Apr 29, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts to a call in action against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Thursday Preview

We have arrived in the month of May and that means the NBA Playoffs are in full swing, and the NBA Draft Lottery is quickly approaching. With as great as the NBA Playoffs have been so far, we are in for another treat tonight with three more first round match ups. All three games have a possibility of being wrapped up tonight as every game has a team up 3-2 in the series. How does it all play out? We’ve got a preview for all three games below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Indiana Pacers @ Atlanta Hawks

Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST

TV: NBATV

Hawks lead series 3-2

Quick, name the starting lineup for the Atlanta Hawks.

Stumped? You’re not alone.

Despite a lack of recognizable players beyond All-Star forward Paul Millsap, talented young point guard Jeff Teague and perhaps 3-point specialist Kyle Korver, the Hawks have shown just how far hard work, intelligence and a steadfast belief in the system can carry a team.

Eighth-seeded Atlanta has a 3-2 lead against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers and can complete a stunning upset by winning at home Thursday night.

The Hawks finished 18 games behind Indiana during the regular season but have largely controlled the postseason series, building double-digit leads in all five games. Atlanta is coming off an especially impressive performance in Game 5, racing out to a 30-point lead on the road and holding on for a 107-97 triumph.

“Everyone wants to talk about what’s wrong with us,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “I think a lot of this goes to the way they’re shooting it and the way they’re playing.”

The Hawks could’ve wrapped up this series already, squandering a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead at home in Game 4. Atlanta failed to make a field goal in the final 4 1/2 minutes and lost 91-88.

Now, they’ve got a chance to finish off the Pacers at Philips Arena.

“We’re just trying to play blue-collar, competing, aggressive basketball,” Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll said after the Hawks practiced for about an hour Wednesday. “Everyone on this team is competing. Everybody is playing hard. Even the coaches. A lot of the things we do after practice and before practice go unnoticed.”

Indeed, the players give much of the credit to rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer, who has brought to Atlanta the lessons learned as a longtime assistant under San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. That means physical, aggressive play at the defensive end, ball movement and penetration to create scoring chances, and a roster full of players who can hit the outside jumper.

The Hawks have shown the sum of the parts can outshine individual greatness. Four players have scored at least 20 points in a game during the series. Seven players in the nine-man rotation have contributed at least one double-figure performance against the Pacers.

“There are very, very few teams who just win because they have the best talent,” Korver said. “The good teams in the NBA have great systems. Even Miami has a great system, even though they also have great players.”

Carroll would hardly be described as a great player — he’s on his fifth NBA team and already has been waived twice — but he’s flourished with the Hawks, averaging 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in the playoffs.

“When you have a great system, you can go get players who fit the system,” Korver said. “Everybody in the NBA can play, but until you get the right opportunity and the right fit, it doesn’t really work.”

The Hawks are positioned to become only the sixth No. 8 seed in NBA history to knock off a top seed in the opening round of the playoffs, surely the most surprising performance in a postseason already filled with dramatic moments.

“They do a great job,” Indiana’s David West said. “They have a good team, the way they cut, the way they play. Their coach is a San Antonio guy, so they mimic what San Antonio does.”

Regarded as one of the NBA’s top defensive teams, the bulky Pacers are clearly befuddled at how to stop the Hawks, who use every inch of the court and keep defenses from packing the lane by letting pretty much anyone hoist a 3-pointer.

“It’s just different,” Pacers star Paul George said. “They spread us out and we’re used to packing it in the paint, playing big, playing physical. But it’s like playing pickup ball against them with five perimeter guys.”

The Hawks lost their best player, center Al Horford, to a season-ending injury in December but were still above .500 until another rash of injuries sent them in a hideous tailspin that almost caused them to miss the playoffs. The team got healthy — except for Horford — near the end of the season, played well over the final two weeks, and carried that strong play right into the playoffs.

With one more win against the Pacers, maybe they’ll finally get some well-deserved recognition.

“They’re an eight seed and we’re a one seed,” George said, “but they’re playing great right now.”

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Memphis Grizzlies

Tip Off @ 6:00 p.m. MST

TV: TNT

Grizzlies lead series 3-2

Mike Miller has a sobering story for his Grizzlies’ teammates to keep them from celebrating prematurely now that Memphis has a chance to eliminate Oklahoma City.

While with Miami, the Heat trailed the Celtics 3-2 in 2012 going into Boston — but rallied to win the game and the series.

Miller said Wednesday his message is simple: This Western Conference series is far from over. Memphis hosts Game 6 on Thursday night.

“Still a race to four,” Miller said. “We like where we are, but we have a lot of stuff we have to accomplish yet.”

The Grizzlies grabbed a 3-2 lead in this first-round series pulling out a 100-99 overtime win Tuesday night in Oklahoma City when Serge Ibaka couldn’t shoot off a rebound before time expired. Now Memphis can become only the second No. 7 seed in the NBA to take down a No. 2 seed in a best-of-seven series, joining the Spurs who beat Dallas in 2010.

That would be only the latest highlight in a drama-filled series featuring a record four consecutive overtime games. The Grizzlies have blown leads in each game that went to overtime before winning three, and they also have given up a late four-point play in three games to three different players.

“I’m getting tired of it,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said of all the extra work. “Hopefully, we do the things we need to do to try to avoid that, and that’s taking care of the ball down the stretch.”

