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Tag:2011 First Round
Posted on: April 16, 2011 5:16 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 1:42 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Pacers-Bulls: Back-breaker for Indy?

The Bulls barely survived against the Pacers. But was the best effort for the Pacers in a loss a back-breaker for Indy?
Posted by Matt Moore





Count your blessings, Chicago, and pat yourself on the back for a great fourth quarter. But with the Bulls getting a stiff wake-up call against the Pacers, you'd think that it would set the table for a long, hard-fought series. 

Unless the Bulls just delivered the back-breaker. 

Before we start here, there's going to be a lot of talk about overreaction to one game. And that's totally fair. We need to see how the rest of the series plays out. We need to see more than one could-be outlier game, and whether the trends that put the Pacers in the game hold or totally fall apart. What we want to do, though, is guide you through what's happening, ask the questions the narrative creates, and not feed you traditional talk. We could prattle on about the Bulls and a great win, because that fits the narrative, right? MVP wins the game with a superb effort, and the sweep is on. But that's not what happened. The Pacers pushed the Bulls and exploited a lot of narratives. Yes, Rose was incredible, on offense. But Darren Collison and A.J. Price both had good contributions against Rose's defense, and in the name of all that is holy, can Carlos Boozer guard Tyler Hansbrough? We can't brush over this game. We're still confident the Bulls have this series under firm control, but there's stuff to talk about. That's basketball. 

 

More on Pacers-Bulls
Analysis
Royce Young Royce Young
Here's the thing about Indiana's near upset of the Bulls -- this was good for Chicago. Read More >>
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And one thing to talk about is whether this is a back-breaker for the Pacers. 

Tyler Hansbrough had a huge game (his second of the year against the Bulls). The Pacers shot 56 percent from the arc, when their season average is 35 percent, and 31 percent against Chicago . Four Pacers made double-digits. The Pacers' offensive efficiency was 113.8 against the Bulls Saturday. In the regular season, they were at 93.29 versus the Bulls. Darren Collison torched  Derrick Rose. (Not as badly as Derrick Rose torched Collison, and every one of the Pacers, but still, it should be noted). The Pacers had dozens of things go right for them.

And they lost. 

To have a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lose? To lose like that? How do you come back from that? On the one hand, you could argue it gives the Pacers confidence. They can hang with the Bulls, right? They played them tough, in Game 1, on the road. But on the other hand, they played so well in just about every area, good enough to win if the game was 45 minutes long. But it's not, and the Pacers lost. If an 8 seed is going to hang with the 1 seed, it has to be done with emotion and confidence. Instead of walking out feeling like they could take down the Bulls, they just proved they can play as well as possible and walk out with a loss. How does a team that young respond? 

Tyler Hansbrough was a huge emotional lift for the Pacers and, oddly, he's probably the most sustainable success story from Game 1 for the Pacers. Boozer can't guard him. Can't do it. And the pick-and-pop work is the one thing the Bulls' tremendous defense will allow. But unless Hansbrough can go on a ridiculous shooting streak, even that seems circumspect. Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert had a huge start, then completely vanished. There was enough in that game to show that what gave the Pacers the lead won't wind up maintaining as the series goes forward. 

The Bulls allowed the Pacers to push them to the edge, and then largely one player (with a nice Korver three thrown in and a good spurt from Noah, who wasn't great overall) took over and sent them back to the lockers dejected. If the Pacers stare at how close they came and how far they fell, it may be an early end to what looked like a tough series, with even five minutes left in the game. 

That's the impact of a great player in the NBA playoffs. 

Posted on: April 16, 2011 4:23 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 1:44 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Bulls-Pacers: Bulls needed the push

Posted by Royce Young



It took 47 minutes and 12 seconds for the Bulls -- the top seed in the entire NBA playoffs -- to take a lead over the 37-win Indiana Pacers. For those first 47 minutes and 11 seconds, it looked like we had the seeds mixed up. The Pacers looked sharp, confident and crisp while the Bulls looked nervous and tight. And, after a three-point play from Tyler Hansbrough that put Indiana up 10 with three minutes left, worried.

