Apr 20, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker (15) looks on against the Miami Heat during the second half in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 99-88. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Wednesday Preview

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Another three games on tap tonight during the NBA Playoffs. We give you a quick preview of all three games. Check them all out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Charlotte Bobcats @ Miami Heat (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST

Heat lead series 1-0

LeBron James grabbed a basketball off a rack as he left the practice court Tuesday, then turned and took a 40-footer without so much as jumping.

Swish.

Seems like James and the Heat aren’t worried about much right now. Their opponents in this Eastern Conference first-round series can’t feel the same.

Charlotte star Al Jefferson‘s availability for Game 2 is clearly in some doubt, yet another indicator of how difficult it may be for the Bobcats to even up this series when they visit Miami again on Wednesday night.

”If Jefferson is laboring a little bit … my approach, and our team’s approach, shouldn’t change,” James said.

The Heat took Game 1 on Sunday, shaking off a slow start to win 99-88, increasing James’ record to 9-0 in his postseason openers. Jefferson was hurt in the first quarter of that game, diagnosed with a plantar fascia strain in his left foot. He limped throughout the final three quarters, needed two injections to play, left in a walking boot and hasn’t practiced since.

Jefferson wants to play. That doesn’t guarantee anything.

”It’s really going to be depending on his level of pain right before the game because in order to give him as much time as possible to heal, they’re going to keep the walking boot on there,” said Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, who isn’t sure if Jefferson will participate in a walkthrough on Wednesday morning. ”My understanding is that we really won’t know until they take it off and he tries to put more weight and pressure on his foot.”

Miami has an injury concern as well, with starting point guard Mario Chalmers being held out of practice Tuesday because of a bruised shin.

Whether Jefferson plays or not, Miami expects Charlotte to get Kemba Walker even more involved in the offense, using his pick-and-roll strengths to try and create some issues for the Heat.

”It doesn’t change what we’re doing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”You hope that everybody’s healthy. He was able to establish a big low-point presence in the first half. He’ll still be able to do that if he’s in the game.”

Here’s five things to know going into Game 2:

MKG NEEDS TIME: Keeping Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor is critical for Charlotte. The Bobcats outscored Miami by eight when he played in Game 1. But he logged a season-low 14:41 because of foul trouble – a double-whammy for the Bobcats since he was primarily guarding LeBron James. It was only the 14th time this season that Kidd-Gilchrist had at least four fouls in a game, but three of those have come against Miami.

WADE WATCH: Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Tuesday he still considers himself ”working my way back” but hopes he can find the same rhythm in Game 2 as he had in Game 1. Wade was highly efficient in the series opener, making 10 of 16 shots, scoring 23 points and best of all for Miami, he felt relatively fine afterward. Miami is 41-9 when Wade shoots better than 50 percent in a playoff game.

HEAT ROTATION: Spoelstra said one of the lessons Miami has learned throughout its past playoff runs is that everyone, at some point, gets called upon to fill some role. The rotation he’s planning in Game 2 remains a bit of a mystery, but the job James Jones did off the bench in Game 1 still has not been lost on teammates. ”Everybody needs to contribute,” Spoelstra said.

BOUNCEBACK FACTOR: One of Charlotte’s best traits in its run to the playoffs was resilience. Since mid-January, the Bobcats are 13-4 in the game immediately following a defeat. Whether that will be enough to end this 17-game losing streak against the Heat is another matter. If nothing else, it’s a sign that these young Bobcats tend not to wallow in misery too long.

MILESTONE WATCH: The Heat should hit several longevity milestones Wednesday. James is seven minutes shy of becoming the 22nd player with 6,000 in a playoff career. … Ray Allen will tie A.C. Green and Jerry West for 32nd all-time with 153 postseason appearances. … This will be the 100th home playoff game in team history.

Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 6:00 p.m. MST

Spurs lead series 1-0

Dirk Nowitzki missed from several of his usual spots as Dallas blew a lead in the fourth quarter of its playoff-opening loss to San Antonio.

The Mavericks star even flubbed a glorified layup, the most surprising of all the misses when Dallas went without a meaningful basket for the final 8 minutes of the 90-85 loss to the Spurs.

Now Nowitzki has to bounce back from one of the worst playoff games of his 16-year career when the Mavericks play at San Antonio in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

It’s hard to imagine Dallas knocking off the team with the NBA’s best record as long as Nowitzki has 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. It was his lowest point total in the playoffs in seven years.

The Mavericks aren’t imagining it.

”Dirk is our least concern,” said backup guard Devin Harris, who led Dallas with 19 points in the opener. ”He is going to get his shots and we know he’s going to make them.”

The Spurs tend to make it harder on the pure-shooting 7-footer, crowding him at the 3-point line and bumping him when he gets closer to the basket.

