Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Experience. Talk to 100 different basketball fans with a rooting interest in the Raptors-Nets first-round playoff series and chances are somewhere between 90 and 100 will tell you it’s the single biggest factor that will decide the series. ... It was downright funny, not to mention enlightening, to hear DeMar DeRozan deconstruct the whole experience disadvantage. “I mean, it ain’t like it’s rocket science or nothing,” DeRozan said about the game of basketball in the post-season. “Everybody keeps talking to me like, bringing it up like it’s rocket science or I’ve got to know trigonometry or something. You just figure it out. You just go out there. I’ve been playing this game long enough, I’ve been in the league long enough, been in a lot of situations, so it shouldn’t be hard.” And if you are Masai Ujiri or Dwane Casey, that is exactly what you want to hear from one of your key, young, players.
Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: But after Brooklyn lost four of its final five regular-season games to fall out of the fifth seed — and a meeting with playoff-tested Chicago — and into sixth and a matchup with inexperienced Toronto, Jeff Van Gundy saw something else. “Yeah, they tanked to try to get to Toronto, OK,” the ESPN analyst said Thursday on a conference call previewing the playoffs. Van Gundy also thinks the Nets may not have been wise to fall into a matchup with the Raptors, who won a franchise-record 48 games en route to their second Atlantic Division title. “Well, it’s really interesting,” Van Gundy said. “The Nets absolutely tried to get to [the Raptors] by resting their guys and moving games down the stretch, so this is a very unique situation. You have a third seed who’s really good, and you have teams who are trying to win to get to them and lose to get to them."
Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram: If some of the players indeed did not like Del Negro, that does not seem to be the case with current coach Doc Rivers. By the time some of the team’s top players were done talking about him at a recent practice, one got the feeling Rivers is like E.F. Hutton. When he talks, players listen. “I mean, the Xs and Os and the things on the court, they speak for themselves,” said Blake Griffin, who is having an MVP-type season under Rivers. “But the mental side that he brings, just his experience as a coach and almost his stories he tells and the way he reads basketball situations, I think is interesting and unique. “Every time he speaks during practice, for me it’s a learning experience whether it’s a short speech that he didn’t put much thought into, or whether it’s something that he really wants to bring home to us.” Darren Collison echoed that sentiment. “He’s been there, done it all,” said Collison, whose team will take on Golden State in a Western Conference first-round playoff opener at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Staples Center. “Every time he talks, it’s as if he’s done it before. That’s always good for a young team that’s never done it before.”
Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle: It's about time this came to a head. Stephen Curry and Chris Paul have a long history of friendship, even living and working out together for a month before Curry entered the NBA, but the Warriors-Clippers rivalry has put a strain on their relationship. More than anything, it's still about respect - but there won't be a more entertaining individual matchup in the upcoming playoffs. By all measures, they are the two top point guards in the NBA, one of them likely to be a first-team all-league choice (conceivably, both could make it, although Houston shooting guard James Harden is a strong candidate).
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Teams that play lax defense don’t last long in the NBA postseason. So as the Thunder awaits the arrival of the Memphis Grizzlies for what promises to be a bear fight of a first-round series, one question trumps all others. Can the Thunder flip the switch? Can the Thunder shake off the doldrums of a regular season that has grown long and irrelevant to a team that knows it has championship pedigree? Kendrick Perkins said he didn’t know. Scotty Brooks avoided the question. Kevin Durant said yes.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It has been a frustrating ride that saw Wade miss 28 games this season, mostly for a maintenance program for his balky knees. And yet through it all, including being limited to a maximum of 24 minutes in each of his three games this past week, Wade believes he is in a better place than a year ago, when his knee issues had him out of the lineup just four games into the postseason. "It's a lot better than going into it last year," he said, with the team given Thursday off before beginning playoff preparations Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. "Now hopefully move on from that, and have a better first round health-wise than I did first round versus the Bucks last year, when I had to miss that game up in Milwaukee. So I look forward to Game 1 and hopefully not having any setbacks."
