For NBA fans, there is no better time on the NBA calendar than the start of the off-season.
With the final two playoff spots determined with Friday night’s play-in matches, the hunt for the NBA Championship officially begins with four playoff games on Saturday.
And the play-in games provided a perfect appetizer. The match that settled the No. 8 seed in the playoffs of the Eastern Conference between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks had the feel of a Game 7. And the LA Clippers-New Orleans Pelicans match that settled the No. 8 seed in the West, had it all, with the Pelicans finally taking control late in the fourth quarter.
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This season’s playoffs have a wealth of compelling angles. Can the Phoenix Suns win their first NBA title? Will the Milwaukee Bucks repeat themselves? Can Stephen Curry return and deliver the Golden State Warriors their fourth title in eight seasons? Can the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves get a surprise against the Memphis Grizzlies No. 2?
Stay tuned as the USA TODAY Sports network keeps you updated with the action as it unfolds.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Steve Kerr will play in Game 1 against Denver on Saturday, but he did not say whether Curry will have a minute limit or indicate how many minutes he will play. Curry has been out since March 16 with a left foot injury.
This will be one of the first-round most entertaining series, and the Memphis Grizzlies No. 2 has their hands full with No. 7 Timberwolves, who took game 1, 130-117.
Regardless of record or seed, the Timberwolves have the confidence of a No. 1 seed.
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards emerges as a star in real time, following up on his 30-point play-in performance with 36 points in his playoff debut.
The Grizzlies have their hands full with Karl-Anthony Town’s offensive play. Towns had 29 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Yes, the Grizzlies have a deep bench, but do not lower Minnesotas.
This series has some electrifying dunkers.
Memphis’ Yes Morant had a very effective game: 32 points on 18 shots. He scored 16 of his points on 20 attempts on the foul line.
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s seven blocks were good, but bad problems limited him to just 24 minutes. His influence on Memphis’ defense is a major reason the Grizzlies won 56 games.
Memphis shot 25.9% on 27 3-point attempts. It will not get it done against a bad team at the end of January.
– Jeff Zilgitt
Yes, Morant and Karl-Anthony Towns may be fighting on the field during the series opener between Minnesota and Memphis, but their fathers will be involved in the action on the sidelines.
Tee Morant and Karl Towns Sr. has an ongoing bet: If Minnesota wins the series, Tee Morant must wear Towns’ jersey. If Memphis wins Karl Towns, Sr. wear Morant’s jersey.
Karl Towns Sr. gave Tee Morant an earful on the sidelines when it became clear Minnesota would steal Game 1 on the road from Memphis. The two shared a handshake and laughed.
But do not be annoyed. Tee Morant is sure his son and Grizzles will return. He sent a message to millions of viewers back home: “We are not pounding smoke. Memphis. Memphis. Memphis,” he said as he peered into the ESPN cameras during the game.
– Cydney Henderson
Karl-Anthony Towns nominated the defender of the year Jaren Jackson Jr. on a poster. With 5:17 left in the third quarter of the Grizzles-Timberwolves series opening Saturday, Towns struck a thump down with his right hand over Jackson.
Dunken set up the T-Wolves with three over Grizzles.
A fan was removed from the series opener between Grizzles and the Timberwolves after a woman chained herself to the back of the basket and threw flyers on the field in the second quarter on Memphis’ FedExForum.
Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights activist organization, identified the game protester as Zoe Rosenberg. She wore a shirt in which “Glen Taylor roasts animals alive.” The organization said the stunt was part of “ongoing efforts to get Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to step down and return factory farm rescues.”
There as a short delay as security cut the protester’s chain and carried her out of the arena. According to USA TODAY Sports ‘Networks’ Damichael Cole, “She pumped her first while being carried out of safety.”
This is the second fan protest at a Minnesota Timberwolves game this post-season. During the Timberwolves’ play-in match against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, an animal rights protester glued his hand to the hardwood along the baseline and spread out before the security guard was able to pry her away.
Report: Atlanta’s John Collins is expected to play in Game 1
Atlanta Hawks striker John Collins, who missed the last 16 games of the regular season as well as the two play-in games due to foot and finger injuries, is expected to play in Sunday’s game 1 against the Miami Heat Charania, according to The Athletic’s Shams. Collins averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Hawks this season. He was instrumental in their surprising run-up to the Eastern Conference final last season.
The first two quarters of Minnesota-Memphis – the Mississippi River Showdown – featured talented young guards. When he played in his first playoff game, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, 20, scored 19 points in the first half and the Timberwolves led 65-62 at the break.
