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MVP: If you had to choose just one guy, it would have to be Serge Ibaka who was everywhere, keying fast breaks with his shot-blocking, and rattling the rim with some slams on the other end. In general, he shut down the paint, keeping Harden and Houston from attacking it.
LVP: Greg Smith at one point in the third quarter was a minus-34. He was lost from the start and was destroyed inside by Serge Ibaka during one critical stretch. It's not a stretch to think this was the last we'll see of him this series.
X factor: Patrick Beverley was the lone bright spot for Houston. The speedy point guard created havoc from the minute he set foot on the court, keying a 13-2 run that brought Houston back into the game in the first half.
MVP: LeBron James finished with a cool 27/10/8 line, a game-high in each category; fell a pair of dimes shy of a triple-double; and missed just two field goals all night. One win down, 15 to go.
LVP: The pre-series consensus was that Ersan Ilyasova would have to elevate his game if the Bucks were to have any hope of even dodging a sweep. He didn't. The 44 percent 3-point shooter attempted just a single triple and finished with two points on 1-of-7 shooting.
That was a false prophecy: Brandon Jennings got sports' chattering classes a chatterin' when he predicted his sub-.500 Bucks would top the defending champs in six -- a feat that would require the Heat lose twice as many games as they have since the All-Star break. While the gunner scored a team-high 26 points, suffice it to say he's no Joe Namath.
MVP: The Spurs won this game with defense, not offense. They packed the paint and forced L.A. to beat them on the perimeter. The Lakers couldn't. Tim Duncan was the primary force in that effort, with the sort of active defense that offsets a 6-for-15 shooting night.
X factor: Manu Ginobili is rounding back into form after an injury-marred season, arguably the worst of his career. He made great steps toward putting the season behind him, blitzing L.A. for eight straight points to close the third quarter and 18 points in 19 minutes overall.
That was a slog: Although the Spurs won by double digits, their anemic offensive showing remains worrisome to fans. They shot 37 percent from the floor and 31 percent from 3-point territory against a reasonably brutal Lakers defense.
MVP: Despite facing a huge amount of pressure as the Pacers' first option, Paul George delivered. A triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) and 18 free throw attempts were more than Indy could have hoped for.
Defining moment: With their lead down to eight points in the fourth quarter, the Pacers used three offensive rebounds -- two by Tyler Hansbrough, one by Lance Stephenson -- to generate a four-point possession. They never looked back.
X factor: Stephenson, playing his first meaningful playoff minutes, delivered energy and speed, along with 11 points, four assists and three steals. His offensive rebound and assist on a George Hill 3-pointer also cut off a potential late Hawks rally.
Key Players To Watch: Spurs vs. Lakers
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Player with most at stake: Dwight Howard
Now that the Lakers have come out and said what they've been thinking all along -- Mike D'Antoni will be back to coach the team next season -- the stakes have doubled for Howard.
It's not that Howard won't have his choice of staying with the Lakers for the most possible money if he so desires, even if the Lakers get swept by the Spurs. It's a matter of how the fans will react to it. Will they see him as a suitable replacement for Kobe Bryant in the short and long term?
Will he be viewed as a true franchise player, something the Lakers franchise player himself, Magic Johnson, called into question as recently as Sunday? Remember the standards set by the Magic Man: He never played back-to-back seasons with the Lakers that didn't result in at least one trip to the NBA Finals.
This is one postseason that the Lakers get a pass on for stopping short of June. They don't have Bryant along for the ride, and teams don't climb out of the 7-hole to make championship runs. That doesn't mean Howard can mail in performances. He can't be shown up by 36-year-old Tim Duncan, who keeps posting throwbacks like a 28-point, 19-rebound game. Here's one last Shaquille O'Neal comparison for Howard to hear: Shaq's scoring average was higher in the playoffs than the regular season in every year Shaq played in L.A. So 17.1 points a game won't cut it for Howard.
How the series will be decided: The reason the Lakers are lucky to face the Spurs in the first round is San Antonio had the least-potent offense of the top three seeds in the Western Conference. Now, the Spurs are still the fourth-best offense in the West, but a difference of three points a game is critical to a Lakers team that won its typical game by a margin of 1.2 points. The Spurs also don't get as many points on the fast break as Denver or Oklahoma City, which is welcome news to a Lakers team that's next to last in the NBA in fast-break points allowed.
Another reason the Lakers would prefer the Spurs right about now: Tony Parker comes into the playoffs amid his worst month this season; he averaged 13.6 points and shot 40 percent in April.
The Lakers' size will force Gregg Popovich to stick with bigger lineups, which will slow the Spurs down and take away a bit of their scoring edge.
But the Spurs are a deeper team, and they're getting players back while the Lakers are still dealing with injuries. Manu Ginobili's right hamstring was good enough for him to play in the regular-season finale. As the series goes on and he gets better conditioned and the Spurs get used to playing with him again, they'll prove to be the better team.
QUESTION 1: Who can be the Lakers' closer without Kobe Bryant?
Elhassan: Ideally, Steve Nash can fill that role, as he combines elite shooting with elite decision-making. While the ball in Bryant's hands carries with it the foregone conclusion of a field goal attempt, Nash brings the threat of the pass in end-of-game situations. The problem for the Lakers is that Nash has been dealing with an array of nagging injuries that caused him to miss the final month of the season, and he's listed as questionable for Game 1.
