There are three games tonight in the NBA Playoffs and one of those games could potentially be over after tonight. Check out game previews for all three match ups below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs
Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Series tied 2-2
The German forward and the French point guard sure look like top priorities for the opposing defense in a series tied 2-all heading into Game 5 on Wednesday night.
And both teams are winning without dominant games from their leading scorers in the regular season.
“They have a lot of guys on their team that are first priorities,” Dallas’ Vince Carter said. “It’s not just one. Trust me. Whoever has the ball is probably the first priority.”
Carter had a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 3. Boris Diaw put the Spurs ahead with a shot from long range in the final minute of a Game 4 win.
Parker has virtually disappeared since scoring 17 points in the first half of Game 3, and now he’s dealing with a mild left ankle sprain that appeared to happen in Game 4, when he had a series-low 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
“He didn’t have a great game by any means, but it happens. He’ll be fine,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I don’t think the same guys are going to play great every night in a series.”
Nowitzki hasn’t been shut down completely. His scoring has steadily increased in the series, topped by 19 points in Game 4.
Still, the 7-foot sharpshooter has been held under 20 points in four straight playoff games for the first time since his first postseason in 2001. And he’s not getting any freedom at the 3-point line. He has just five attempts in four games, and has made one.
Nowitzki missed all three tries from long range in Game 4, and was short on a rare open mid-range jumper with the Mavericks up by one late.
“He’s missed some easy bunnies that I think he’s rushed because now when they’re open he’s like, `Oh, man I’ve got to get it up,” Carter said. “He beats himself up over it. He’ll play through it. He’ll be fine.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is aware that the sight of Nowitzki with the ball and room to operate has been rare.
“I’m working to try to help get him more,” Carlisle said. “In the playoffs, a lot of the game comes down to playing out of flow. When we’re doing it well, the ball moves and it moves through the hands of the best players as much as possible.”
Parker’s mid-range jumper was surprisingly off target in Game 4, and he even missed a couple of layups when trying his other specialty — getting to the rim.
Popovich said Parker was day to day with a Grade 1 sprain, the mildest. No MRI or X-rays were planned, an indication that he will be out there trying to match his Game 1 showing. He came up limping at one point Monday night but kept playing.
Parker finished with 21 points in the series opener, including the go-ahead basket on a spinning layup during a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter.
“If Parker’s having some down stretches, it probably means we’re busting our butt and doing a good job on him,” Carlisle said. “But when the Ginobilis and (Tiago) Splitters and Diaws make plays, that means that we aren’t getting it done in some other areas.”
The question is whether either team can win the series without something resembling dominance from Nowitzki or Parker. Nowitzki says the Mavericks might have to.
“They are just taking my air space away,” Nowitzki said. “That’s what the good teams have done the last couple of years. If it’s not there, I’m going swing it and let someone else make a play.”
That approach has actually worked for both teams in a series boiling down to a best of three.
Mavericks center DeJuan Blair has been suspended for this game for kicking Splitter in the head Monday. Blair is averaging 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the postseason.
Brooklyn Nets @ Toronto Raptors
Tip Off @ 5:30 p.m. MST
Series tied 2-2
The Toronto Raptors act like a team that doesn’t get any respect.
Toronto likes it that way, thank you very much, thriving in the underdog environment fostered by coach Dwane Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of their first round series on Wednesday night, having regained home-court advantage with an 87-79 victory on Sunday.
Charles Barkley, the former NBA All-Star turned TV analyst, has said the Raptors were “underrated all year” and picked them to eliminate the Nets. And even though he’s still struggling to properly pronounce the name of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, Barkley reiterated his belief on a recent broadcast.
Casey surely appreciates Barkley’s support. But conscious of avoiding complacency and overconfidence among his players, the coach was preaching a familiar message of toughness and desperation after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.
“It’s not going to be all smiles and bubble gum and fruitcakes tomorrow night, it’s going to be a street fight,” Casey said. “And that’s the way we’ve got to come out, with that mentality.”
Such statements are almost commonplace with Casey. Before a late-season game against New York, with the Knicks still pursuing a playoff berth, Casey urged his team to be wary of an opponent that was “going to come and hit you in the head with a hammer.”
All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, who has averaged 28 points since a disappointing playoff debut, said Casey’s scrappy imagery has become part of Toronto’s mindset.
“We’re like a fighter who worked his butt off in training camp,” DeRozan said. “He can fight, but he’s going into every fight as the underdog and everybody is going against him. That’s how we feel, that’s our mentality.”
Forward Amir Johnson agreed, calling Casey’s approach a “huge” motivation.
“When people doubt us, that’s what we want,” Johnson said. “That’s what we feed off. People doubt us and think we can’t do it, that’s what gets us energized and that’s when we prove them wrong.”
Here are five things to watch in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre:
BAD AFTER THE BREAK: The Raptors may lack the playoff experience of the veteran Nets, but they’ve outplayed their opponents in every fourth quarter since Game 1. More troublesome to Toronto has been its poor play in the third, where the Raptors have been outscored by a combined 27 points, coming up short in every game. Maybe Casey should save one of his stir `em up speeches until halftime. “The third quarter has been our nemesis,” Casey said. “That’s what we’ve got to remedy, is coming out of the locker room at halftime with that type of desperate disposition.”
