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NBA Saturday: Best First-Round Matchups
Posted By Alex Kennedy On April 16, 2011 @ 5:45 am In All,NBA | No Comments
The playoffs are finally here. In the next few hours, coverage will begin and we’ll be once step closer to crowning a champion. This has been one of the most interesting NBA seasons in recent history and the playoffs will continue that trend with some excellent first-round series.
Within those series, there are also some great individual matchups to keep an eye on. Some feature stars that will go head to head and and others involve bad blood. The following are the best matchups from each series and some background explaining why you should pay close attention:
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks – Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups
This game features plenty of star-on-star matchups. Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce will be going at it on the wing while Amar’e Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett duke it out down low. But the backcourt matchup between Rondo and Billups will likely be the one that determines the outcome of the series.
The two point guards are the engines that make their teams go and each will have the responsibility of distributing the ball to their high-profile teammates. Against New York, Rondo has averaged a whopping 16.7 assists and he’s the main reason Boston swept the season series. Billups has struggled against the quicker Rondo, but totaled 21 points during their last matchup.
One is young and quick while the other is experienced and poised. One peaked at the end of the season while the other regressed. At the end of the day, both of these point guards have championship rings and will ultimately decide which powerhouse advances to the second round.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers – Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
This game has plenty of intriguing storylines. Gerald Wallace and Tyson Chandler are the two wild cards that have exceeded expectations since arriving. Brandon Roy and Caron Butler are the injured swingmen that could step up, or just return for that matter, and end up being the difference maker. Jason Kidd and Andre Miller are veteran distributors that could end up changing the outcome of the series.
While all of these matchups are great, both teams will be relying heavily on their leading scorers. Nowitzki and Aldridge will be matched up throughout the series and will provide plenty of scoring between the two of them. The Mavericks and Blazers need their star players to play well in this series if they want to have a chance at winning – the teams combined for a 2-8 record in games without these two stars.
Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks – Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford
It’s no secret that Howard dominates the Hawks. Maybe it’s because he grew up watching the team in Atlanta or maybe it’s because the Magic have always had their number. Either way, Atlanta’s number one goal in this series will be to slow down Howard and that task will fall mostly onto the shoulders of Horford.
In last year’s playoffs, the Hawks tried to force Howard to foul out and that same strategy could be put to use in this series. Howard’s matchup with Josh Smith will also be fun to watch. The two players have known each other since preschool and usually have some of their best games against one another.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets – Kendrick Perkins vs. Nene
Oklahoma City and Denver have played each other twice in the last week and a half. In both games, Perkins and Nene nearly came to blows in the paint so expect this matchup to be very physical.
Nene has become a focal point of the Nuggets’ offense since the Anthony trade and led the team is scoring during the last matchup with OKC. Perkins is the new acquisition that will provide plenty of playoff experience for the young Thunder and could emerge as the team’s X-Factor during this series. Russell Westbrook and Ty Lawson are two of the best young point guards in the game, but the fact that there is bad blood between Perkins and Nene and the two genuinely want to punch each other makes this worth watching.
Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers – Derrick Rose vs. Darren Collison
Rose against just about any point guard has been must-watch television this season, but this matchup could be particularly entertaining. The Pacers will likely let Rose get his and force his teammates to beat them because that strategy worked when the teams faced off less than a month ago. Rose scored a season-high 42 points, but the Bulls lost the game, 115-108.
When Chicago has beat Indiana this season, it has been when his points are limited and his assist numbers are high. Collison and the Pacers will do their best to shut down Rose’s supporting cast and will likely let the point guard go off. That’s very brave of Indiana, but it should be entertaining for us because it could lead to some huge nights for Rose.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies – Tim Duncan vs. Zach Randolph
San Antonio was nearly untouchable all season long and Memphis enters this game without arguably their best player in Rudy Gay. Even though this series looks one sided on paper, the Grizzlies are so confident entering this matchup that they tanked the final two games of the regular season to get here.
