The NBA playoffs: Here's 10 things to watch, including who the Jazz might send home
With the NBA playoffs starting Saturday, here's 10 things to know before the second season begins:
FAREWELL, THE TRUTH
This postseason will mark the end of Paul Pierce's career.
He's been used sparingly by the Los Angeles Clippers this season, getting into just 25 games. And he might not have much of an on-court role — if any — in the playoffs, though his leadership and playoff experience will surely be valued.
Pierce has played in 163 playoff games, mostly with Boston, the franchise with whom he got his first and so far only ring in 2008.
LEBRON IN FIRST ROUNDS
Good luck, Indiana.
LeBron James not only never loses in a first-round series, but the man rarely loses first-round playoff games, period.
He's played in 51 first-round games. His teams went 2-2 in his first four, and are 42-5 since — including 17-0 since May 6, 2012. James hasn't played in a Game 6 in a first-round series since 2008.
James has been part of 131 wins so far in his playoff career, tied with San Antonio's Tony Parker for the most among active players.
More milestones await James in these playoffs, too.
If Cleveland makes a deep run, he may take over the No. 1 spot on the all-time career playoff scoring list. He enters this postseason No. 4 at 5,572 points — behind only No. 3 Kobe Bryant (5,640), No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,762) and No. 1 Michael Jordan (5,987).
Another landmark for James comes Saturday in Game 1 against Indiana, when he makes his 200th playoff appearance.
MVP CANDIDATES COLLIDE
Mr. Westbrook, meet Mr. Harden.
No, the Maurice Podoloff Trophy — otherwise known as the MVP trophy — won't automatically go to the winner. But this will be the rage of the Oklahoma City-Houston first-round series, with presumptive MVP frontrunners Russell Westbrook and James Harden set to lead their teams into the postseason.
Westbrook averaged a triple-double this season, 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists for the Thunder. Harden averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds for the Rockets.
Including playoffs, Harden and Westbrook have faced off 16 times, each player walking away a winner in eight of those. Westbrook has posted five triple-doubles in those games, including two this season.
THE SPURS REMAIN FANTASTIC
San Antonio is in the postseason for the 20th consecutive year. That's now tied for the third-longest such streak in NBA history.
Philadelphia went 22 consecutive times from 1950 through 1971. Portland made 21 straight trips from 1983 through 2003, and Utah got 20 appearances in a row from 1984 through 2003.
But that doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story of the Spurs' consistent excellence.
The Spurs haven't just had an NBA-record 20 straight winning seasons — they've won at least 60 percent of their games in each of those seasons. That streak is eight seasons longer than any other NBA franchise ever posted, and also the longest in any North American major pro sport (the Montreal Canadiens and San Francisco 49ers had winning percentages of .600 or better in 16 consecutive seasons).
BUSY IN BOSTON
Sports fans will be sufficiently busy in Boston over the next few days.
Bulls at Celtics on Sunday. Ottawa at Boston in the NHL playoffs on Monday. Bulls at Celtics on Tuesday. Senators at Bruins on Wednesday.
Oh, let's not forget the Boston Marathon on Monday — and of course, the annual Patriots Day game coinciding at Fenway Park that morning, with the Red Sox playing host to the Tampa Bay Rays.
FINALLY, THE POSTSEASON
Greg Monroe has played in 538 regular-season games. Markieff Morris, 448 regular-season games.
Combined, they have zero playoff appearances.
That will change this weekend. Monroe and Milwaukee will play Toronto, Morris and Washington will play Atlanta.
No active player had more games without a playoff appearance than Monroe. Once he plays this weekend, the active leaders in most-games-but-no-playoffs become Omri Casspi (499 after this season) and DeMarcus Cousins (487).
There will also be playoff debuts for two referees. Brent Barnaky and Matthew Boland are the newcomers in the pool of 37 refs selected to work first-round games. Boland has more than 800 regular-season games in 15 years on his resume, Barnaky more than 400 in parts of eight seasons.
The first game of the playoffs will look like the first game of the regular season for some clubs.
Washington visited Atlanta in Game 1 for both teams back in October, and Atlanta will visit Washington for Game 1 of their playoff series Sunday. And Dwyane Wade's first game with the Chicago Bulls was against Boston, so it seems fitting that his first playoff game with his hometown team comes against the Celtics as well.
The oldest two playoff-bound players this season are Vince Carter and Manu Ginobili.
Odds are, they'll be on the court together in the Memphis-San Antonio series. The 40-year-old Carter is still a key part of what the Grizzlies do, and the 39-year-old Ginobili — possibly in his final season, though speculating about his retirement has sort of become an annual tradition in San Antonio — plays about 19 minutes per game off the Spurs' bench.
No. 1 seeds almost always beat No. 8 seeds in the opening round. Turner Sports analyst and longtime NBA star Reggie Miller seems to think there's a chance that might not hold up this year.
He indicated he wouldn't be shocked if Chicago gave Boston all it wants in the first round.
"If you're Chicago, you think, hey, Dwyane Wade and (Rajon) Rondo have won championships, Jimmy Butler has gone deep in the playoffs before. We have playoff savvy and we know how to win," Miller said. "I think this is a great matchup for Chicago."
VEGAS SAYS ...
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas are showing Golden State as a huge favorite to win the NBA title — 1-2 odds as of Thursday, far ahead of 7-2 second choice Cleveland.
San Antonio is the 9-1 third choice, and Boston is showing up in the sports books at 20-1 despite entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The long shot? Obviously, that would be Golden State's first-round opponent, Portland — 300-1 right now to win it all.