But the Bulls have the luxury of possessing a special, special player that wears No. 1 on his back. Derrick Rose was every bit the MVP in this one, keying a 14-1 run for Chicago and leading the Bulls to a hard fought 104-99 victory over the scrappy Pacers. Rose had 39 points and basically carried his team, but it was a smart decision late in the fourth that put the Bulls over the top.

With the game tied at 99-99, Rose had the option to attack in transition. Instead, he deferred to Kyle Korver, who was open on the 3-point line. Korver dropped in a massive shot that pretty much ended the dream day for the Pacers. A brilliant play, and one that showed Rose is entirely willing to trust teammates in big moments, which is a big key for Chicago moving forward.

The story will likely be about how Chicago nearly dropped a dud in the first game, but don't overlook what these young Pacers did. They know they're overwhelming underdogs. They know most aren't giving them a chance to even win a game in this series. Yet with 3:28 left in this game, they led by 10 and really had the Bulls up against a wall.

Every punch the Bulls threw, Indiana came back with two. Danny Granger had a huge second half with 18 points (24 overall), Hansbrough basically took over in stretches and, most importantly, the Pacers played smart. They had this game. They really did. But in those last three minutes, they couldn't figure out where to go for points. It was almost like they looked at the scoreboard for the first time and said, "Holy crap, we're up 10!" and then tightened up and tried to just take a couple knees and run out the clock.

For 97 percent of the game, the Pacers played without fear, without hesitation and without any idea that they were supposed to lose. It was impressive.

More on Pacers-Bulls
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Tyler Hansbrough was huge, the Pacers shot lights-out ... and Indy still lost. Backbreaker? Read >>
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Here's the thing though: This was good for the Bulls. They're a heavy favorite not just to win this series, but the entire Eastern Conference. But they're young and inexperienced. They haven't played this favorite role yet. This is new. And they just got a little message in the mail from Frank Vogel and the Pacers that this is the postseason and you can't just expect to show up and advance.

Maybe it was just me, but I sensed an air of arrogance from the Bulls for the first three quarters. Kind of like they just expected to handle the Pacers. Like they thought the Pacers were just a cricket they needed to squash before leaving the house. Obviously, not the case.

The Bulls didn't play very well, especially in terms of their standards. Their defense was sketchy (allowed 55 points in the first half and 50 percent shooting the first three quarters). The offensive execution was inconsistent with most of Chicago's offense being called "Derrick Rose." All of that compromised Chicago's overall performance and really, the Bulls were lucky to escape with a win.

Look at the shot selection just by Rose. He was 10-23 overall, but 0-9 from 3. He did a terrific job getting to the line (19-21; by contrast Indiana as a team was 14-17), but the Bulls played with the kind of frustration you see in a team that's confused about why they're not up by 15. They kept trying to score six points at a time instead of just taking the game possession by possession.

It's not unexpected though. We've all placed grand expectations on this Bulls team, but really, they're not too different from Indiana. They're young, inexperienced and unproven. Only difference is the Bulls have the target on their back and have to play with the weight of expectation. The Pacers got to play with house money.

Where Chicago won the game was on the glass with 21 offensive rebounds and a 49-34 edge overall. The biggest was the last one by veteran Kurt Thomas with 18 seconds left that forced the Pacers to foul. If Indiana grabs two or three more defensive boards, we're all writing much different stories that probably have headlines like, "Panic time in Chicago?"

But that run in the last three minutes was a title team style effort. It's what you see the great squads do. Lull for 45 minutes, turn it on for three. And win. That last part is the most important.