In the absence of Bryant and Nash, the next logical option is Pau Gasol, who Lakers fans have to be thrilled wasn't jettisoned at the deadline. Gasol has performed at Olympic levels, averaging 17.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG and a whopping 6.6 APG in the final month of the regular season, and like Nash, he brings the threat of the pass with his scoring ability.
Doolittle: His name will be "Picken Roll." The Lakers have the perfect excuse to shun hero-ball tactics at crunch time and instead run actual plays. That's not a slam on Bryant, whose excellence in the clutch is one of the main reasons so many teams try to find the mythical "closer." Even if the Lakers don't want to give Dwight Howard too many late touches because of his free throw shooting, they can still use Gasol as a ball screener for Nash. They need a semi-healthy Nash, because he's the guy who can make the key decisions at big moments.
QUESTION 2: Will we see Tracy McGrady take the floor for the Spurs?
Elhassan: McGrady was signed by the Spurs at the end of the season. Since he played in the Chinese Basketball Association this season and wasn't on an NBA roster after March 1, he is eligible to be active for the playoffs. However, he hasn't played a live basketball game since March 17, when he played for the Qingdao Double Star, the worst team in the CBA this season (8-24).
McGrady brings great size and is a versatile playmaker -- sorely needed with the loss of Boris Diaw and the uncertain availability of Manu Ginobili -- but it is hard to believe he can just step into the flow of an NBA game after playing against inferior competition for most of the year. I can't see Gregg Popovich going to McGrady unless the Spurs are winning (or losing) by a wide margin.
Doolittle: He averaged more than 25 points in China! McGrady was a fairly effective reserve for Detroit and Atlanta. It was a different version of McGrady, of course, as he was more of a ground-based box-score stuffer and facilitator than a high-flying scorer. Still, I don't see him being an impact player in the playoffs, and he's probably not in good enough shape to add much to the Spurs for this series. McGrady's signing was kind of a bizarre transaction, and I have to assume he's more of a contingency option than anything given the Spurs' spate of injury problems.
Bruce Bowen and Israel Gutierrez discuss why all eight home teams won over the weekend and preview Monday's Game 2 action.
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Griz-Clips: Five things to watch
Finding signs of encouragement after a 21-point loss can be like leading a search party in the dark, but if the Grizzlies are looking for some reassurance, it should come in the near certainty that they won't be outrebounded again by a 2-to-1 margin. If that seemed unprecedented, that's because it was. Memphis didn't come anywhere close to a margin like that in any game during the regular season.
There's a general belief that rebounding doesn't slump in the NBA. A team like the Grizzlies, which dominated the boards in the regular season (second in overall rebounding rate), doesn't forget how to ply its trade. Short of injury or a deliberate strategy like a zone defense or fronting the post -- tactics that can make it harder to crash the glass -- a debacle such as Saturday night's is an outlier.
The Grizzlies better hope so. They're not a team endowed with much perimeter firepower or natural athleticism. They win basketball games by controlling possessions, something they simply can't accomplish if the Clippers are collecting 42 percent of their misses.
Who's salivating more: James Harden facing his old team, or the Thunder facing an awful Rockets defense?
Elhassan: As much as I believe Harden has been dreaming of this day since the moment Thunder general manager Sam Presti said "no" to Harden's max extension request, the answer is unequivocally the Thunder, for several reasons.
The Rockets' inability to contain dribble-drive penetration along the perimeter, combined with poor rotation and closeout technique, makes them extremely susceptible to defensive breakdowns and wide-open corner 3-point shots, which pretty much is music to Oklahoma City's ears. Harden will have his fair share of video game-caliber box scores in this series, but it won't be enough to overcome rampant team defense deficiencies.
Doolittle: Harden will have to overcome the temptation to try to take over every possession because as good as he is, he's not going to knock off his old team by himself. Harden had one of the best games any player had this season in February, when he scored 46 points on just 19 shots against the Thunder. However, he'd do well to lead by example on the defensive end. The Thunder scored at least 119 points in each of the three regular-season meetings between the teams, though Houston managed to outscore Oklahoma City once, thanks to Harden's outburst.
Which frontcourt prevails: Indiana's (size) or Atlanta's (speed)?
Elhassan: The Hawks represent the "new school" of positional basketball, with Al Horford and Smith combining as an undersized frontcourt with an emphasis on speed and the ability to defend away from the basket. Conversely, the Pacers are a throwback in that they feature a classic, back-to-the-basket center in Roy Hibbert and a bruising power forward in David West. And although the pair doesn't feature much mobility, the two can beat you down in the post and step out to midrange and make shots.
Even though Horford is the best big in the series, he will have his hands full keeping Hibbert off the block and off the offensive glass. Meanwhile, Smith's shot selection might actually make West's defensive job easier. Indiana has the edge in this frontcourt battle.
Doolittle: The four regular-season matchups between these two teams were atypical from the Pacers' perspective. Among the teams Indiana played four times, the Pacers had their best offensive rating and worst defensive rating against Atlanta, and played about three possessions faster than their season average. Seems like that would play into Atlanta's hands, but lineups that included both Smith and Horford were outscored by 15.3 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, Indiana lineups with Hibbert and West were plus-10.7. Edge to the Pacers with this caveat: Hibbert has shot less than 40 percent in his 15 career matchups against Horford.