although, they did rest some key pieces. However,
Miami did drop six of its last eight and James and Bosh were in the lineup for
most of those setbacks.
Charlotte is in the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history and
was swept in four games by the Orlando Magic back in 2009-10.
The Bobcats surprised the NBA world with just the second record of .500 or
better in team lore at 43-39, one season after going 21-61 and compiling only
28 wins in the previous two years. What was the difference this season? That
would be the offseason addition of Al Jefferson.
Jefferson, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for April,
averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Bobcats, who were 20-9 after
the All-Star break and ended with 14 wins in the last 19 games of the regular
season. Jefferson was the only player in the Eastern Conference and one of
only five players in the NBA averaging at least 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds
on the season.
New head coach Steve Clifford infused the team with a defensive mindset. The
Bobcats finished fourth in opponents' scoring and sixth in opponents' field-
Charlotte did have some trouble scoring this season. The Bobcats finished 23rd
in points, while Miami was 12th. The Heat ranked fifth in opponents' scoring.
The Bobcats won their last three regular-season games and eight of their last
The Heat swept all four games against the Bobcats in the regular season and
are undefeated in the past 16 games between the teams. Charlotte has lost nine
straight and 12 of its last 13 trips to South Beach.
(5) WASHINGTON WIZARDS (0-0) AT (4) CHICAGO BULLS (0-0), 7 P.M.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bulls begin another playoff run without
Derrick Rose on Sunday night when they welcome the Washington Wizards to the
Chicago is in the postseason for a sixth straight year and for the second time
without Rose because of lingering knee issues. The Bulls got by without Rose
in the first round last season, using a full seven-game series to dispose of
the Brooklyn Nets, but the eventual two-time NBA champion Miami Heat bounced
the Bulls in five games in the East semifinals.
Now the Bulls are taking on a young and inexperienced Wizards team that won
two of three meetings against them in the regular season. The Wizards have to
play the first two games in the Windy City, where they are just 5-15 in the
last 20 games.
"The Wizards are a tough team, tough, tough team," said Chicago sixth man Taj
Gibson. "They gave us so many problems in the regular season; great shooters.
They got some great bigs in Nene and (Marcin) Gortat. John Wall is playing
some phenomenal basketball. Bradley Beal is playing great basketball, too.
Their bench is loaded up. It's going to be tough."
When Rose went down early this season, the Bulls became Joakim Noah's team,
although defense is still their calling card. Chicago finished tops in the NBA
in opponents' scoring (93.7 ppg) and second in opponents' shooting percentage
(43.2). The Bulls have ranked no lower than third in opponents' scoring in
head coach Tom Thibodeau's four seasons at the helm.
Noah is headed toward a possible Defensive Player of the Year award, but his
offensive game is what carried the Bulls. He averaged 12.6 points and led the
Bulls with 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Noah played an integral part for
Chicago's top defense, but also averaged a career-high 5.4 assists.
Chicago won an Eastern Conference-best 36 games since Jan. 1 and won seven in
a row before closing out the season with two losses in three tries.
Washington is wet behind the ears when it comes to recent postseason
appearances. It has returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08,
when it lost in six games to a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Wizards are facing the Bulls for the third time in the postseason, as they
were swept 3-0 back in the first round of the 1997 playoffs and won a best-of-
seven series 4-2 in 2005.
"I feel like we like our chances against anybody if we play the right way,"
said Wall, who averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in three
games versus the Bulls this season. "We just have to go out there and play the
way we know how to play, and play the defense we're capable of playing. We're
here and we're focused and will try to leave a statement and see where it
The Wizards received a big boost with the return of veteran big man, Nene. He
missed a ton of time in the middle of the season, but came back for four games
at the end. He averaged 14.3 points and should come in handy against the
bruising frontline of Chicago.
Washington took advantage of a weaker Eastern Conference to reach the playoffs
and went 19-11 after the break. The Wizards closed the regular season with
four straight wins and eight in the last 11 games.
(5) PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (0-0) AT (4) HOUSTON ROCKETS (0-0), 9:30 P.M.
(SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the league's best offensive units take center
stage Sunday night when the Houston Rockets host the Portland Trail Blazers at
the Toyota Center.
The Rockets are the NBA's second-ranked offense at 107.7 ppg, followed by the
Trail Blazers, who are fourth with 106.9 ppg.
Houston secured the home-court advantage with a win on Monday against the
NBA's best, the San Antonio Spurs.
"We fought hard for it. It took a little longer than I hoped but we knew we
had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare," said Rockets coach
The matchup between the two squads has been decidedly in Houston's favor over
the last few seasons. The Rockets have won nine of the last 12 meetings,
including three of four this season.
"It's the West. We don't care who we're going to play, it's going to be tough
anyway," said Portland forward Nicolas Batum. "Houston is a good team, a great
team. They've got a good group of players. We match up pretty well with them.
We've had good games, tough games."
The Rockets were believed to be a serious contender for an NBA title when they
signed prized free agent Dwight Howard in the offseason. Along with All-Star
guard James Harden, they form a formidable one-two punch.
Portland, on the other hand, was a bit of a surprise this season. The Blazers
hadn't made the playoffs the last two seasons, but the core group stayed
healthy and the bench improved significantly.
These two teams met in the first round back in 2009, but oh how different they
both are just five years later. Houston has no players on the roster from that
team, which was led by Yao Ming, while only LaMarcus Aldridge and Batum remain
for the Blazers.
"It won't be easy. It is going to be fun," said Batum. "Excited finally for
playoffs to start because we wait too much for that, now almost three years,
so ready to start."
The Rockets got healthy at the right time. Howard missed significant time late
in the season with an ankle injury and starting point guard Patrick Beverley
was shelved with a knee problem. Both came back before the end of the season
and should be all-clear for the playoffs.
Portland is healthy.
This matchup is so even, down to the matching 54-28 records. Each team had two
All-Stars in Howard and Harden for Houston and Aldridge and Damian Lillard for
As expected due to both teams' high offensive output, defense has suffered.
The Blazers ranked 22nd in opponents' scoring, while the Rockets were one rung
"It's going to be a great series," said Harden. "There are so many guys that
can score for them and for us. It's going to be a matter of the small things:
who can limit their turnovers and rebound the basketball."
04/20 10:44:40 ET
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