NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas vs. Portland

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed)
Trail Blazers: 48-34 (No. 6 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Tied 2-2, with Portland winning the most recent two games including one just two weeks ago (a game Tyson Chandler missed, so be careful about reading much into it).

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Roddy Beaubois sprained his foot in the season finale, and while X-rays were negative he may miss at least some of the first round; Caron Butler has been ruled out after knee surgery.
Trail Blazers: Of the guys left on the roster and expected to play, there are no significant injuries. Brandon Roy’s knees are relatively fine, for example. We could list all the Portland injuries from this season but it would take up the entire Internet.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Mavericks: Off. 107.6 (8th in NBA); 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Trail Blazers: Off. 105.6 (10th in NBA); 104.2 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Roddy Beaubois: There are things we know about the Dallas offense — Dirk Nowitzki is going to hit long two-pointers with a hand in his face, Jason Kidd is going to knock down threes and makes some nifty passes, and so on. We know what to expect. What Beaubois provides is the unexpected — the burst of speed, the creativity. Well, he does when he’s healthy. Like seemingly everything about the Mavericks this season Beaubois has been inconsistent, and now injuries may keep him out for part of the first round. But Dallas could use him. It needs the energy he brings.

Tyson Chandler: He has rightfully been credited as being key to the Mavericks defensive turnaround this season, there’s nothing like having a big guy who will defend the rim on your team. And he’s better offensively than he gets credit for. But like all things Mavs, the defense has been inconsistent this season, and he needs to anchor its revival. LaMarcus Aldridge cannot be allowed to take over games, Portland penetration has to be cut off, and that falls to Chandler.

Jason Terry: Portland is a very deep team and Terry coming off the bench will need to provide points to the second unit of the Mavs to make sure Portland does not get on runs while some of the starters catch their breath. Also, Jason Kidd has had some tough games against Portland this season, twice going scoreless, and Dallas needs points from the backcourt. If Kidd is off again, Terry will have to step up on offense.

THREE KEY TRAIL BLAZERS

LaMarcus Aldridge: He had big games in Portland’s two regular season wins over Dallas — but both times there was no Tyson Chandler in his way. Now there will be but Portland still needs big nights out of their leading scorer. He has to get boards, particularly offensive ones, as well. Aldridge needs to attack and if he can get Chandler into foul trouble that will be big for the Trail Blazers.

Brandon Roy: He is not going to take over this series, but he can take over a game. Back on March 15 he dropped 21 on Dallas and keyed the win. If he can be solid off the bench then have that one game or two where he looks like the old Brandon Roy and can help them steal a game, Portland’s chances improve. The long layoffs between games in the first round may help him a lot.

Gerald Wallace: He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki. There may be no better maker of contested shots in the league than Dirk (‘Melo is right there, too) but Wallace has to make Nowitzki work for his shots and live with the results. Also, Wallace needs to go at Nowitzki and make him work on defense, as well. Wear him down. It’s not about stopping Dirk, it’s about making him less efficient and effective.

OUTLOOK

Maybe the best first round series, period. These two teams are very evenly matched. It’s going to be late game execution and unexpected players stepping up that will be key…

But the big key is the bigs. The Chandler/Aldridge matchup will be the barometer of this series — when Aldridge gets his Portland stands a real chance of winning. When Chandler owns the paint and Portland is taking too many jump shots and not getting rebounds, Dallas will win.

Dallas’ defense has been inconsistent of late — don’t be shocked if they got back to a lot of the matchup zone they used earlier in the season to try and even things out. They cannot have off defensive games in this series, it is evenly matched and they will be challenged to win even when they are on.

The battle of the benches will also be a lot here — Portland rolls out Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Wes Mathews (catch the fever!). That is a group capable of winning a game with hot three-point shooting. Jason Terry, JJ Barea and their bench can do the same thing for Dallas. It’s just another barometer in what will be a very close series.

PREDICTION

Flip a coin. It’s been trendy to pick against Dallas lately, people are forgetting just how good they really are. They can play well at both ends.

I’m not forgetting, but I like what Wallace can do for Portland on Dirk, and I like the bench of Portland to steal a couple games, and that will be enough. Fear Wes Mathews!

Trail Blazers in 6.

Matthew Dellavedova steals pass, hits wild scoop shot at buzzer (VIDEO)

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Matthew Dellavedova is a hustler. Everybody knows that. Well, unless you want to argue he’s more about grit. It’s really your call.

But against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Dellavedova came through with whatever you want to call it — hustle, grit, moxie, gumption.

As the first quarter wound down and the Celtics tried to inbound the ball, Dellavedova spied his opponents rolling the basketball in order to save time on the clock.

That allowed the Australian native to fly in and do this:

That’s a steal, a scoop, and a score all within 1.2 seconds.

Milwaukee won Game 4 and evened the series with the Celtics, 2-2.

Cavaliers tie series with Pacers in Indiana, 2-2

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Sunday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was raucous. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking, and despite Indiana’s best effort to put back seemingly every offensive board it encountered, LeBron James‘ 32 points was just too much to overcome.

Facing the possibility of going down 3-1 in the first round, the Cavaliers pulled out the win, 104-100, and sent the series back to Ohio for Game 5.

The game came down to the final period following a surge by the Pacers to end the third quarter. The teams were tied several times midway through the fourth, but a tip shot by Thaddeus Young wth 6:13 left gave the Pacers the lead as fans in Indiana went wild.

Cleveland then came roaring back. At the three-minute mark, James drove to the basket and scored. Thirty seconds later, Kyle Korver hit a big-time 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up by four points, a mark the Pacers couldn’t recover from.

LeBron scored again with 1:52 left, and despite some weird late-game antics — featuring none other than Lance Stephenson — the Cavaliers were able to remain resolute down the stretch.

James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. Kyle Korver added 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting from deep, and Kevin Love had five points with 11 boards.

Victor Oladipo struggled for Indiana, scoring 17 points but shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Seven Pacers finished in double-digits, with Young notching an impressive double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Game 5 will be played in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 25.

Wizards beat Raptors in Game 4, tie series at 2-2 heading to Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors were far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. The Washington Wizards were … well, very Wizard-y.

So considering their regular seasons, the fact that Washington was able to tie the first round series between the two teams at 2 games apiece on Sunday is pretty astonishing.

Bradley Beal had 31 points and five rebounds for the Wizards while teammate John Wall added 27 points to go along with a whopping 14 assists. Washington shot an impressive 41 percent from 3-point range as four of five starters finished in double-digit scoring.

Despite Beal’s performance, it was Wall who saved the day for the Wizards. Beal was disqualified after fouling out with around five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Beal didn’t agree with the call, and could be seen throwing a towel near the Washington bench.

For his part, Wall either scored or assisted on 10 of the Wizards’ final 14 points of the game. That helped stave off the likes of DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 35 points.

The series heads back to Toronto for Game 5, which will be played on Wednesday, April 25.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.