The first night of the conference semifinals is in the books, and now the focus shifts to the other two games in the semifinals of this year’s NBA Playoffs. What can we expect tonight? We’ve got a quick video breakdown for each game, as well as a preview article. You can check it all out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Brooklyn Nets @ Miami Heat
Tip off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Regular Season Series (Nets won 4-0)
Dwyane Wade hardly thinks the regular-season series between Brooklyn and Miami was meaningless.
The Nets swept the Heat, winning three of those games by a mere point, taking the other in double overtime. That’s not exactly a show of dominance from a scoring-differential perspective.
Doesn’t matter, Wade said.
The Nets won all four, and that has Miami’s full attention as the sides get ready to open an Eastern Conference semifinals series. Miami, the league’s two-time defending champion, will host Game 1 on Tuesday night.
”They figured out a way to beat us four times and that hasn’t happened,” said Wade, the Heat guard who missed two of the four Brooklyn-Miami games this season. ”So we’ve got to crack that code.”
History shows the Heat will struggle in that code-cracking plan.
This series marks the 26th time that teams will meet in a best-of-seven series after one club went 4-0 or better against the other in the regular season. In each of the first 25 such instances, the regular-season winner also won the playoff matchup.
”I think they know what’s coming,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. ”We’ve seen them four times. I think we have the utmost respect for them and they have the utmost respect for us. Hopefully, it can be a great series.”
That got Miami’s attention.
The 4-0 record, that just got even more of Miami’s attention.
”The goal from the beginning when we came in here was to win a championship and we understand that in order to do that, you have to go through the best,” Pierce said. ”And Miami being that team over the last couple years, we figured this was going to be a test for us.”
It’s the fifth time Pierce and LeBron James will be on opposite sides of a playoff series. Pierce won the first two when James was in Cleveland; James has won the last two since coming to Miami, topping Garnett and Pierce when they wore Boston colors.
To James, this isn’t about breaking a tie. He’s got bigger goals.
”It should be very challenging,” James said.
Here’s five things to know about the series.
HELLO, BROOKLYN: James said he realized quickly after the personnel moves last summer that the Nets would find their way into the postseason-contender mix, pointing out Monday that they’ve gotten here even without injured C Brook Lopez. And while the Nets say that there’s no real rivalry with Miami yet, there’s clearly some personal scores already involved. ”They know my tendencies. I know their tendencies,” James said.
THE 4-0 STAT: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t bringing up his team’s 0-4 record against Brooklyn this season much, opting to look more forward instead. ”Depends on who you ask,” Spoelstra said of its significance. ”We’re looking at us and how we have to impact the games to give ourselves the best chance to win.”
LIVINGSTON RETURNS: It could be argued Nets G Shaun Livingston owes some of his success to the Heat, since they were the team that lured him back to the NBA in 2008 – 17 months after he endured one of the more gruesome knee injuries in recent memory. Livingston played in only four games with the Heat before getting waived in what was largely a salary-related move. The Nets are his fifth team since that brief Miami stint, but the Heat still speak highly of Livingston. He’s had some big moments already against the Heat this season, and if he has more in the next couple weeks, that’s obviously going to be a bonus for Brooklyn.
KIDD VS. HEAT: Kidd’s record against the Heat in recent years has been beyond stellar. Going back to the 2007-08 season, Kidd’s teams won 16 of the last 21 games he played in against Miami, and obviously the rookie Nets coach is 4-0 versus the Heat so far this season. Add it up, and that’s a 20-5 record of late. But it hasn’t always been that rosy: Kidd also had streaks of five, nine and six consecutive losses against the Heat during his playing career.
LBJ 4K: James is nine points away from becoming the eighth player in NBA history with 4,000 postseason points. Among active players, only Kobe Bryant (5,640) and Tim Duncan (4,735) have more. And five of the top nine active playoff scorers – James (3), Wade (6), Pierce (7), Ray Allen (tied-8) and Kevin Garnett (tied-8) – will be in this series.
Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio Spurs
Tip off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Regular season series (tied 2-2)
The San Antonio Spurs just finished going toe-to-toe with a transformational power forward whose mid-range game stretched their defense to the max, needing seven games to oust Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
”I think LaMarcus is a younger Dirk who can shoot and drive, play in the post (and do) a lot of things, so it’s not going to be easy,” Splitter said Monday. ”We know that. I think all the team is aware of that; everybody is going to help a little bit.”
Like Nowitzki, Aldridge relies heavily on the mid-range game, using every inch of his 6-foot-11 frame to get his jumper off against smaller defenders. When faced with someone his size, Aldridge has the strength and nimble feet to get past them, as he did time and time again in the Trail Blazers’ defeat of the Houston Rockets in six games.
The Rockets rarely had an answer for Aldridge, who beat up the smaller Terrence Jones on the block and took Omer Asik and Dwight Howard away from the basket to stretch the floor. He scored 89 points in the first two games of the series. He averaged 29.8 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in the opening round.
”Guys are going to be confident, but still have to think about the way that we got here, working hard and grinding it out,” Aldridge said. ”I think guys are definitely going to be more confident but this is new territory for most of us.”
The Blazers haven’t been out of the first round since 2000 while the Spurs are looking for a return trip to the NBA Finals.
Here are five things to watch when the series opens in San Antonio on Tuesday night:
POINT GUARD HEAVEN: In a new golden age of point guards, it would hard to find a more compelling matchup than this one. San Antonio’s Tony Parker is the NBA’s gold standard, a savvy veteran who changes speeds like an All-Star pitcher. He was at his best in Game 7, dismantling the Mavericks with 32 points. Portland’s Damian Lillard is the new kid on the block, a supremely confident second-year player who had perhaps the moment of these young playoffs with a game-winning 3-pointer to eliminate Houston. ”He can do everything,” Parker said. ”He can shoot from the outside, penetrate and so we’re going to try to do some stuff to try to contain him. You’re not going to stop him.”
DEFENDING PARKER: As great and fearless as Lillard has been offensively, he still has a lot to learn on the other end of the court. He likely will see the speedy Parker for stretches of the game, but in the biggest moments, look for coach Terry Stotts to put Nic Batum or Wesley Matthews on Parker and try to hide Lillard on Danny Green, who is a standstill shooter and nothing more. That’s what generally happened in the regular season series, which was split 2-2.
SPURS DEPTH: Even after the Trail Blazers added Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson in an effort to beef up their beleaguered bench, they still relied heavily on their starting five for most of their production. That stands in stark contrast to the Spurs, who didn’t have a player average 30 minutes per game this season. If the series goes deep, that could come into play.
POPULAR GUY: After beating the buzzer to hit his game-winner against the Rockets, Lillard said his phone got quite a workout. ”My phone was on 60 percent right after the game,” he said. ”As soon as I picked it up it was just buzzing and I went on the podium and when I got off of the podium it was dead. I think I had like 350 texts or something like that.”
BELINELLI’S STRUGGLES: In his first season in San Antonio, Marco Belinelli put together one of the best seasons of his career. He shot 43 percent from 3-point range and averaged 11.4 points per game in a valuable role off the bench while playing alongside his friend Manu Ginobili. But he was a non-factor in the first round against Dallas, scoring just 22 points total in the seven games. ”Beli needs to come back and play better,” Parker said. ”I think the way they are going to play our wings are going to be more free than against Dallas.”