After nearly six full months and 82 games for each of the NBA's 30 teams, the regular season now gives way to the postseason. With no clear favorite, a massively competitive Western Conference, and two big rivals atop the Eastern Conference, this year's playoffs figure to be worth the wait.
Without further ado, let's take a quick look at the first-round matchups, along with full schedules (all times Eastern and some quick analysis. (We'll publish in-depth previews for every series later this week.)
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (49-33)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at San Antonio, 1:00PM on TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, April 23, at San Antonio, 8:00PM on NBA TV
Game 3: Saturday, April 26, at Dallas, 4:30PM on TNT
Game 4: Monday, April 28, at Dallas, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at San Antonio, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Dallas, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at San Antonio, TBD
The eternally effective Spurs bounced back from last June's heartbreaking NBA Finals loss to finish with the league's best record, due in large part to the strenghts of head coach Gregg Popovich and the mainstay trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. The Mavericks return to the playoffs after a one-year absence and boast Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis as offensive leaders. San Antonio swept the season series 4-0 and looks like the favorite this year, as well.
No. 4 Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20, at Houston, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, April 23, at Houston, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 3: Friday, April 25, at Portland, 10:30PM on ESPN
Game 4: Sunday, April 27, at Portland, 9:30PM on TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, April 30, at Houston, TBD
Game 6*: Friday, May 2, at Portland, TBD
Game 7*: Sunday, May 4, at Houston, TBD
With All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden, plus a strong supporting cast that includes the multi-talented Chandler Parsons, the Rockets have a not insubstantial chance at representing the West in the NBA Finals. The Blazers cooled down after a scintillating start to the season, but All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard present a formidable challenge for any opponent. Expect a high-scoring series from two of the NBA's most efficient offenses.
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Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of two pressure-cooker bombs exploding near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, an attack that killed three people and injured 264 others. It was an unspeakable tragedy that shook Boston — and the country — to its core, and touched countless lives. But the city's response to in the aftermath of the attack — the tireless work of Boston police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel, the selfless heroism of civilians like Carlos Arredondo , etc. — also showcased the very best of the character and fortitude that Boston could offer.
As Boston and its residents began the long and difficult journey of returning to normalcy, the city's sports teams — the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins and perhaps most of all the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, led by the famously quotable David Ortiz — played a significant role in giving Bostonians something to band together and rally behind, common colors and causes to celebrate. After the bombings, the Celtics donned special warm-up shirts and jersey patches to honor the victims and survivors alike, and with this year's model of the Celtics set to close out their season on Wednesday night at home against the Washington Wizards, point guard and captain Rajon Rondo took it upon himself to show a similar sign of support.
While Rondo was ruled out of Wednesday's season finale due to a strained hamstring , he still went ahead with his plan to wear the special sneakers that Anta, the Chinese apparel brand with whom he has an endorsement deal, made specifically for this occasion. The sneakers feature the initials of every victim of the attack, with the now famous "BOSTON STRONG" slogan and the number "41513" — representing the date (April 15, 2013) of the tragedy — on the tongue.
Here's one look, from the Instagram account of Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo:
Here's another, from Comcast SportsNet New England sideline reporter Abby Chin:
Rajon Rondo wearing shoes to honor victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Will donate to the One Fund afterwards. pic.twitter.com/AbBAXkihu8 — Abby Chin (@tvabby) April 16, 2014
And a third, from NESN.com's Ben Watanabe:
Rondo's marathon kicks. pic.twitter.com/SUxK0BqKFR — Ben Watanabe (@BenjeeBallgame) April 16, 2014
And a postgame collage from the man himself:
pic.twitter.com/pvzj1rpgHw — Rajon Rondo (@RajonRondo) April 17, 2014
“Coach [Brad Stevens] brought it to our attention that this is a special week in Boston,” Rondo said, according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald . “It’s a great time to play sports and give the fans something to cheer about — keep their spirits high.”
Rondo's cool, kind and thoughtful gesture also afforded an opportunity for the point guard to get in one last bit of gentle rookie razzing before the end of the season, according to Jay King of MassLive.com :
While in the locker room, teammate Kelly Olynyk asked Rondo if he plans to run the marathon in the sneakers. The point guard raised his eyebrows in response before saying that if he could run, he would be playing with the shoes on.
Rondo said he plans to donate the sneakers after the game to the One Fund , a charitable organization founded in the aftermath of the explosions to help those most significantly affected by the tragedy.
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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!
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