The Thunder are on the brink of being eliminated in the first round for the first time since 2010 when a young Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lost to the Lakers. Now Oklahoma City had the NBA’s second-best record in the regular season and Durant and Westbrook both are All-Stars, yet both struggling to shoot against Memphis.

The Grizzlies have held Oklahoma City below 40 percent shooting for four straight games, the longest such streak in franchise history. Durant is averaging 28 points a game but was 10 of 24 for 26 points in Game 5. He also didn’t shoot even once during a 6-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.

“The great ones just continue to focus on the next game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He’s a great one. He’s one of the greatest players in the world. He has to be able to continue to step up and take those shots, and he will. I have the utmost respect for his game.”

Durant has been playing more minutes every game, including all but 75 seconds Tuesday night. Westbrook had a triple-double playing 48 minutes, while Marc Gasol was on the court a team-high 46 minutes for Memphis.

Brooks is trying to rally his Thunder for a trip back to Memphis where they won Game 4 to take back home-court advantage.

“We have a great opportunity to go in there and give ourselves a chance to win,” Brooks said. “We’ve done that in every game in this series.”

Oklahoma City tried to sign Miller last summer only to lose him to Memphis, and the veteran has some unfinished business here after being on the Grizzlies’ first three playoff teams that lost an NBA-worst 12 straight. He had his best game in this series scoring 21 off the bench in Game 6, including two 3s in overtime.

The fourth overtime prompted someone to text Miller asking if the Grizzlies could make it easier for their fans.

“That wouldn’t be the Memphis Grizzlies’ style,” Miller said, “but we’ll take them however we get them.”

Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors

Tip off @ 8:30 p.m. MST

TV: TNT

Clippers lead series 3-2

Relaxed, relieved and ready to resume their championship chase, the Los Angeles Clippers tried to get back some sense of normalcy Wednesday after a week unlike any other in NBA history.

At least as normal as things can get right now.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the chaos caused by owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks is still far from over. And while NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling from the league for life and asked owners to force a sale of the franchise, Rivers said plenty of uncertainty will remain until a change is complete.

“We’re not through this. We’re still in it,” Rivers said on a conference call with reporters, again shielding his players from the spotlight of the media that surely would’ve swarmed the team’s practice facility.

Rivers has always told players to avoid outside clutter — “keep your boxes empty,” he often says — no matter the issue. Now Rivers wants his team to welcome the challenge of overcoming all the noise.

The Clippers can start by taking another step forward on the court when they try to eliminate the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 on Thursday night in Oakland. Los Angeles leads the first-round series 3-2 and is on the brink of just its third playoff-series victory since Sterling bought the franchise in 1981.

“Like I told my guys, this is going to be with us,” Rivers said. “Let’s just keep winning and let’s deal with it. But it’s not going anywhere, and you just got to embrace that, that this is part of this year’s playoffs for us.

“We don’t have a manuscript or a rule book on how to deal with each issue that’s going to come up,” he said. “There will be more issues that we don’t know about. Guys, we just got to try to keep our focus as much as we can. And if anybody is struggling with that, I told them to just let me know and we can find a way to deal with it individually.”

While questions still remain — notably how Sterling will respond to the league’s ruling — Rivers said not much has changed with the team’s day-to-day operations. He is still overseeing the basketball side and, as far as he knows, team President Andy Roeser is running the business operations.

“The league is working through the rest,” said Rivers, who added that he would not be among the long list of suitors lining up to buy the team.

Sterling was fined $2.5 million Tuesday — the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution — after audio recordings surfaced on TMZ and Deadspin over the weekend of him telling a female companion not to bring black people to games or post pictures with them online. Silver also urged the NBA’s board of governors to compel Sterling to sell the Clippers, and if three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree, the league’s longest-tenured owner almost certainly will be forced to give up the team.

Players said the ruling providing some relief, and it showed in the Clippers’ 113-103 win over the Warriors on Tuesday night when they got back to the free and spirited style that carried them to 57 wins and a second straight Pacific Division title.

“It just seemed like a burden lifted off of everybody and we could just get back to basketball and worry about what we needed to worry about,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said.

Warriors coach Mark Jackson said his players have been just as drained the past five days by the Sterling scandal. But he downplayed the impact the ruling had on either team.

“We don’t want an excuse, but it obviously, I don’t like the way we competed. And that wasn’t us for whatever reason,” Jackson said.

Focus will be the key for both teams again.

The Warriors have won 16 of their past 19 home games against the Clippers, including a 118-97 whipping Sunday after the Sterling saga began. But star Stephen Curry, who scored 17 points in the first quarter alone in that game, is coming off one of his most perplexing playoff performances.

Curry had a career-high eight turnovers and attempted just 10 shots — making five of them — in Game 5 in Los Angeles. He finished with 17 points and four assists, but he was glad to be back in Oakland on Wednesday and away from all the distractions.

“I think we’ll be able to play free enough to just go out and have fun and make plays and understand if we play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be all right,” Curry said.

Playing on the road might not be all bad for the Clippers, either. The game allows the team to escape the attention in Los Angeles, Rivers said, and put the focus back on basketball.

“As far as things being back to normal, I doubt that that is true,” Rivers said. “But I did feel like once the game started and the game went on, we were back to playing basketball as a group.”

Tags: NBA NBA Playoffs

comments powered by Disqus