Apr 6, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) holds up one finger following the Houston Rockets 130-125 overtime win against the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Sunday Preview

After an exciting Saturday in the NBA Playoffs, we gear up for another four games on Sunday. The schedule and preview for each game can be found below. Previews courtesy of ESPN.

(8) Dallas Mavericks @ (1) San Antonio Spurs

Tip Off @ 11:00 a.m. MST

TV: TNT

While San Antonio Spurs steamrolled toward their fourth 60-win season in 11 years, coach Gregg Popovich was asked if there is a secret formula for the franchise’s almost unfathomable run of excellence. “Yes there is,” said Popovich, in typical deadpan fashion. “Get the No. 1 pick in the draft every 10 years and make sure that it’s a franchise player. That’s the formula. That’s how lucky you have to be. You’ve got David (Robinson) for a decade and then Timmy (Duncan) comes. Well, I think most anybody could build around that.” Of course, Popovich is oversimplifying. What the Spurs have created is a program unlike any other in the league, one built on the willingness of three stars to take less money, band together and establish a culture and a pecking order under their no-nonsense coach. “Everybody knows their secrets,” Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “It doesn’t do you any good, though.” The Spurs finished with an NBA-best 62-20 record, wiping out last season’s heart-breaking loss in the NBA Finals in emphatic fashion. Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back for another run, and standing in their way is another one of the league’s most enduring forces.

In his 16th season, Dirk Nowitzki has enjoyed a renaissance, averaging 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 49.7 percent from the field to lead the Dallas Mavericks back to the playoffs. That patented one-legged step-back jumper is as dangerous as ever. He’s battled Duncan for 16 years now, and one more matchup should be a thriller. “This is a treat for people that appreciate NBA basketball and the history of the game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “And you’ve got two guys whose love and respect for the game is so high and their work ethic and standards are so high. They’ve kept it going in their mid-30s as well as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Prediction: Spurs lead 1-0

(7) Charlotte Bobcats @ (2) Miami Heat

Tip Off @ 1:30 p.m. MST

TV: ABC

If the Miami Heat are going to watch their season and reign atop the NBA end at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats, then fates of the franchises will have to change in a hurry. Upset odds look miniscule. Miami has lost only four of its last 23 games against the Bobcats, going 15-0 in the series since LeBron JamesChris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teamed up with the Heat. But it’s numbers like those that the Heat are rendering irrelevant heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round matchup on Sunday. Miami may deserve the confidence of a two-time defending champion bidding for a fourth straight NBA Finals trip, but the Heat aren’t overlooking any team heading into these playoffs. “Anything before this season doesn’t matter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They had a different team, a different coach. The only thing that matters is this year. Our last three games against them, we had to dig back from three deficits to come back and win. That has not gone lost in our preparation.”

Here are the numbers that do seem to matter to Miami these days: The Bobcats were 20-9 since the All-Star break, have held opponents to under 50 percent shooting in 18 of their last 19 games and had the league’s lowest average turnovers-per-game over that same stretch, just 11.6 giveaways per night.

“This is a good ballclub,” Wade said. “This is not the Charlotte Bobcats that everyone thinks of when you hear the name.”

Al Jefferson and Steve Clifford changed all that. Jefferson’s first year in Charlotte was a colossal success, with him averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. Clifford inherited a team that was 28-120 over the last two seasons and won 43 games — and a seven-win franchise two years ago is now a seventh-seed in the East playoffs. “It’s time to take it to another level,” Jefferson said. “We reached one goal. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, we are one of the teams that stood out this year and we are proud of that. So now it’s time to stick together more than ever.” To stop James and the Heat, Clifford knows it’ll take more than just sticking together. “There are only so many things you can do,” Clifford said. “I know this: The more aggressive you are with him, the more layups and open shoots the other guys shoot. He’s a phenomenal player.”

Prediction: Heat lead 1-0

(5) Washington Wizards @ (4) Chicago Bulls

Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST

TV: TNT

Never mind all they overcame. The only obstacle that matters now for the Chicago Bulls is the one in front of them. The Bulls head into Sunday’s playoff opener against the Washington Wizards as one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They overcame significant hurdles to win 48 games and secure home-court advantage in the first round. They lost Derrick Rose to a season-ending injury to his right knee in November after he sat out last season because of surgery on his left knee, and they traded away one of their top remaining players in Luol Deng. Not only did the Bulls get by, they started to flourish just when it looked as though they might come apart. With 36 victories since Jan. 1, the Bulls led the Eastern Conference and captured the fourth seed. After losing to Miami in the second round last year, Chicago is looking to make a run at the Heat and Indiana Pacers this time around.

The Wizards might have something to say about that after winning 44 games to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 behind John Wall. “I think a lot of people are writing us off, not saying we really have a chance,” Wall said. “We know what’s ahead of us. We’ve got a couple of young guys who haven’t played in the playoffs, but we have great veterans — one that has won a championship (Trevor Ariza), other guys that have been in the playoffs for a while — and they’re giving us advice.”

Bulls center Joakim Noah rejoined the team after missing Friday’s practice. He was in New York after the death of friend and mentor Tyrone Green, who played a key role in his development as a basketball player.

Prediction: Bulls lead 1-0

(5) Portland Trail Blazers @ (4) Houston Rockets

Tip Off @ 7:30 p.m. MST

TV: TNT

The Houston Rockets were happy simply to return to the playoffs last season. A year later and with the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets are back in the postseason and looking to make some noise. They play Game 1 of their first-round series against Portland on Sunday night. “Just being here is not good enough,” said Chandler Parsons, who made his playoff debut last year. “We want to win and we want to contend for a championship and we want to be the last team standing.” The Rockets returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009 and battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first round before being eliminated by Oklahoma City in Game 6. James Harden, who is fifth in the NBA in scoring with 25.4 points a game, believes the experience of last year will help Houston this time around. “I think last year that first-round playoff series gave us a little taste of what it feels like to be in the playoffs,” he said. “So hopefully we’re familiar with the playoffs and whatnot and we go out there and just play basketball.”

Howard’s first season in Houston has been a good one. He bounced back from his one tough season in Los Angeles to average 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds a game. This will be his seventh trip to the postseason and the 28-year-old is looking to help his less-seasoned teammates handle the pressure of the playoffs. “I just try to lead these guys by example,” he said. “Just give the guys some words of advice, but make sure they’re also confident that we can win this series and win the whole thing.”

The Trail Blazers haven’t advanced to the playoffs since 2011. LaMarcus Aldridge andNicolas Batum lead their group of players with postseason experience, but a number of their teammates will be making their playoff debuts. Second-year point guard Damian Lillard is among the Trail Blazers who are new to the postseason. “I’m just going to try to go into it and play it like another basketball game,” Lillard said, “and not put too much pressure on the fact that it’s my first playoff game or that we’re on the road or all those other things.”

Prediction: Rockets lead 1-0

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as we preview the NBA Playoffs action for Monday night, and we also recap all that happened on Sunday.

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