Saturday, April 19, 2014

Check out the first-round matchups for the 2014 NBA Playoffs

Eric Freeman 

Ball Don't Lie
After nearly six full months and 82 games for each of the NBA's 30 teams, the regular season now gives way to the postseason. With no clear favorite, a massively competitive Western Conference, and two big rivals atop the Eastern Conference, this year's playoffs figure to be worth the wait.
Without further ado, let's take a quick look at the first-round matchups, along with full schedules (all times Eastern and some quick analysis. (We'll publish in-depth previews for every series later this week.)
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (49-33)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at San Antonio, 1:00PM on TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, April 23, at San Antonio, 8:00PM on NBA TV
Game 3: Saturday, April 26, at Dallas, 4:30PM on TNT
Game 4: Monday, April 28, at Dallas, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at San Antonio, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Dallas, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at San Antonio, TBD
The eternally effective Spurs bounced back from last June's heartbreaking NBA Finals loss to finish with the league's best record, due in large part to the strengths of head coach Gregg Popovich and the mainstay trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. The Mavericks return to the playoffs after a one-year absence and boast Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis as offensive leaders. San Antonio swept the season series 4-0 and looks like the favorite this year, as well.
No. 4 Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at Houston, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, April 23, at Houston, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 3: Friday, April 25, at Portland, 10:30PM on ESPN
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, at Portland, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at Houston, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Portland, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at Houston, TBD
With All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden, plus a strong supporting cast that includes the multi-talented Chandler Parsons, the Rockets have a solid chance at representing the West in the NBA Finals. The Blazers cooled down after a scintillating start to the season, but All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard present a formidable challenge for any opponent. Expect a high-scoring series from two of the NBA's most efficient offenses.
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Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors at Staples …
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (51-31)
Game 1: Saturday, April 19, at Los Angeles, 3:30PM on ABC
Game 2: Monday, April 21, at Los Angeles, 10:30PM on TNT
Game 3: Thursday, April 24, at Golden State, 10:30PM on TNT
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, at Golden State, 3:30PM on ABC
Game 5*: Tuesday, April 29, at Los Angeles, TBD
Game 6*: Thursday, May 1, at Golden State, TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, May 3, at Los Angeles, TBD on TNT
New head coach Doc Rivers guided the Clippers to their second-consecutive division title as Chris Paul provided his usual peerless point guard play and Blake Griffin elevated from All-Star to genuine MVP candidate. Known for their offensive firepower and the outside shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors struggled to score efficiently at times this season and now face the absence of center Andrew Bogut, out indefinitely with a serious broken rib injury. These teams do not like each other, having engaged in several scuffles this regular season, and figure to get into a few more regardless of the series result.
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23) vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)
Game 1: Saturday, April 19, at Oklahoma City, 9:30PM on ESPN
Game 2: Monday, April 21, at Oklahoma City, 8:00PM on TNT
Game 3: Thursday, April 24, at Memphis, 8:00PM on TNT
Game 4: Saturday, April 26, at Memphis, 9:30PM on ESPN
Game 5*: Tuesday, April 29, at Oklahoma City, TBD
Game 6*: Thursday, May 1, at Memphis, TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, May 3, at Oklahoma City, TBD on TNT
The Thunder have been without star point guard Russell Westbrook for several long stretches of the season due to knee trouble, but Kevin Durant has made up for his teammate's absence with performances that should earn him his first MVP award. After early injuries, including a serious one to linchpin Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies returned to their typical grit-n-grind ways to get back into the playoff picture. This series represents a rematch of last spring's conference semifinals, in which the Grizzlies pushed around the Westbrook-less Thunder.
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Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, left, and Paul George celebrate in the closing seconds of the second half of …
No. 1 Indiana Pacers (56-26) vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks (38-44)
Game 1: Saturday, April 19, at Indiana, 7:00PM on ESPN
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22, at Indiana, 7:00PM on TNT
Game 3: Thursday, April 24, at Atlanta, 7:00PM on NBA TV
Game 4: Saturday, April 26, at Atlanta, 2:00PM on TNT
Game 5*: Monday, April 28, at Indiana, 8:00PM on NBA TV
Game 6*: Thursday, May 1, at Atlanta, TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, May 3, at Indiana, TBD on TNT
The Pacers tailed off considerably with a 10-13 record since March 2, but this team, led by All-Stars Roy Hibbert and Paul George, remains dangerous and stands very good odds of supplanting the Miami Heat as conference champions. Meanwhile, the Hawks made the playoffs largely by default in a top-heavy East and didn't consider the accomplishment especially relevant to their long-term goals. Despite Indiana's recent struggles, it would be downright shocking for this series to go Atlanta's way.
No. 4 Chicago Bulls (48-34) vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards (44-38)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at Chicago, 7:00PM on TNT
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22, at Chicago, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 3: Friday, April 25, at Washington, 8:00PM on ESPN
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, at Washington, 1:00PM on ABC
Game 5*: Tuesday, April 29, at Chicago, TBD
Game 6*: Thursday, May 1, at Washington, TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, May 3, at Chicago, TBD on TNT
Despite losing star point guard Derrick Rose to yet another season-ending knee injury, the Bulls bounced back with their trademark tenacity and an MVP-type season from center Joakim Noah. The Wizards have rebounded from several years of franchise-wide malaise, primarily due to the emergence of star point guard John Wall. The battle-tested Bulls and upstart Wizards provide an interesting contrast.
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Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots as Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8) falls to the floor and Kevin …
No. 3 Toronto Raptors (48-34) vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
Game 1: Saturday, April 19, at Toronto, 12:30PM on ESPN
Game 2: Tuesday, April 22, at Toronto, 8:00PM on NBA TV
Game 3: Friday, April 25, at Brooklyn, 7:00PM on ESPN2
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, at Brooklyn, 7:00PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at Toronto, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Brooklyn, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at Toronto, TBD  
The Raptors went from lottery participants to one of the East's best teams after a December trade of highly paid forward Rudy Gay, with All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry having breakout seasons. The Nets were one of the league's biggest disappointments until the calendar turned to 2014, when their considerable talent meshed and first-year head coach Jason Kidd began to get more of a handle on his squad. This series could be one of the most competitive of the first round.
No. 2 Miami Heat (54-28) vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats (43-39)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at Miami, 3:30PM on ABC
Game 2: Wednesday, April 23, at Miami, 7:00PM on TNT
Game 3: Saturday, April 26, at Charlotte, 7:00PM on ESPN
Game 4: Monday, April 28, at Charlotte, 7:00PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at Miami, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Charlotte, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at Miami, TBD
The two-time defending champion Heat will attempt to become the first team to win three titles in a row since theLos Angeles Lakers of 2000 through 2002. The Bobcats were one of the league's surprise teams after two historically bad seasons, with offseason pickup Al Jefferson playing well enough to earn All-NBA consideration and the defense improving considerably. Nevertheless, the Heat are an overwhelming favorite to make this a short series.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!
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