When Nowitzki had plans to take over in the fourth quarter with post-up moves, the Spurs blindsided him with a second defender and forced a turnover. That sequence came during a 14-0 San Antonio run that wiped out an 81-71 Dallas lead.

”We basically stayed with him a lot of times and we didn’t help,” said Spurs center Tiago Splitter, who shares most of the defensive load on Nowitzki with Boris Diaw. ”That makes the other guys have to work a little bit more. So it wasn’t just me and Boris.”

This is how it’s always been the six times the Mavericks and Spurs have met in the playoffs since Nowitzki came to Dallas. The Spurs find a way to take Nowitzki out of the game. The Mavericks look for a way to make him a factor again, knowing it won’t be easy.

”I don’t think they’re going to leave me much on pick-and-roll coverage all series,” Nowitzki said. ”I can’t just sit out there and measure the wind and shoot.”

The last time Nowitzki scored 11 points in a playoff game, he came back with 50 against Phoenix in 2006, when the Mavericks topped the Suns in the Western Conference finals before Miami beat them for the title.

That’s unlikely to happen again because the 35-year-old Nowitzki no longer carries that kind of offensive load. Instead, he shares it with a variety of options led by guard Monta Ellis.

He rarely shoots 26 times a game as he did back then – and coming off a bad game isn’t going to tempt him.

”You don’t want to overthink it,” said Nowitzki, who has had several clunkers during Dallas’ current 10-game losing streak to the Spurs. ”You don’t want to go completely crazy and just hoist everything you see because some of those shots are contested. They’ve got to be within the flow and within the rhythm of the game.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is sure those shots will be.

”The thing about all-time great players is that it’s not about one day coming in and saying, “Hey, I’m going to go harder today’ or “I’m going to be more aggressive today,”’ Carlisle said. ”He’s had the same approach every day for 16 years.”

And the Spurs have had the same game plan.

”Even some days we do a good defense and he’s going to still make shots,” Splitter said. ”If he has that kind of day it’s hard. All you’ve got to do is pray that the ball doesn’t go in.”

The Mavericks are hoping it does. Otherwise it figures to be a short series.

Portland Trail Blazers @ Houston Rockets (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 7:30 p.m. MST

Blazers lead series 1-0 

James Harden missed 20 shots, including two in the final seconds of Houston’s Game 1 loss to Portland in overtime.

Now the key word for the Houston star entering Game 2 on Wednesday night is better; he must play better, and the Rockets must be better when it comes to their ball movement.

”I wasn’t really driving and attacking and being aggressive like I needed to be,” he said. ”I think when I get into the attack mode everything else opens up, the assists come and the easy layups come and whatnot. So I’ve got to be more aggressive.”

The Trail Blazers know they aren’t going to keep Harden from shooting. He’s averaging 16.5 attempts a game this season. But their plan is to make every shot he takes as difficult as possible.

”That’s what he does and we just need to make them difficult,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. ”We need to contest them and do as good a job as possible. … He’s going to get his shots, but we’ve got to find him in transition, we’ve got to limit his attempts at the rim, do it without fouling, all of those things.”

Harden still managed to score 27 points in the opener of the first-round series. That caught the attention of the Trail Blazers, and LaMarcus Aldridge said they have to make sure Harden doesn’t ”go off” against them in Game 2.

The question is how they will do that?

”Just try to stay close to him because he’s very good in transition,” Aldridge said. ”He’s very good at that pull-up 3, he’s good at getting to the line, just trying to make all of his looks tough and don’t give him any space.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale was quick to point out that the problems his team had on Sunday certainly weren’t limited to Harden.

”It was just a lot of settling for shots,” McHale said. ”Just looking at their faces, they were almost all hyperventilating. They were all jacked up and juiced up to go and we didn’t play very well.”

Another big problem for the Rockets was their defense. Aldridge set a career high with a franchise playoff-record 46 points.

”We were really cognizant of trying to take the 3-point line away, probably too much so,” McHale said. ”We didn’t dig, we didn’t help. We didn’t do a lot of things.”

Houston has promised adjustments in Game 2 to deal with Aldridge. McHale was cagey when asked what he planned to do, but did say that the Rockets could double-team him more.

Dwight Howard is working to make sure the Rockets not only play better on Wednesday night, but that they also keep a good attitude. He’s pointed out to his teammates that his Orlando team lost its first game in the postseason in 2009, and then went on to the NBA Finals.

”We lost a game we should have won but we’ve got a brand new game,” Howard said. ”The series is not over … there’s no need to put our heads down. Just stay together. We didn’t let any negative thoughts get in our head. Don’t let this one game dictate how we’re going to play for the rest of the series.”

Howard has known Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon for more than five years and has been working with him after practice this week. They also have been chatting about what the Rockets need to do to get back on track after the tough loss in Game 1.

”The Dream has been talking to me the last two days about just playing the game,” Howard said. ”When you think about winning so much that’s when you’re uptight and that’s when you tend to mess up.”

 

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