The fifth-seeded Washington Wizards and top-seeded Indiana Pacers will begin their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup Monday night in Indiana. The Wizards dropped both regular season games in Indiana — where they’ve lost 12 consecutive games dating from April 11, 2007 — before cruising to a win a Verizon Center in their third meeting.
Here are three keys to the outcome of the series:
Trevor Ariza vs. Paul George
George didn’t play particularly well against the Wizards this season, averaging 16.7 points on 32.7 percent shooting. Much of that credit goes to Ariza, whose length allows him to counter George on the defensive end and keep him from penetrating to the basket. Ariza’s ability to keep George out of the paint will also be critical on the other end of the floor, where the Pacers all-star has had his way on the boards against the Wizards with an average of nine per game. Just as important is Bradley Beal’s defense of triple-double threat Lance Stephenson, the other Indiana player capable of igniting the Pacers by attacking from the perimeter.
Roy Hibbert snapped out of his funk in Indiana’s Game 7 win against Atlanta with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks after becoming just the second player in NBA history to record consecutive scoreless playoff outings after making the all-star game that same season. Nene and Marcin Gortat have the opportunity to give the Wizards a strong advantage on the interior, with Nene stretching the defense with his mid-range jumper and Gortat controlling the boards with his physical play. The less Hibbert does, the less he will play, which should open the paint for John Wall to penetrate and either score or dish to sharpshooting teammates Beal and Ariza. Still, the Wizards must be careful not to resort to the type of high volume three-point shooting that ultimately doomed the undersized Hawks against Indiana.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers initially were reeling after the incendiary racial comments by owner Donald Sterling that got him banned from the NBA for life.
The team unified and rallied to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games, setting up a Western Conference semifinal against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder that starts Monday.
The Thunder fought through a different kind of challenge -- a familiar foe with a difficult style. Oklahoma City survived a grind-it-out series against the Memphis Grizzlies and prevailed in seven games.
There should be a lot less grinding and a lot more running and gunning in this matchup.
Los Angeles led the NBA in scoring during the regular season with 107.9 points per game. All-Star forward Blake Griffin has improved his all-around game, and Paul is perhaps the league's best point guard.
Durant is the league's scoring champion, and point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA's best athletes. The Thunder ranked fifth in scoring this season with 106.2 points per contest.
Here are five things to watch for in the series:
IS DURANT REALLY BACK? Durant struggled through much of the series against Memphis before returning to form in the final two games. In the first five games, he averaged 28 points and shot 40 percent from the field. In the last two games, he averaged 34.5 points and shot 56 percent.
PAUL's HAMSTRING: Paul has been dealing with a sore right hamstring, a bad problem to have against Oklahoma City's speed. Memphis' Mike Conley entered Game 7 with a strained hamstring, and Westbrook finished with a triple-double.
Paul had 22 points and 14 assists in 42 minutes against Golden State on Saturday.
GRIFFIN vs. IBAKA: Griffin ranked sixth in the league with 24.1 points per game in the regular season. He is usually the dominant athlete in his matchups, but Ibaka, who led the NBA in total blocks in the regular season and was fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting, might be his match.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said defending Griffin is different than it once was.
"His mid-range jump shot -- you can't give him that anymore," Brooks said. "He can make that, and he knocks that down, and he shoots it with confidence, and they look for him."
WILL WESTBROOK PASS? For much of the first five games against Memphis, Westbrook shot 34 percent from the field and averaged 25.4 points on 25.6 shot attempts as his team fell behind 3-2. In the final two games, he shot 51 percent from the field, averaged 26 points on 18.5 shots per game and added 10.5 assists as the Thunder rolled to two blowout wins.
DO THE CLIPPERS HAVE ANYTHING LEFT? The Clippers have acknowledged that the Sterling situation has taken its toll. They played a tough seven-game series against the Warriors and follow it with Game 1 on the road two days later against a team that had the league's second-best home record at 34-7.
The Clippers defeated the Thunder in Oklahoma City 125-117 on Feb. 23, though under much different circumstances.
"It's tough to win in OKC," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said. "These playoffs aren't going to be easy, but we've won there this season, and we're looking to go up there and get one."
Feel free to talk about other sports here as well. I was just too lazy to search for anything else.