SATURDAY'S NBA SHOWDOWNS:
Oklahoma City-Memphis (5 ET, ESPN)
Miami-Boston (8 ET, ABC)
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: The fact of the matter is there are still a whole lot of Miami Heat 'haters' out there but these folks are becoming increasingly frustrated over the results of the past couple of weeks.
And can you really blame them? The Heat disposed of the pesky Philadelphia 76ers in five games in the opening round of this year's NBA Playoffs and now the best team that money can buy enters tonight's tilt in Beantown in firm command of this best-of-seven series with a two games-to-none advantage.
And here's the $64,000 question ... Does anyone out there really think that the Boston Celtics can win four of the next five games against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and mates? No doubt the odds are against that happening although members of both teams are saying all the right things:
There was James following his club's 102-91 win/cover against the 5-point underdog Celtics this past Tuesday night saying how this series was a looong way from being finished and there were members of the C's claiming all Miami did was 'hold serve' in the series' first two games in South Beach.
Now, here's Game #3 and the Celtics are far from healthy with point guard Rajon Rondo playing with a bum back, star scorer Paul Pierce suffering through a left Achilles Heel injury and than there is the Shaquille O'Neal saga -- he's played only a few minutes in the past couple of months -- and so the C's are not exactly a picture of health for this do-or-die game in their own backyard. Will all these not-so-healthy bodies do the trick for the Celtics here? Stay tuned.
Now this key reminder:
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THE NBA PLAYOFFS -- SATURDAY'S SHOWDOWNS
WESTERN CONFERENCE --
OKLAHOMA CITY at MEMPHIS -- Series tied 1-1; tip time at 5 p.m. ET
Maybe conventional wisdom tells you that the Okie City Thunder won't shoot nearly 53 percent from the field here in Game #3 -- Scott Brooks' club did just that in last Tuesday's 111-102 win/cover as 6 1/2-point favorites in Game #2 as the Thunder drained 38-of-72 FG tries -- but the flip side here is will Memphis gets its one-two punch of Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol back on track after that duo combined for only 28 points on a wobbly 5-of-22 FG night?
Randolph has been one of the NBA's real megastars in this post-season but Oklahoma City got more in his grill in that last game when the hefty lefty was busy missing 11-of-13 FG attempts and bet your bottom dollar that the Thunder will be double-teaming Randolph at every turn and thus taking the chance that Gasol (13 points in Game #2) and the perimeter folks such as Sam Young and Mike Conley (a combined 36 points in Game #2) won't scorch the road folks so much here.
Consider that Memphis cut a 21-point deficit all the way down to six points with under a minute remaining in that last game and reserves such as O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur and Shane Battier combined to score 29 points and any similar production here from Lionel Hollins' bench brigade could be what puts the home-favored Grizzlies over the hump -- even should Randolph be on the somewhat silent side.
No doubt Oklahoma City scoring whiz Kevin Durant (a modest 26 points in Game #2) needs his reserves to help carry the torch here and so lefty James Harden and cat-quick PG Eric Maynor -- the real keys to that get-even win earlier in the week with a combined 36 points -- must shine and that's always tougher for the road team to have its bench players step forward at crunch time.
Final note: Let's see how Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka plays here after suffering a sprained ankle late in Game #2. Ibaka -- a real shot-blocking demon -- did not participate at all in the team's Thursday practice and he's currently being listed as 'probable'.
EASTERN CONFERENCE --
MIAMI at BOSTON -- Heat leads series 2-0; tip time at 8 p.m. ET
No question the Celtics have to stay in 'one piece' here for this game -- an injury that kayos Rondo or Pierce or even Ray Allen (see bruised chest cavity) could haunt a club that never truly knows what it's gonna get from its bench.
On the flip side, the Heat knows full well that -- save for foul woes -- the aforementioned 'Big Three' of James, Wade and Bosh will be playing 40-or-more minutes per man (they played 44, 39 and 39 minutes, respectively, in Game #2) and that they'll be hurling up some 50-plus field-goal tries and so the numero uno priority for the Celtics here is to make sure at least one of these guys is off his personal game.
James registered 35 points in Game #2 while Wade chipped in 28 points while Bosh added 17 points and 11 rebounds to that latest 'W' but somehow/someway the Celtics must limit the stat-sheet stuffing ways of at least one member of this holy trinity here ... or else.
Look for the Heat to try and expose the Celtics in half-court matchups here with James looking to back down Pierce when possible and with Wade giving Allen a dose of his own medicine by running behind screens and than spotting up for 15-to-18-foot jumpers -- it all could serve to frustrate a Boston team that held Miami to just 45 percent FG shooting in that last game (that's 34-of-75 from the floor) and still lost by double digits.
One key for Boston here: Create more of a stir on the offensive glass. In Game #2, the Celtics totaled only 10 offensive boards -- and five of ‘em were dragged down by Jermaine O'Neal -- and so Kevin Garnett, Glen 'Big Baby' Davis and mates must be more active on the offensive boards and they'll need more than 8 second-chance points here.
The Celtics have the veteran savvy to not get rattled even if facing a deficit here but Doc Rivers' squad needs to keep its cool -- we're talking to you, Mr. Pierce! -- and make sure it's Miami that cracks under the bright lights in the game's final few minutes. Remember that Game #2 was tied at 80-apiece before the Heat cranked it up late.
NOTE: Catch more NBA Playoffs action in the next Jim Sez.
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