It's probably better in the end for Chicago to understand that nothing comes easy in the postseason. Playing with fire is dangerous and Tom Thibodeau definitely isn't psyched about how his team played, but he definitely has something to talk about with his group now. The Bulls need to sort some things out. Rose is amazing, but they aren't advancing past Miami if Rose has to score 40 every night in a seven-game series. Other players have to step up. They knew that already, but they got a pretty good reminder of it today against a lesser team.

More than likely, Indiana blew its best chance to steal a game from the Bulls. Now, Chicago has that first one out of the way and it survived. They can refocus, loosen up a bit and just go play their game. The Pacers have the Bulls attention now. That's for sure. And that's probably a good thing for the Bulls going forward.
Posted on: April 16, 2011 1:43 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Celtics C Shaq to miss Game 1 against Knicks

Boston Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal will not play in Game 1 against the New York Knicks due to injury. Posted by Ben Golliver. shaquille-oneal

Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge told the media on Saturday that center Shaquille O'Neal will not be available for Game 1 against the New York Knicks on Sunday as expected. "He's not ready. We don't know when he's going to be ready," Ainge said, according to Celtics.com. The team's doctor, Dr. McKeon, said: "He's been working his tail off."

NBA.com reported on Twitter that O'Neal "tried to run this am, couldn't go. No timetable."

O'Neal missed a significant amount of time during the latter half of the regular season due to a variety of ailments, including an Achilles injury. He attempted to make a comeback on April 3 but was shut down after just six minutes of action. Those six minutes were the only court time he's seen since February 1.

The Celtics could certainly use O'Neal as their vaunted interior depth took a hit with the midseason trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Without O'Neal, the Celtics will have to make due with Nenad Krstic and Jermaine O'Neal and can also shift to some small ball lineups. Against the Knicks, Shaq's absence isn't critical -- as New York could not care less about defense and rebounding -- but his availability for a potential second round series against the Miami Heat or a potential Eastern Conference Finals with the Boston Celtics could be a major factor.

On the season, O'Neal is averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes. He appeared in just 37 games for the Celtics.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 7:52 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 7:55 pm
 

Lakers C Bynum (knee) goes through practice

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum practiced on Friday despite a knee injury. Posted by Ben Golliver. andrew-bynum

Back on Wednesday, we noted that Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee during a Tuesday night game against the San Antonio Spurs but that an MRI revealed he had only suffered a bone bruise and no structural damage. At the time, Bynum was cleared to play for the Lakers once the postseason started.

The Lakers open their first round series with the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday and the Associated Press reports that Bynum will be ready to go after going through a full practice on Friday.
"I'm fine," Bynum said. "It's nothing that's not normal for me at this point." 
Bynum believes he'll be back to normal when second-seeded Los Angeles hosts the Hornets in the first-round opener Sunday, even while acknowledging "my normal is a little bit skewed." 
Coach Phil Jackson isn't quite so optimistic, saying he'll see how Bynum reacts from Friday's practice on Saturday before guessing how effective he'll be against New Orleans.
"Actually, I was a little concerned," Jackson said. "He started out practice and felt like the knee was a little loose, a little different, but he proceeded and played fine."
As noted in our CBSSports.com Hornets-Lakers preview, Jackson should have the luxury of managing Bynum's minutes carefully, as New Orleans has an undersized and thin frontline that Pau Gasol has feasted on all season. Assuming everything goes as planned and LA continues its dominance of New Orleans, all the Lakers need from Bynum is for him to use the series as a tune-up for later tests.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Western Conference First Round Picks

The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle. 




Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below. 

8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs

Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.

Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.

Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five. 

7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers

Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.

Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.

Matt Moore:  HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.

6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks

Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.

Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven. 

Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.

5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder

Royce Young:  Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.

Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.

Ken Berger:  Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:14 pm
 

Lawson expects to be ready for Game 1 against OKC

Posted by Royce Young

Ty Lawson sprained his anke in Denver's final game of the regular season. It wasn't seen as anything too serious, but according to the Denver Post , Lawson did not practice Friday. He said he will try and practice on Saturday though.

