NBA roundup: After one playoff game, Lillard looks like he'll hoist a trophy
APR 21, 2014 7:00a ET
The NBA is changing — even while it stays the exact same.
Here’s what it all means:
TRAIL BLAZERS 122, ROCKETS 120, OT
Trail Blazers lead series 1-0
Takeaway: Damian Lillard appears to be the type of big-game player who will hoist a trophy over his head one day. And that’s only partially a knee-jerk reaction. But the guy doesn't seem startled by any firsts the NBA throws his way. Last year's Rookie of the Year, playing in his first playoff game, hit multiple game-changing buckets down the stretch including two free throws that won the game for the Trail Blazers. There’s something about his confidence that points to future greatness, even if he now has only 31 career playoff points. Portland certainly has to love what it has in this kid, but it looks even better as a side to LaMarcus Aldridge. The pair combined for 77 points, as Aldridge tallied 46 and 18 rebounds. You need multiple impactful superstars to win a title, and at least the Blazers have that.
Star review: James Harden, whose hall pass from his first postseason in Houston has expired, is playing like a lead superstar... high volume shooting included. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard refreshed memories of who he used to be, with 27 points and 15 rebounds. He looked refined with offensive post moves. He looked dominant on the offensive glass. And yes, incredibly, he hit free throws when they counted, connecting on 6-of-7 in the fourth quarter and overtime. This is exactly how the Rockets envisioned things when they paired Harden with Howard. Yet — and this is the scary part for Houston after one game — it still wasn't enough.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Houston, Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EST
For Portland to succeed in the playoffs, Aldridge will need to continue his superhuman play and Lillard will need to keep hitting gutsy shots. But Portland shouldn't have to lean so heavily on those two. Portland's issue last season was its invisible bench, an issue that was solved this past regular season. But in Game 1, the bench scored just seven points. No playoff team can rely that heavily on its starters.
Heat lead series 1-0
Takeaway: Good luck slaying Goliath without your slingshot. The talent gap between the Heat and Bobcats was already a chasm, but when Al Jefferson hurt his foot, the odds of a Game 1 upset became even longer. While Charlotte looked anything but starry-eyed in its first postseason since LeBron James came to the Heat, it did suffer after Jefferson's first-quarter injury. The Bobcats were no longer able to slow the pace and feed their center like they needed to. Jefferson still finished with a double-double (18 and 10), but he was far less of a factor after getting hurt. He started 4-of-4 but was just 5-of-13 after the injury. The Bobcats also don't have enough firepower to survive feeding the Heat's usual turnover feast. The Bobcats averaged the least turnovers in the league this season, but lost Sunday's turnover battle 13-7, resulting in a 20-5 Heat advantage in points off turnovers. That allowed Miami to hit its desired tempo.
Star review: LeBron James continues to preach that the playoffs are a much different beast than the regular season. Then again, he played like the same beast we witnessed all regular season. James passed Larry Bird for No. 8 on the all-time playoff scoring list on Sunday, tallying 27 points on 50 percent shooting and four three-pointers. He also had nine rebounds but uncharacteristically just one assist.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Miami, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET
While a layover until Wednesday sounds good to rest Jefferson, it appears the foot issue may not heal before then. Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said Jefferson may have "ripped something" in regard to his plantar fasciitis. That's not a good sign for Charlotte.
Spurs lead series 1-0
Takeaway: Old stone doesn't crumble so easily. The Spurs fell behind by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, which may have sent seven other teams in the West into a shot-launching, arm-hacking panic. But not these incombustible Spurs. San Antonio went on a 15-0 run and didn't allow a single Dallas field goal until the final buzzer (when it didn't matter). Certainly Game 1 didn't reflect the unconquerable Spurs' play that claimed the regular season's best record, but it's an even scarier sign just how dangerous this team can be when the moment calls for it. It's not that Dallas is inexperienced, of course, it's just that these Spurs are on a completely different level from the rest of the league.
Star review: It's 2014 and Tim Duncan still is controlling the basketball universe. What in the world is going on? The guy turns 38 this week, yet he led all scorers with 27 points in addition to taking over in the final moments. If he keeps this up, no doubt he can lift a fifth championship trophy.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at San Antonio, Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET
The Spurs aren't exactly the lenient, forgiving types. The Mavericks blew an opportunity to steal one in San Antonio, and Gregg Popovich doesn't tend to become more magnanimous as the series goes. Whatever didn't work in the first half of the fourth quarter won't be repeated, and whatever strategy mastered the Mavericks in the final seven minutes will be mimicked. Rick Carlisle isn't a slouch, so it should be interesting to see how the chess match continues in Game 2.
Wizards lead series 1-0
Takeaway: Here's the thing about excuses: They don't work when you've already proven them wrong. So even though Derrick Rose is still hurt and Luol Deng is lying on his agent's couch somewhere, the Bulls already have proven they can win because of their mugging defense. The Bulls went 36-16 after Jan. 1 because they held opponents to a league-best 91.2 points per game on 43 percent shooting. But in Game 1 against Washington, Chicago's defense was far too average. The Wizards cracked the century mark and shot 48.6 percent, eating up the Bulls' bigs with 39 combined points from center Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario. A shortage of defense crushes what little Chicago has on offense, as much of its scoring is born on the defensive end. The Bulls rely on scoring off turnovers or turning opponents' bad shots into long rebounds and quick outlets. Washington did a fantastic job controlling the ball, allowing the Bulls only five points off turnovers.
Star review: Chicago's handcuffs were a bit tighter on John Wall and Bradley Beal, holding the duo to just 7-of-25 shooting. The pair did combine for 13 assists, but they'll need to figure out how to get loose and hit shots. It's hard to imagine Washington's offense getting that same level of frontcourt scoring throughout the series.
Next game: Game 2 at Chicago, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET
The Bulls certainly didn't intimidate the Wizards in Game 1 at home, and maybe that's a good reminder of how much experience is actually on this Wizards roster outside of headliners Wall and Beal. If the Wizards can hit repeat and steal Game 2, it's going to take further contributions from veterans Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Andre Miller. And If they do win again on the road, it shouldn't be a surprise: The Wizards were tied for the best road record in the East.ᐧ