WILL DERON DELIVER?: In the Nets’ two wins, Deron Williams has scored 22 and 25 points, respectively. In the two losses, he’s scored 15 and, on Sunday, a series-low 10. The better the game it gets from Williams, the better Brooklyn’s chances are. “He’s in the driver’s seat, he’s our point guard,” Nets forward Paul Pierce said Tuesday. “We feed off of him a lot. When he’s been aggressive, taking the ball to the basket and getting shots up, that seems to bode well for all of us.”
TURNOVER BATTLE: The Nets ranked fourth in the NBA this season with 8.6 steals per game, and are second among playoff teams so far with an average of nine per game. Turnovers have been a problem for the Raptors, who had 59 through the first three games. But Toronto controlled the ball better in Game 4, finishing with 12 turnovers, while Brooklyn’s six steals and 16 turnovers were both series-worsts. “It was kind of flipped the last game,” Williams said. “We were the ones turning the ball over and didn’t cause enough.”
INJURY UPDATE: Brooklyn reserve Alan Anderson (groin) did not practice Tuesday, and his status for Wednesday’s game is unclear. Toronto reserve Landry Fields, who sat out Sunday’s game with a sore back, returned to practice. Casey said the Raptors are banged up, but everyone is available. This is the third time the teams have had two days off between games. There will only be one day off before Game 6 in Brooklyn on Friday, and one day again if Game 7 is necessary Sunday in Toronto.
PLAYER PROTEST: Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett said the Nets had not yet spoken about whether they would make some sort of protest against Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned for life Tuesday for making racist comments. DeRozan, however, said the Raptors intended to find some way to show their displeasure, as other teams have done by turning their warm-up shirts inside out. “We’re going to do something,” DeRozan said. “We’re all united. They’re all our peers. We’re all going to stick together through any situation.”
Portland Trail Blazers @ Houston Rockets
Tip Off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Blazers lead series 3-1
The Houston Rockets remain confident they can rebound from a 3-1 deficit in their first-round playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.
But just in case they needed a reminder that such a comeback was possible, coach Kevin McHale had Mario Elie and Hakeem Olajuwon talk to his team as it prepares for Game 5 on Wednesday night. They helped the Rockets bounce back from the same deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in 1995 en route to an NBA title.
“You focus just on the one game (Wednesday) and shift the game back to Portland (and) there will be tremendous pressure on the Portland team,” Olajuwon said. “You have no choice right now. You’ve got to focus.”
Despite their pep talk, the Rockets aren’t sugar-coating their situation.
“It’s desperation time,” Chandler Parsons said. “We don’t want our season to end and if we lose that’s going to happen. All of our backs are against the wall and we’ve just got to be a resilient team.”
Dwight Howard isn’t ready for his first season in Houston to be over, either, and is working to ensure that he and his teammates don’t let another one get away. Three of the four games in this series have been decided in overtime and two of Houston’s three losses were by a total of five points.
“We’ve got to really believe and that’s the only way we’re going to win it,” Howard said. “It starts with myself and James (Harden).”
Harden scored 37 points in Houston’s lone victory, but has struggled against the Blazers, making just 36 of 103 shots combined in the four games.
Howard said the Rockets are focused on finding a way to finish better.
“We’ve got to go from playing good for 44 minutes to playing for all 48,” he said. “If we do that, then we’ll turn this series around.”
Portland’s Damian Lillard knows the Blazers will get Houston’s best shot on Wednesday night and this will be their biggest test yet.
“Houston will show a lot of fight,” he said. “I believe 100 percent that they feel like they can still win the series. It will be hard to put them away. We’ve got to take it up a level because they will try to keep their season alive.”
The Trail Blazers have lost in the first round in their last six trips to the playoffs. A win Wednesday would put them in the second round for the first time since losing in the Western Conference finals in 2000.
“We want to finish the series right now and it’s going to take a lot of focus from our team and a lot of mental toughness and togetherness,” Lillard said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get it done on the road.”
The Rockets have gotten a boost in the last two games from the play of rookie Troy Daniels. Daniels spent most of the season in the NBA Development League, playing just five regular-season games in Houston, but made the game-winning 3-pointer in Houston’s win and added 17 points in the last game.
McHale plans to use Daniels in Game 5, too.
“We’ve got to incorporate him in there,” McHale said. “He can make shots. He’s not afraid. He works hard.”
If Houston wants to keep its season alive, it will have to stay focused on trying to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge. He combined for 89 points in the first two games of the series but cooled down a bit in Portland, and had 23 and 29 points in the two games there.
He was unhappy with the way Portland has played in the first quarter of the last two games and said the Trail Blazers are intent on changing that on Wednesday.
“We’ve just got to have a better start,” he said. “We just have to match their intensity because they’re going to be ready to go.”
Houston point guard Patrick Beverley missed practice on Tuesday with an illness and has been struggling with a knee problem since banging into Aldridge late in Game 1, but McHale expects him to be ready for Game 5.
“I have been concerned about Pat between his knee and not feeling well and everything else,” McHale said. “He is going to have to show up and play.”