Lawson did say he expects to be ready for Game 1 against the Thunder in Oklahoma City Sunday night. With him sitting out though, there will be a question as to if he's 100 percent or not.

Of course the Nuggets do have Raymond Felton, a very good point guard, behind Lawson. But George Karl likes to play the two together. The Nuggets need to get healthy if they want to push the Thunder. Right now, Denver comes in a bit wounded with Arron Afflalo's and Chris Andersen also ailing along with Lawson.

Posted on: April 15, 2011 3:33 pm
 

Blazers-Mavericks preview: Upset special?

A preview of the first round playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers. Posted by Ben Golliver.

aldridge-chandler

 

I. Intro: No. 6 seed Portland Trail Blazers (48-34) vs. No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25)

The city of Portland rejoiced when the Los Angeles Lakers finally finished off the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night to claim the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, setting up Portland, who had already clinched the No. 6 spot, for a date with the Dallas Mavericks. The consensus started building as early as March that the Blazers would prefer to play the Mavericks over any of the West’s top four. That desire is motivated in part because the Blazers lost center Greg Oden for the season -- and thus have trouble dealing with LA's length and size inside -- but also because the team has fared well against the Mavericks in the regular season and the match-ups are pretty close up and down these rosters.

With that said, the Blazers have a very good chance at pulling off an upset here, but don't rush to anoint them. Indeed, the talk from Dallas that the Mavericks are the "underdogs" is nonsense. Dallas is better on both sides of the ball, has more playoff experience, possesses homecourt advantage and its core has played together much longer than Portland's, which didn't come together until this year's trade deadline move for forward Gerald Wallace

Blazers-Mavericks should go down to the wire and compete with the Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder for best first round playoff series.   

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Blazers-Mavericks season series between the two teams is about as even as it gets. The teams split 2-2, with the home team winning all four games. The numbers in those games are comically close. The Blazers averaged 96.8 points while the Mavericks averaged 96.0, making for an almost invisible point differential. The Blazers averaged 37.3 rebounds while the Mavericks averaged 37 rebounds. The teams even both averaged 17 fouls per game. Really? 

There were a few differences, though. The Mavericks shot better from the field – by almost three percent – and from distance – by five percent. The Blazers closed that gap by getting to the free throw line slightly more and by grabbing more offensive rebounds. For Portland to pull the upset, that will need to continue. Dallas possesses a better overall offense (No. 8 in the league), has a higher overall rebound rate and, thanks to Jason Kidd, has the league’s highest assist rate. They’re a top-five shooting team overall and shoot better from deep than the inconsistent Blazers.

While both teams held serve at home during the regular season, it’s worth noting that the Mavericks have the league’s best road record at 28-13. The Blazers, meanwhile, were 18-23 on the road, which doesn’t bode well for a potential game seven.

III. The Easy Stuff: LaMarcus Aldridge has been huge against Dallas

Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge has made a ton of noise this season as he’s become the team’s No. 1 scoring option in the wake of Brandon Roy’s knee issues. Aldridge was the last guy cut off the Western Conference All-Star team, earned Player of the Month honors, has been floated as a Most Improved Player candidate as well as a top 10 MVP candidate and has a decent shot of making the All-NBA Third Team. He achieved cult status in Portland when he went on a ridiculous midseason tear.

Aldridge has regularly referenced a December game in Dallas as the moment a switch flipped for him, the time that he realized he needed to do more – much more – offensively if the Blazers were to make hte playoffs. Against the Mavericks this season, Aldridge has averaged 28.6 points and nine rebounds per game and he’s gotten to the line more than eight times per game. He’s succeeded, in part, because Tyson Chandler is the only Dallas big who can stick with him defensively.

Dallas will surely pay tons of attention to Aldridge, doubling him, pressuring him on the ball and forcing Portland’s shooters – streaky guys like Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez – to make them pay for collapsing on Aldridge. Given the quality of Dallas’s offense, Portland simply won’t be able to keep pace offensively unless Aldridge posts big numbers. There's pressure on him, without a doubt, and he will need to respond.

