The first round of the NBA Playoffs has finally come to a close and now we focus on the conference semifinals. If you are looking for our conference semifinals predictions, you can find them here. Tonight, there are two games on the schedule and they look to be both very exciting match ups. We’ve got a preview for both games that you can find below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Washington Wizards @ Indiana Pacers
Tip off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
(Regular season series, Pacers 2-1)
Indiana’s long first-round test may wind up providing the blueprint to reach the Eastern Conference finals.
After spending seven games adapting to Atlanta’s array of 3-point shooters, the Pacers think they can use a similar defensive plan against John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards when their second-round series starts Monday night.
”I think (Atlanta) helped us in terms of understanding how to be in gaps, being there for one another, rotating, so we’re ready for the next round,” Indiana’s Paul George said.
Because the Hawks had Indiana on the brink of elimination after taking a 3-2 lead last Monday, the Pacers had only one full day to implement their Washington game plan.
Wall, Beal and Trevor Ariza pose a similar challenge to Atlanta because of their speed and versatility.
”They play somewhat similar to what we do,” Beal said, talking about the Hawks. ”And the Pacers are just a big, physical team. They can play fast, but they can play slow at the same time, and that’s a great defensive team. So we’re definitely going to have our hands full.”
Unlike the Hawks, Washington relies on a more traditional power game with Marcin Gortat and Nene – something that could play right into the Pacers’ hands, especially if David West and Roy Hibbert remain as effective as they were in Saturday’s series-clinching win.
Either way, the Pacers believe they can make it work.
”I think Teague helped us prepare for John Wall,” coach Frank Vogel said. ”I think (Paul) Millsap helped us prepare for Nene. And (Kyle) Korver helped us prepare for Bradley Beal. But they’re a different team. I think the heightened alertness, more than anything, will hopefully help us going into this series.”
Here are five more things to watch for in the Eastern semifinals:
REST OR RHYTHM? The Wizards had five days to heal after beating the Bulls in five games. The Pacers, meanwhile, had to play their starters extensively to survive the first round. Washington’s challenge was staying sharp without playing. ”For me, the more time, the better,” veteran forward Al Harrington said. ”But for these (younger) guys, I know they’re champing at the bit, they’re ready to go.” The young Pacers probably don’t mind the quick turnaround after the regular starters finally won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-March.
DEJA VU: The first time Indiana had the top seed in the East, it was pushed to the brink in the first round by Milwaukee. After surviving that best-of-five series with a 3-2 series win, the Pacers went on to win the Eastern Conference title before losing to the Lakers in their only NBA Finals appearance.
D.C. MILESTONES: The Wizards have been ticking them off one-by-one. First playoff appearance since 2008. First series win since 2005. Next stop: Getting past the second round for the first time since the 1970s. They’ve reached Round 2 only twice since then – getting swept by the Heat nine years ago and losing 4-1 to the Celtics in 1982 – and haven’t won a second-round game since April 28, 1982, when Frank Johnson and Spencer Haywood scored 26 points apiece in a 103-102 victory against Larry Bird and the Celtics when Washington was still the Bullets. If the Wizards advance, they would be the lowest seed in the conference finals since the Knicks in 1999.
BIG MO: After a second-half swoon, the Pacers finally have some momentum. The regular starters have won two straight for the first time since mid-March. George has six double-doubles in his first seven games. Lance Stephenson is back to being his fun-loving self. Even Hibbert was productive in Saturday’s win. Indiana has teased its fans with other promising wins (see Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City). What everyone wants to know is which version of the Pacers will show up in the conference semis?
HOME COURT EDGE: While Washington won the last meeting between these teams, 91-78 on March 12, the Pacers have won 12 straight at Indy including twice this season. The Wizards last win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse came April 18, 2007.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
(Regular season series, tied 2-2)
The Los Angeles Clippers initially were reeling after the incendiary racial comments by owner Donald Sterling that got him banned from the NBA for life.
The team unified and rallied to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games, setting up a Western Conference semifinal against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder that starts Monday.
”For us, it’s basketball,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. ”Had we lost this game, it wasn’t like they were going to let us go to the next round because of what we’ve been through. I think it just showed our will, our fight, and more so than getting through all that, it was getting through tonight.”
The Thunder fought through a different kind of challenge – a familiar foe with a difficult style. Oklahoma City survived a grind-it-out series against the Memphis Grizzlies and prevailed in seven games.
There should be a lot less grinding and a lot more running and gunning in this matchup.
Los Angeles led the NBA in scoring during the regular season with 107.9 points per game. All-Star forward Blake Griffin has improved his all-around game, and Paul is perhaps the league’s best point guard.
”This team runs at a high level, they pass the ball up the floor at a high level,” Durant said. ”They advance the ball, they have athletic guys and shooters all around. Our defense is going to be tested.”
Durant is the league’s scoring champion, and point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA’s best athletes. The Thunder ranked fifth in scoring this season with 106.2 points per contest.
Griffin said playing the Warriors helped them get ready for the Thunder.
”Defensively, it prepared us to really be on our rotations and understand that nothing is going to be perfect, but we just have got to work it out,” he said.
Here are five things to watch for in the series:
IS DURANT REALLY BACK? Durant struggled through much of the series against Memphis before returning to form in the final two games. In the first five games, he averaged 28 points and shot 40 percent from the field. In the last two games, he averaged 34.5 points and shot 56 percent.
Memphis guard Tony Allen, who had success defending Durant, said the rest of the league could be in trouble.
”Should be easy for him, a lot easier for him now that I ain’t got to harass him,” Allen said.
PAUL’s HAMSTRING: Paul has been dealing with a sore right hamstring, a bad problem to have against Oklahoma City’s speed. Memphis’ Mike Conley entered Game 7 with a strained hamstring, and Westbrook finished with a triple-double.
Paul had 22 points and 14 assists in 42 minutes against Golden State on Saturday.
GRIFFIN vs. IBAKA: Griffin ranked sixth in the league with 24.1 points per game in the regular season. He is usually the dominant athlete in his matchups, but Ibaka, who led the NBA in total blocks in the regular season and was fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting, might be his match.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said defending Griffin is different than it once was.
”His mid-range jump shot – you can’t give him that anymore,” Brooks said. ”He can make that, and he knocks that down, and he shoots it with confidence, and they look for him.”
WILL WESTBROOK PASS? For much of the first five games against Memphis, Westbrook shot 34 percent from the field and averaged 25.4 points on 25.6 shot attempts as his team fell behind 3-2. In the final two games, he shot 51 percent from the field, averaged 26 points on 18.5 shots per game and added 10.5 assists as the Thunder rolled to two blowout wins.
”He’s an attack player,” Brooks said. ”He wants to get to the lane and finish around the paint. There’s always a balance, and I think he’s done a good job the last two or three games of finding that.”
DO THE CLIPPERS HAVE ANYTHING LEFT? The Clippers have acknowledged that the Sterling situation has taken its toll. They played a tough seven-game series against the Warriors and follow it with Game 1 on the road two days later against a team that had the league’s second-best home record at 34-7.
The Clippers defeated the Thunder in Oklahoma City 125-117 on Feb. 23, though under much different circumstances.
”It’s tough to win in OKC,” Clippers forward Matt Barnes said. ”These playoffs aren’t going to be easy, but we’ve won there this season, and we’re looking to go up there and get one.”