For NBA fans, there is no better time on the NBA calendar than the start of the postseason.
With the final two playoff spots determined with Friday night’s play-in games, the chase for the NBA championship officially begins with four playoff games on Saturday.
And the play-in games provided a perfect appetizer. The game that decided the No. 8 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks had the feel of a Game 7. And the L.A. Clippers-New Orleans Pelicans matchup that decided the No. 8 seed in the West had it all, with the Pelicans finally taking control late in the fourth quarter.
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This season’s playoffs have a ton of compelling angles. Can the Phoenix Suns win their first NBA title? Will the Milwaukee Bucks repeat? Can Stephen Curry return and deliver the Golden State Warriors their fourth title in eight seasons? Can the upstart Memphis Grizzlies spring a surprise?
Follow along as the USA TODAY Sports network keeps you up to date with the action as it unfolds.
The Dallas Mavericks have limited Utah All-Star Donovan Mitchell to zero points on 0-for-4 shooting in the first quarter. The Jazz, the NBA’s leader in made 3-pointers, also failed to make a 3-pointer in the first quarter on seven attempts. "If they’re open, we need to shoot them; that’s what we do," Jazz coach Quin Snyder told ESPN during the first quarter interview. "We have good shooters. Hopefully, the odds play out and we make a few." The good news is that they trailed only 23-20 after the first quarter.
Perhaps no team in the NBA playoffs has more riding on the first round than the Utah Jazz, who face the Dallas Mavericks today at 1 p.m. ET. They have failed to advance past the first round in two of the past three seasons. And in three second-round appearances, they have won just three games. With Dallas’ Luka Doncic listed as "day-to-day" and out for Game 1, it appears the path to the second round could be wide open. If they do fail, there could be some franchise-altering changes this summer, according to news reports. To put a finer point on it, it could mean the end of the All-Star Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert tandem. Even coach Quin Snyder could depart. And Utah is limping into the postseason. Their longest win streak in two months is three games, and they are 23-24 since the start of the calendar year.
Utah Jazz Quin Snyder said that when you see a team like Dallas playing without star Luka Doncic, "You see other guys who are really good players have opportunities. Collectively, their team is capable of finding a high level." For the Mavericks, can that player be Jalen Brunson? The Mavs’ second-round draft pick in 2018, Brunson averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists for the Mavericks. He played at Villanova, winning two national championships and was named National Player of the Year as a junior.
The availability of Luka Doncic looms large over the Dallas Mavericks-Utah Jazz series. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said during his pregame availability on Saturday that Doncic is day-to-day but will not play in Saturday’s Game 1. Doncic suffered a strained left calf in the regular season finale. He didn’t practice at all during the week and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported there’s "a great deal of skepticism" within the organization on Doncic’s availability the entire first-round. Jalen Brunson will start in Doncic’s place.
When the Brooklyn Nets acquired Ben Simmons at the NBA trade deadline, the expectation was that he could provide the kind of defense that could transform the Nets from a play-in participant to a legitimate title contender. According to reports, Simmons has had a significant recovery from a back injury that has kept him off the court. There is now hope that Simmons could make his season debut at some point in the Nets’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, with Game 1 set for Sunday at 3:30 p.m.