IV. Secret of the Series: Jason Terry is the X-factor for Dallas

While no team in the NBA can feel totally confident in its ability to defend Dirk Nowitzki – a player who once again didn’t get enough run as an MVP candidate – the Blazers have multiple guys to throw at him: Aldridge, Wallace and even Batum. Mavericks guard Jason Terry, though, is a different story, as his quickness, pull-up shooting and big shot-making abilities leaves Portland looking for answers. Surprisingly, during the regular season series Terry was a virtual non-factor, averaging just 12.3 points and 1 assist against the Blazers; Only San Antonio, Chicago and Milwaukee held him to a lower point average than Portland.

Matthews and Fernandez will probably get the call on Terry and the Blazers will switch a ton late in games to keep a hand in his face. There should be a comfort factor for Dallas in knowing they split this season with their No. 2 option being off his game. If Terry shows up – or if he goes off like he’s fully capable of doing – it will be something the Blazers haven’t dealt with this season.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Portland is so deep they can overwhelm you”

In previous years, NBA executives and media members around the league would marvel at the vast collection of young talent that Portland had assembled. Injuries and consolidation trades have taken a major toll, however, and the Blazers are not nearly as deep as they might look on paper. Blazers coach Nate McMillan didn’t settle on a starting lineup until late in the season – he tried Wallace at the power forward spot before sliding him in at small forward – but once he did he rode his starters hard. McMillan has really leaned on Aldridge and Wallace down the stretch – often playing them both over 40 minutes a night – and you can expect him to play veteran starting point guard Andre Miller heavy minutes as well.

Portland’s bench really only goes three deep: Batum, Fernandez and Brandon Roy. Batum has done a nice job of settling into a reserve role after ceding his starting spot to Wallace, but he can’t always be counted on to make an immediate offensive impact. Fernandez has struggled with his shot all season long but – like Batum – can change a game with his energy and defensive instincts.

Roy is the biggest question mark and could be a major player in this series. His size makes him a tough cover for Dallas’s reserve guards and he should get a fair number of minutes because he can hide on defense – where he’s a major liability due to a lack of lateral quickness – against Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson or Peja Stojakovich. The problem is that he appears to no longer trust his shot, shooting just 33% in April and looking to facilitate Portland’s second-team offense rather than get his own scoring. If Roy steps up and provides a legitimate scoring punch off the bench, it will relieve pressure not only on his fellow reserves but on Portland’s starting unit as well. The bad news: he’s scored in double figures just twice in the last month. The good news: his best game of 2011 came against Dallas, when he dropped in 21.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Neither Andre Miller nor Jason Kidd played great in the regular season series: Miller averaged nine points and four assists while Kidd averaged five points and eight assists. But watching two of the game’s smartest, craftiest point guards in the postseason should make for an excellent chess match. Call this a push.

SG: Reports out of Dallas are that DeShawn Stevenson will start at the two and, while he brings a bigger body than Rodrigue Beaubois, he’s the definition of unpredictable. On the opposite side, Wesley Matthews took a nice leap forward in his second season, drawing MIP consideration and upping his scoring average in a big way. He plays hard and enjoys playing defense late in games, something he will be asked to do. Slight advantage: Blazers.

SF: Gerald Wallace is being highlighted and circled everywhere as a potential X-factor for the Blazers, and rightfully so. He’s been a phenomenon since arriving in Portland at the trade deadline and has given the Blazers great defensive versatility, an added measure of toughness and a veteran savvy that were lacking. Shawn Marion is probably getting looked over in all of this, as he averaged 13.3 points and six rebounds against the Blazers this season. Wallace’s overall activity level gives him the nod, but not by as much as you would think. Advantage: Blazers.

