Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs
12:00 pm Central
The renewal of a rivalry, as these two Texas squads have been winning a lot of games for the last couple of decades. Of course, the Spurs have been the more successful, with four championships and an endless string of great seasons. They once again have finished with the best record in the league. They do it with terrific execution at both ends of the court, the best 3 point shooting in the league, and fantastic depth. Nobody plays 30 minutes a game for them, but they get solid contributions 10 or more players deep. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan still headline, but their ability to work guys into the rotation and get excellent play is the signature of these recent Spurs teams.
The Mavs meanwhile have been in a quasi-rebuilding mode since their championship in 2011. They have struggled to put together the pieces of another great team around Dirk Nowitzki, who remains an excellent player but is no longer the force he was in his prime. They revamped their team last summer, most notably with a veteran back court of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, and managed to win 49 games this season, which is excellent though only good enough for 8th in the West.
A big part of their success this year has been that they have stayed healthy despite their age. Their five starters and 6th man Vince Carter each played at least 76 games, despite five of them being well into their 30s. This is a temporary team, and while they successfully made the playoffs, it likely won't go further. The Mavs will need to start preparing for the post-Nowitzki era at some point.
Charlotte Bobcats at Miami Heat
2:30 pm Central
Congratulations to the Bobcats for returning to the playoffs; it really was a successful year for them. They became one of the top defensive teams in the league under coach Steve Clifford, Al Jefferson provided them with Al Jefferson things, and their lottery pick, who was a bit controversial at #4, Cody Zeller, came around in the 2nd half and showed real promise. Their offense has, however, struggled due to a lack of perimeter talent. They are a poor 3 point shooting team, and lack efficient scoring from their back court. Still, it was a major step forward for the Bobs.
Of course the reward is facing the two-time defending champs in the first round. After yesterday, I don't want to be too definite, but it's hard to see them really challenging the Heat. Miami appears healthy and ready for the playoffs after some bumps in the road during the regular season. Whether they have another title in them or not I'm not sure, but they should be able to handle a young and less talented Bobcats team without too much trouble. LeBron James gives you some pretty significant margin for error.
Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls
6:00 pm Central
Randy Wittman made the playoffs. Shaking my head. The Wizards won 44 games this year behind a fairly stout defense that forces a lot of turnovers, John Wall's increased consistency, and good seasons from Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza, among others. You will recall that they acquired Gortat from the Suns for their 2014 first round pick, a move that was widely criticized for mortgaging the future. Even I, more of a win-now guy then most, thought it was precipitous. And maybe it will come back to haunt, but Gortat had a terrific season for them, they made the playoffs, and there is some rejuvenation of basketball for the Wizards.
That said, I have a hard time imagining them overcoming the seasoned Bulls, who obviously have hit a major stumbling block in their championship quest with the repeated injuries to Derrick Rose, but managed to figure it out and still win 48 games behind what remains a ferocious defense. Joakim Noah managed to play in 80 games this season, Taj Gibson continues to anchor much of the interior defense, and Mike Dunleavy provides some much needed perimeter shooting.
This is likely to be a low-scoring series, as both teams are stronger defensively then offensively, and both play at a relatively slow pace.
Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets
8:30 pm Central
Two 54 win teams are the 4th and 5th seeds in the West. Yikes. Two of the top offenses in the league, there are some similarities: both shoot a lot of threes (1st and 3rd in the league), and play fairly fast. The Rockets are tops in the league at getting to the free throw line, while the Blazers specialize in protecting the ball while the Rockets are a high turnover team. Both are stong offensive rebounding squads, and who can control the glass could be decisive.
Houston has been the center of NBA attention since signing Dwight Howard to pair with James Harden during the summer, and things have worked out fairly well so far, after a slow start for Howard, he seems to have found his rhythm. The Blazers didn't have too much in the way of expectations, then got off to an incredible start to the season before regressing in the 2nd half. Still, 54 wins is way above expectation, as they got a tremendous season from LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez was fantastic, and Damian Lillard took a major step forward.
I have high hopes for this to be an exciting and competitive series. I have less hope that I will be able to stay up late for the West Coast games over the next couple of weeks.
This is your playoff game thread. Chat about the games here.