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Gary Neal did his best Thursday to describe how different this will be for the seven Bobcats who have never played in the postseason. “It’s so different, first off, just because it’s the best 16 teams in the league,” Neal said. “Beyond that, the intensity is so different. Every possession, every shot, every turnover goes to another level.” Neal started talking about this shortly after he joined the Bobcats for the playoff push. He mentioned after one sloppy game that mistakes that might be acceptable in Game 57 of the regular season will get you beaten in Game 7 of a playoff series. That’s any playoff series, much less one against defending NBA champion Miami.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs have never been less reliant on one player. Indeed, they just became the first team since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976 to not have a single player average at least 30 minutes per game. (Parker led at 29.4.) If they go on to win it all, they’ll also have the lowest leading scorer of any champion since the merger. (Parker again, at 16.7.) But the Spurs also know that keeping Parker in one piece and productive is a top priority as their postseason begins on Sunday with Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against Dallas. “We’re going to need Tony,” Manu Ginobili said. Parker, who will turn 32 next month, actually played two more games than he did last season, 68 to 66. But despite his sixth All-Star nod, his latest campaign has been interrupted by a seemingly endless series of stops and starts. Between rest and injury, Parker was never available, let alone fully healthy, for more than 15 games in a stretch.
Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Allow Monta Ellis to step in as Mr. Sunshine. "The standings,” he said, “are zero-zero.” While it’s hard to argue with his Mississippi public schools education on that one, any unbiased person would look at the facts and determine that this is a mismatch of epic proportions. OK, Mark Cuban isn’t unbiased. And he doesn’t see it as a huge mismatch. But the owner knows what the evidence suggests. “We haven’t played well against them, certainly,” Cuban said. “But I just don’t think in general teams look at any other team as being unbeatable. I don’t think anybody’s afraid of anybody.”
Michael Lee of The Washington Post: John Wall used to scribble, “playoffs,” on his sneakers before each game to remind himself of the shared goal within the Wizards organization. The Wizards reached that goal two weeks ago, so Wall decided to go with a new slogan: “We made it.” The new message doesn’t reflect complacency or satisfaction with an accomplishment that’s relatively modest, considering the flimsiness of the Eastern Conference this season. To Wall, it’s a declaration of what the Wizards can accomplish by sticking together, sharing the ball and staying committed on the defensive end. “Playoffs was our goal as a team,” Wall said. “We made that part and now just put, ‘We made it’ on there and see how far we can keep going. See what the next step takes us.”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: The playoffs are for superstars. When teams play seven games in a row, they quickly learn every play, every move, every adjustment. That's usually when the games come down to giving it to your best player and hoping the defense can't stop him. The Bulls had this last year with Nate Robinson. Now the offense requires precision. Set a screen for D.J. Augustin and hope the defender gives him room to shoot. Or get it to Joakim Noah and hope he can either drive and dish, or hit someone on a backdoor cut. It's certainly possible the Bulls could beat Washington in the first round and give Indiana fits in the second round. They'll just have to do it with a non-tradition style.
David Barron of the Houston Chronicle: The arrival of the NBA Playoffs means that things are about to get a lot tougher for the Rockets and a lot easier for some fans. The first four games of the Portland-Houston first-round series will air on TNT (Games 1, 2 and 4) or ESPN (Game 3), making them available to hundreds of thousands of local households without access to Comcast SportsNet Houston, the team’s primary regular-season network. Fan excitement already is building in anticipation of Sunday’s series opener, particularly in the wake of Thursday’s pronouncement by ESPN. ABC analyst and former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy that the Rockets are his pick to win the NBA Finals. “I’m going to pick the Western Conference winner, and I’m going to stick with Houston,” Van Gundy said.
Jason Quick of The Oregonian: On the court they have shoved each other. Exchanged words. Drawn simultaneous technical fouls. And each fouled out in the same game. Off the court, they have expressed opinions about the other’s actions, little of it complimentary. But behind the bravado and name-calling between Portland point guard Damian Lillard and his Houston counterpart, Patrick Beverley, lies a substantive matchup that could very well dictate this first-round playoff series. It’s strength versus strength, with Lillard’s explosive offense against Beverley’s tenacious defense. ... Who wins the battle for space and freedom will likely go a long way in determining who wins the best-of-seven series, which starts Sunday in Houston. “I’m looking forward to the challenge," Lillard said.