Memphis split the season series against San Antonio, in large part because of Randolph. He averaged 23 points and 14.8 rebounds against the Spurs and recorded a 24 point, 21 rebound performance against the team in December. However, he’ll need to do even more with Gay sidelined. While Randolph may have won the individual matchup during the regular season, it’s no secret that Duncan elevates his game during the playoffs. The power forward duel will be the most interesting during the series and it’s always fun to watch one of the game’s best post scorers against a Hall of Fame interior defender.
Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – LeBron James vs. Andre Iguodala
If you get tired of watching the star-studded post matchup between Erick Dampier and Spencer Hawes, take a look at the wing and see what James and Iguodala is doing. The former is the reigning MVP and one of the best scorers in the league. The latter is a lockdown defender, who has willed his team to plenty of victories since the All-Star break.
Iguodala enters the series a bit banged up, but he’ll still be Philadelphia’s only hope against Miami. If he can somehow slow down James and score out of his mind, the Sixers will at least have a chance to keep things interesting. Just think, we were one Boston win away from seeing LeBron and Carmelo go head to head. Thanks a lot, Washington Wizards.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets – Derek Fisher vs. Chris Paul
The Los Angeles Lakers have the New Orleans Hornets beat in every individual matchup except one. Chris Paul may cause problems for Derek Fisher and he gives the Hornets their only chance of competing in this series. With David West out for the season, Paul will have to increase his scoring load and go right at Fisher.
Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza will be a lot of fun to watch since the two were practically swapped for one another two summers ago, but the point guard matchup will be the one that decides whether or not this is a sweep or a close series. Paul is one of the best point guards in the league and if he has success, it will mean good things for New Orleans. If Fisher is able to contain him, the defending champions will march onto the second round with ease.
Draft Order Decided: The 2011 NBA Draft oder has been determined after three ties were broken yesterday. Random drawings determine the order when two teams have identical records and the results were announced following the Board of Governors meeting in New York City.
The Sacramento Kings (24-58) won a tiebreaker with the New Jersey Nets. The New Orleans Hornets (46-36) won a tiebreaker with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Dallas Mavericks (57-25) won a tiebreaker with the Los Angeles Lakers. With the tiebreakers broken, the draft order is now set in stone.
The teams entered in the lottery, which will be held on May 17, 2011, are as follows along with their number of ping pong balls in parenthesis:
1. Minnesota 17-65 (250)
2. Cleveland 19-63 (199)
3. Toronto 22-60 (156)
4. Washington 23-59 (119)
5. Sacramento 24-58 (76)
6. New Jersey (To Utah) 24-58 (75)
7. Detroit 30-52 (43)
8. LA Clippers (To Cleveland) 32-50 (28)
9. Charlotte 34-48 (17)
10. Milwaukee 35-47 (11)
11. Golden State 36-46 (8)
12. Utah 39-43 (7)
13. Phoenix 40-42 (6)
14. Houston 43-39 (5)
The first three picks in the draft will be determined by the lottery and the remainder of the "lottery teams" will select in positions 4 through 14 in inverse order of their consolidated standings at the end of the regular season.
The order for the remainder of the first-round picks is as follows:
15. Indiana 37-45
16. Philadelphia 41-41
17. New York 42-40
18. Atlanta (To Washington) 44-38
19. New Orleans (To Charlotte via Portland) 46-36
20. Memphis (To Minnesota via Utah) 46-36
21. Portland 48-34
22. Denver 50-32
23. Orlando (To Houston via Phoenix) 52-30
24. Oklahoma City 55-27
25. Boston 56-26
26. Dallas 57-25
27. LA Lakers (To New Jersey) 57-25
28. Miami (To Chicago via Toronto) 58-24
29. San Antonio 61-21
30. Chicago 62-20
The 2011 NBA Draft will be held on June 23, 2011. HOOPSWORLD’s full mock draft is up and will continue to be updated as the draft process gets underway.
First Round Predictions: With the playoffs set to kick off in just a few hours, our staff has submitted our predictions for the first round. Go check out our picks and be sure to let us know in the comment section who you have winning each game and why.
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