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NEWS OF THE MORNING
Heat and Nets dismiss regular season series | Westbrook-Paul on center stage | Beal, Wizards prefer underdog role | Jackson’s future with Warriors no easy call | Portland’s Matthews keeps chip on shoulder … always
No. 1: Both sides dismiss regular season sweep by Nets in playoff matchup with Heat — A 4-0 regular season sweep of the Miami Heat sounds good, until you realize that no one — not the Heat nor the Brooklyn Nets team that owned them (technically and at least on paper) during the regular season — believes it matters. Now that their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup is upon us, leaning on what happened between these two in the immediate past doesn’t seem like such a smart decision. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald sets the table:
Nobody on either side reads too much into the Nets’ season sweep, which included three wins by one point and another in double overtime.
Remember that the Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then eliminated both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then ousted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
“Regular season doesn’t indicate anything,” LeBron James said, speaking in general after Sunday morning’s practice. “You have more time to prepare” in the postseason.
Said Nets swingman Joe Johnson: “We know we can beat them, but it’s going to be a lot different than the regular season.”
The Nets create potential matchup problems with a starting frontcourt featuring Kevin Garnett at center, Paul Pierce moving from small forward to power forward and Johnson from shooting guard to small forward.
One option for Erik Spoelstra would be starting Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier, instead of Udonis Haslem, to match up defensively with Pierce or Johnson, though it’s unclear whether Spoelstra will do that.
“Chris Bosh will have to match up with Garnett,” Dwyane Wade said. “The challenge is our rotations, of who [Spoelstra] will feel [comfortable] in playing. LeBron can obviously play [power forward]. So we can match down or we can continue to play our style, whatever [Spoelstra] wants to do.”
Johnson said last month that “I think we have a good chance” to beat the Heat in the playoffs because “small-ball works in our favor with them when they have LeBron James or Shane Battier at [power forward]. It’s a great fit.”
Pierce said last month: “We match up pretty good with them. Size-wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.”
He said Sunday that Heat-Nets “is not a rivalry yet. We’re still trying to earn respect as a franchise.”
No. 2: Westbrook-Paul matchup takes center stage for Thunder-Clippers — Kevin Durant ,was the Thunder star in the crosshairs of the local press during the first round of the playoffs. It’s Russell Westbrook‘s turn now, what with Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers hungry and ready for another scrap in the conference semifinals. The point guards will take center stage in a series that boasts two players (Durant and Blake Griffin) who are likely to finish in the top three of the MVP voting this season. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:
You’re up, Russell Westbrook.
After a grueling first-round series that stumped Kevin Durant for the better part of seven games, Westbrook will now be tested most against the Los Angeles Clippers as the Thunder’s second-round series gets underway Monday night.
His challenge is Chris Paul, the Clippers’ crafty floor general who is widely considered the league’s best point guard.
“They’re two of the best point guards in the league, two of the best players in the league,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They’re both very competitive. They both have just an incredible amount of desire to win the game. It’s going to be a great matchup.”
It’s the first time Westbrook and Paul have met in the postseason. They’ve met 19 times in the regular season. Paul owns a narrow lead with 11 wins.
The Thunder, as always, will try to downplay the individual matchup. But the battle between these two, at this stage, is too significant to ignore.
Both players control their team’s offense. Paul plays a more traditional pass-first style. Westbrook picks apart defenses with non-stop aggression as a scorer.
The ball will be in their hands the majority of the game, and as they go so goes their respective teams.
Paul has established himself as a much steadier player, perhaps the steadiest among all players at his position. What the Thunder gets from Westbrook will be among the determining factors of which team moves on to the Western Conference Finals.
Will the Thunder see the Westbrook that averaged 26 points on 27.3 shots (including 8.3 3-pointers) in Game 2 through 5? Or will OKC watch Westbrook show the patience, poise and precision with which he played in Games 1, 6 and 7, when he averaged 25 points on 48.2 percent shooting while displaying much better decision making?
VIDEO: Top ten 10 dunk of the first round of the playoffs
No. 3: Beal, Wizards prefer the road and underdog role — So much for those giddy playoff rookie in Washington. The Wizards will not only be well rested for the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Indiana, they relish the opportunity to hit the road for Game 1 tonight Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There’s something about the road and that underdog role that resonates with Bradley Beal and his teammates. J Michael Falgoust of CSNWashington.com has more:
The key to getting out the second round for the Wizards is to keep everything the same, and that includes blocking out the sudden praise and not carrying themselves as favorites. Even their 20-year-old sharpshooter knows that much.
“Do the same thing. We’ve got to ignore it,” said Bradley Beal, in his second season and his first postseason. “People are going to be jumping on your bandwagon, giving your praises, saying you can do this, you’re capable of making it far. We’ve got to keep our core together. … We can’t really focus on the media and the outside people telling us how great we are. That’s the last thing we need. … We still haven’t accomplished anything.”
