Story lines abound in NBA playoffs
The 66-game sprint to the NBA playoffs is over and the postseason lineup seems intriguing.
AP Basketball Writer
The 66-game sprint to the playoffs is over and the postseason lineup seems intriguing.
LeBron James versus Carmelo Anthony; the young and confident Oklahoma City Thunder looking for an early knockout of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks; two Los Angeles teams shooting for one title; and the venerable San Antonio Spurs seeking for a second lockout-season title.
"I think our fans are hungry for the playoffs," commissioner David Stern said. "Our network partners are excited by the prospect and you know, I think I can tell you, I'm looking forward to it in the same way. So I think it's going to be great."
It starts Saturday with the Chicago Bulls, the overall No. 1 seed, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers. Then it is Miami against New York, with James and Anthony a couple of the big names in a series loaded with star power.
And with history.
The teams met four straight years from 1997 to 2000, the Knicks winning three of the series and earning a draw in the fights. The animosity doesn't exist between these players — James and Anthony have known each other since high school before entering the league together in 2003 — but it is still around for the organizations and fans.
"Once the ball tips off, it's a series that we're both trying to win," Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. "Obviously it makes great headlines and makes everyone in the organization really tuned in to what's going on. It's kind of like they're looking at us like, 'All right, go get it done for us.' "
Also Saturday, the Indiana Pacers host the Orlando Magic, a team with playoff hopes that seem to have left along with injured Dwight Howard, before the Mavericks visit the Thunder in the nightcap.
Dallas eliminated Oklahoma City in five games last year on its way to the NBA championship. The teams ended up in the first round this season after the Thunder fell into the No. 2 seed with a late-season stumble.
"It's all we've been looking forward to for a long time," said Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant. "It's going to be a tough, tough series for us playing against the reigning champions. They cause so many problems on the offensive end and defensive end for us."
The other four series start Sunday.
San Antonio hosts Utah in the opener, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers against Denver. Boston visits Atlanta before Memphis welcomes the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Grizzlies snatched home-court advantage from the Clippers by winning their final six games while Los Angeles dropped three of its last four.
Yet Chris Paul and Blake Griffin say they aren't scared of the rugged Grizzlies, who were a game away from the West finals last year and are a trendy pick to get there this time.
"It's just like any other NBA team," Griffin said. "They've got good bigs, they've got good guards. You've got to be ready to play. We're not intimidated by them, by any means."
Stern has said the league didn't know what to expect when it returned from a nearly five-month lockout that shortened the season. Instead of a backlash from fans, TV ratings were up and attendance held steady.
San Antonio won the 1999 title after the lockout and hopes it has one more run in the Tim Duncan era.
• The federal government is investigating the business practices of the National Basketball Players Association.
The union confirmed it has received a subpoena for documents from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and says it will cooperate with the investigation. The NBPA also said in a statement it has appointed a special committee to oversee an internal inquiry, including a financial audit.
Recent reports have questioned the NBPA's finances and spending practices, largely having to do with the hiring of family members and firms that employ relatives of executive director Billy Hunter. Hunter said he will cooperate with the internal inquiry, but will not be involved in the effort so it remains independent.