PF: Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge should be about as fascinating as any first-round match-up in the Western Conference. Nowitzki has averaged 21.7 points and seven boards this season against the Blazers and put some nails in the coffin down the stretch of an early season game with some huge fourth quarter baskets. Nowitzki has a big edge in playoff experience, he has the homecourt advantage and he should have plenty of help defending Aldridge. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Much like Miller/Kidd, the center match-up of Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby pits fairly similar players: long, rebounding-first defensive specialists. But Chandler brings more on the offensive end and is younger and Camby has struggled a bit since his return from arthroscopic knee surgery in early 2011. Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: Terry is the major standout while JJ Barea’s speed has given Portland problems in the past. Thanks to Brendan Haywood, the Mavericks also have more depth up front, which could be a big factor in helping keep Dallas’s starters out of foul trouble. Unless Roy shows up, Portland’s bench lacks pop. Advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: The pressure is on Rick Carlisle to deliver in the postseason, as the Mavericks have been bounced in the first round three of the last four years. McMillan has applied expectations of his own, stating recently that it was time for both the Blazers and himself to take the next step and win a playoff series, something they were unable to do against the Rockets in 2009 and the Suns in 2010. Both teams rely heavily on advanced scouting and tendency analysis and both teams incorporate zone defense looks. Should be a fun one. Call it a push.

VII. Conclusion

Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but Dallas should eventually pull it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a great option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in 7.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Tyson Chandler and the Dallas Mavericks will take on LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger breakdown this playoff matchup.

Posted on: April 15, 2011 3:02 pm
 

Thunder-Nuggets Preview: There will be blood

Posted by Royce Young



I. Intro:  No. 5 seed Denver Nuggets (50-32) vs. No. 4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

It's already being looked at as the "fun series" to watch. The young, athletic Thunder versus the young, athletic Nuggets. Some seem to be torn on the outcome which says one thing -- it should be a fun series.

Both teams underwent pretty serious transformations near the trade deadline. One was shipping out its star and replacing him with a gaggle of above average players. The other was shipping off one of its young pieces and replacing him with a championship tested big man.

At the time, it looked like the two franchises were headed in opposite directions. It looked like the Thunder were setting up to contend in the now, while the Nuggets were attempting to restructure for the future.

Except Denver kept winner and actually probably became a better team. In the end, we settled in on a unexpected series pitting division rivals against one another. Already the two teams are talking a little smack and already they've tussled. I get the feeling they don't like each other one bit. Did I say it should be fun?

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

Throw out the first two meetings because they don't count at all (Denver and OKC split 1-1 anyway). The teams that faced off in those first two games aren't the ones you see now. A lot changed.

And more than really any other series, we got the best taste of what to expect over the last couple weeks with this one. Not only did the Thunder and Nuggets play each other -- home and home, too -- but the games were important at the time. The Northwest Division title was still on the line.

OKC took the game in Denver 101-94, handing the Nuggets their first loss at home since the Melo trade and snapping a seven-game win streak. Then back in Oklahoma City a week later, the Thunder dropped the Nuggets 104-89 with a relentless defensive effort.

III. The Easy Stuff: Denver has no one to guard Kevin Durant

In the two recent games, Durant averaged 30.0 points per game on 45 percent shooting and really didn't get much of a challenge from Denver defenders. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari shared the assignment, but the Nuggets tried switching on every screen Durant ran off of.

What result was a bunch of mismatches with Durant catching Nene or Kenyon Martin one-on-one. That wouldn't be a problem, except Durant is taller than both and can shoot over anyone on top of driving past them.

OKC is 22-1 this season when Durant shoots better than 50 percent from the floor. Read that last sentence again. Really, without Ron Artest last year holding Durant down against the Lakers, that series might've been very different. The Nuggets have to find a way to check Durant, otherwise they'll have a hard time checking the Thunder.

IV. Secret of the Series: The three P's: Pace, Perk and perimeter defense

The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the league (95.6). They want to run. They want to get Ty Lawson, Chandler, Martin and everyone else out in the open floor.