The Wizards only won seven road games last season when they finished 29-53. This season half of their wins came away from Verizon Center as they finished 44-38.
“Its backwards from last year. I don’t know what it is. I can’t put my finger on it to explain why it is we have pretty good success on the road,” Beal said. “Whenever you got a crowd against you always just want to try to make them be quiet. We do a great job ob blocking that out. I think when we get home we get a little too excited. We try to impress them, prove to them as much as we can and make them happy. We got to just focus on trying to win the game.”
VIDEO: The top five plays from the final day of the first round of the playoffs
No. 4: Jackson’s future with Warriors no easy call: — There is no gentle way of putting it, Mark Jackson’s future as coach of the Golden State Warriors is tenuous, at best. Strange, of course, for a coach who’s had as much success as Jackson has but also also strange because the decision basically has nothing to do with Jackson. According to Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News, this situation is even more complicated than it appears:
Joe Lacob‘s main momentous decision on Mark Jackson’s future might not be precisely about Mark Jackson at all.
It could be about top assistant Pete Myers — what happens if and when the Warriors front office asks Jackson to replace his loyal lieutenant?
Jackson could refuse to give up control of his staff, and there would be the decision made for Lacob, right there.
It could be about Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg — is Warriors management’s theoretical top choice willing to talk about coming to the Warriors?
Tell Lacob, the team’s co-owner and CEO, and general manager Bob Myers that Hoiberg or broadcaster Steve Kerr are live, interested options … and that might make Jackson’s departure a fait accompli.
And, yes, in many ways it could be about star point guard Stephen Curry, whose all-out support for Jackson is beyond doubt and who is by far the team’s most significant figure.
“What Coach has gone through this year has been unlike anything I’ve seen,” Curry said late Saturday night in Los Angeles, about an hour after the Warriors’ impassioned Game 7 loss to the Clippers.
“Just the amount of distractions and the circus that’s been around him and decisions he’s had to make.
“I love Coach more than anybody. And I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair. And it would definitely be a shock to me if anything like that were to happen.”
Curry matters. Pete Myers and the rest of the Warriors’ less-than-star-studded coaching staff matter.
Hoiberg matters. Everything matters.
Of course, Jackson is the central focus of this — I’m just pointing out that there are many variables and many other personalities swirling around the picture.
Essentially, it will come down to a judgment made by Lacob and his G.M. about all of these things, and it probably will involve discussions with Jackson to try to find a shared path to the future.
No. 5: Trail Blazers’ Matthews keeps chip planted firmly on shoulder for Spurs — The reason Wesley Matthews is here, in the NBA at all, is because of the competitive fire that burns deep down in his belly at all times. Slighted and overlooked at nearly every turn, the Portland Trail Blazers guard takes mental note of every single time he is disrespected, as Jason Quick of the Oregonian found out this season. So if Matthews is capable of carrying a grudge over something as innocuous as a throwaway line in a newspaper article, you can imagine what kind of chip will be on his shoulder when the Blazers and Spurs go at it in the conference semifinals. It’s the same mantra used by so many others involved with the Blazers, who feel like no one outside of their camp believed they had this in them. More from Quick:
On Sunday, nearly two months later, I revisited that scene in Memphis with Matthews.
Know why he was upset?
This paragraph in the March 9 story:
“With apologies to Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez, who are so important to the team’s success, Aldridge, Lillard and Batum are the Blazers’ big three, the pillars who support the weight of expectations of this team. And those pillars need to become stronger.”
“You basically said I wasn’t a core guy,’’ Matthews said. “That pissed me off.’’
It was more kindling for the fire that has been burning within Matthews since he went undrafted out of Marquette in 2009, and yet another ripple to an undercurrent that has propelled the Trail Blazers’ improbable journey this season.
The Blazers have reached the Western Conference semifinals, and they have done it with a roster that harbors enough slights to fuel their plane ride to San Antonio, where they will take on the Spurs for Game 1 on Tuesday.
“It’s just kind of who we are,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “Some of the guys feel like they have been overlooked throughout their career.’’
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The San Antonio Spurs just keep jabbing Father Time as they fend off yet another challenge … Pacers coach Frank Vogel will tweak his rotation considerably against the Wizards … Is Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos in danger of losing his team as Sterling did? … The venerable Bruce Arthur puts an appropriate seal on a special season for the Toronto Raptors that ended in heartbreak
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Defense wins championships, right? Well, it certainly helps in getting you to the conference semifinals … defense, that is. Paul Pierce‘s crucial block leads the way for the Top 10 defensive plays from the first round …
VIDEO: Paul Pierce’s block of Kyle Lowry leads the top defensive plays from the first round of the playoffs