Memphis guard Ja Morant, 22, and probably on his way to his first All-NBA selection, also had 19 points in the first half. T’wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had just 11 points in a play-in win over the Los Angeles Clippers, had 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block in the opening half. Fourteen turnovers hurt Minnesota in the first half.
Foul trouble watch: Memphis great Jaren Jackson Jr., a key to Memphis’ defense, had three fouls in the first half and has played just eight minutes.
The Brooklyn Nets ruled out guard Ben Simmons for Game 1 against Boston on Sunday. As Simmons, who has not played a game this season, returns to the state of the game and diminishes his smokyness, there is talk that he will show up at some point in this series. Simmons has done solo work in practice and is expected to start rehearsing against teammates within a week.
Donovan Mitchell scored 30 of his 32 points after the break, Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 26 and the Utah Jazz opened the playoffs with a 99-93 victory Saturday over the Dallas Mavericks, who were without injured All-Star guard Luka Doncic.
Bogdanovic had the Utahs just two 3-pointers before the break, in a 13-2 run over the final 3 1/2 minutes that put the Jazz ahead to stay. Mitchell, who always seems to go up in the off-season, came alive after the break.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks, who started the playoffs at home for the first time since their NBA title season 11 years ago, greatly missed their 23-year-old superstar. Doncic strained his left calf six days earlier in the regular season final. Coach Jason Kidd has only said he is day to day.
Jalen Brunson, the starting point guard with Doncic out, had 24 points on 9-of-24 shots with seven rebounds. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 22 points, Reggie Bullock added 15 and Dorian Finney-Smith 14.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Dallas.
Dallas star Luka Doncic is listed as daily with a strained left calf, and while the Mavs do not risk a long-term injury, their success against Utah depends on his availability.
Utah took game 1 99-93, and Dallas was in its game start to the end, trailing 92-91 late in the fourth quarter.
Although Jalen Brunson had 24 points and Spencer Dinwiddie had 22, Dallas simply did not have enough offensive and shot 29-for-76 from the field
Not only was Doncic’s scoring missed, so was his rebounding. Mavs was surpassed 53-34 by the Jazz.
If Doncic can go, the Mavs still have a chance to win the series. Every game he misses, Mavs’ chance drops. It was an untimely injury – in the final game of the regular season – and it could lead to an early exit for Dallas, leaving the Mavs 0-3 in the first round with Doncic.
After the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the LA Clippers, 109-104, in the play-in tournament to advance to the playoffs, they had an over-the-top celebration. And it caused a lot of laughter from TNT’s “Inside the NBA” team, as well as NBA Twitter. It’s just the second 18-year playoff appearance for the Timberwolves. Before Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday at 15.30 coach Chris Finch said he has no worries about his team’s feelings. “(They play) with a lot of fuss, a lot of faith, a lot of confidence,” he told reporters. “That’s what you want from young players. It’s not my job to dampen their behavior when they get into a big fight. I want them to let it fly.”
Dallas star Luka Doncic (tense left leg) missed Game 1 against Utah on Saturday, but the Mavericks were only 45-43 behind at the break of their first round. Dallas led for most of the first half, including a 41-32 lead late in the first half. It was scored by committees for the Mavs: Jalen Brunson (12 points, six rebounds), Spencer Dinwiddie (10 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points) and Reggie Bullock (five points, three rebounds, one assist, one theft).
What to see in the second half: Utah’s 3-point shooting. The Jazz only made 2-of-17 3s in the first half, and the first did not come until Bojan Bogdanovic with 3:10 left in the first half. Bogdanovich carried the Jazz offensively with 20 points in the first half. Utah fought off the field (17-for-42) and Donovan Mitchell has just two points on 1-on-9 shooting.
Maybe no team in the NBA Finals is running more in the first round than the Utah Jazz, who face the Dallas Mavericks today at 6 p.m. 13.00 ET. They have not managed to advance past the first round in two of the last three seasons. And in three appearances in the second round, they have only won three matches. With Dallas’ Luka Doncic listed as “day-to-day” and out for Game 1, it looks like the road to the second round may be wide open. If they fail, according to news reports, there may be some changes that will change the franchise this summer. To put a finer point on it, it could mean the end of All-Star Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert tandem. Even coach Quin Snyder could leave. And Utah is lagging behind in the off-season. Their longest winning streak in two months is three matches and they are 23-24 since the start of the calendar year.
The availability of Luka Doncic towers over the Dallas Mavericks-Utah Jazz series. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said during his pregame availability on Saturday that Doncic is from day to day but will not play in Saturday’s game 1. Doncic suffered a tense left leg in the regular season finale. He did not practice at all during the week, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that there is “a great deal of skepticism” in the organization about Doncic’s availability throughout the first round. Jalen Brunson starts in Doncic’s place.
Starring: Associated Press