Oklahoma City isn't opposed to running by any means, but the Thunder definitely want to keep the Nuggets off the highway. In the last game in OKC, the game was played at a pace of just 90.0, something that definitely favored the Thunder. In the halfcourt, the Nuggets struggled scoring against OKC's man-to-man defense.

To go with that, inside Kendrick Perkins gives OKC the ability to leave single coverage on Nene. That means the Thunder's perimeter defenders can hang on Denver's list of good shooters. The Nuggets want you collapsing and rotating everywhere so they can find a marksman open on the outside. OKC didn't afford Denver that, holding the Nuggets to just 10-30 from 3 in the last two games.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative : "He who scores most will win"

Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. Since Perkins joined the starting lineup, the Thunder are only second to Chicago in defensive efficiency.

Obviously the Nuggets like to run and the Thunder aren't shy about it, but if these games are 120-117 like everyone is acting, Scott Brooks might throw up. Kendrick Perkins most definitely will. (You know, from the running.)

This series will be more about stops and rebounding than anything else. Denver struggled in the halfcourt against the Thunder the last two games and OKC excelled, especially late. It's not about outscoring or outgunning each other. It's about out-stopping each other.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: This will be fun. Speed on speed. I'm not sure anyone is faster than Russell Westbrook end-to-end with the ball in his hands. Except Ty Lawson (and maybe Derrick Rose). Westbrook is bigger and stronger though, which gives him the edge. But Lawson is the most important part to the Denver offense. He scored a then career-high 28 points against OKC in Denver two weeks ago.

SG: Assuming Arron Afflalo is healthy, this is a big edge for the Nuggets. Thabo Sefolosha doesn't add much on the offensive side and his defensive skills aren't needed that much on Afflalo. But OKC does use James Harden off the bench much in the same way Dallas uses Jason Terry. Then again, Denver has J.R. Smith who is maybe this series' overall X-Factor...

SF: I already went over it, but Denver just doesn't have a good defender for Durant. Both Gallinari and Chandler will have their chances, as well as Afflalo, but we're talking about maybe the most gifted offensive player in the game.

PF: Really this is a push because both Kenyon Martin and Serge Ibaka, while good players, aren't going to do a ton more than block, rebound and score occasionally on put-backs.

C: Other than the point guard matchup, all eyes will be here. Perkins and Nene already tussled once and there's no doubt that they'll likely go at each other again. Perkins did a really good job on Nene in the first meeting holding him to just 3-10 shooting, but Nene came back with a solid 6-9 effort in the last meeting.

Bench: Both teams have very strong benches. As mentioned, Harden is more of a bench starter for OKC. Eric Maynor is a terrific backup point guard. Daequan Cook a nice specialist. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed good veteran big men. Denver has excellent weapons too with Raymond Felton, Chander, Smith and Chris Andersen. The benches will be big and both are very good.

Coaches: George Karl and Scott Brooks know each other well. Brooks was an assistant under Karl for three years. Karl is the more experienced one and has been both the favorite and the underdog before. This is Brooks first rodeo as a playoff favorite. But this series is more about the players than the coaches, so I don't really think this matchup matters a whole lot.

VII. Conclusion

This will be a terrific series, no matter the number of games it takes. Some are feeling the Nuggets in an upset as that's what a lot of the numbers suggest. But I don't see it. I think everyone agrees that the Nuggets may have actually become a better team trading Melo, but against the Thunder, it hurt them. Kevin Durant gets an easier job, the Nuggets don't have a good halfcourt option late in games and OKC actually matches up really well with Denver now.

The Nuggets are dangerous, especially when a couple guys get hot. But that's what it'll take. They'll have to have big games from J.R. Smith (good luck relying on him), Gallinari, Lawson and Chandler to move on past OKC. The Thunder know what they're getting from Durant and Westbrook. They know they can play defense. I like this Nuggets team a lot. Just not against Oklahoma City. Prediction: Thunder in five.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com