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 Minnesota Timberwolves spring a surprise against the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies?
Follow along as the USA TODAY Sports network keeps you up to date with the action as it unfolds.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Stephen Curry will play in Game 1 against Denver on Saturday but did not say if Curry will be on a minutes restriction or indicate how many minutes he will play. Curry has been out since March 16 with a left foot injury.
This will be one of the first-round’s most entertaining series, and the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies have their hands full with the No. 7 Timberwolves who took Game 1, 130-117.
Regardless of record or seed, the Timberwolves have the confidence of a No. 1 seed.
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards is emerging as a star in real time, following up his 30-point play-in performance with 36 points in his playoff debut.
The Grizzlies have their hands full with Karl-Anthony Town’s offensive game. Towns had 29 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Yes, the Grizzlies have a deep bench, but don’t discount Minnesota’s.
This series has some electrifying dunkers.
Memphis’ Ja Morant had a highly efficient game: 32 points on 18 shots. He scored 16 of his points on 20 attempts at the foul line.
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s seven blocks were nice but foul trouble limited him to just 24 minutes. His impact on Memphis’ defense is a major reason the Grizzlies won 56 games.
Memphis shot 25.9% on 27 3-point attempts. That won’t get it done against a bad team in late January.
– Jeff Zillgitt
Ja Morant and Karl-Anthony Towns may be battling it out on the court during the series opener between Minnesota and Memphis, but their dads are getting involved in the action on the sidelines.
Tee Morant and Karl Towns Sr. have a running bet: If Minnesota wins the series, Tee Morant has to wear Towns' jersey. If Memphis wins Karl Towns, Sr. has to wear Morant’s jersey.
Karl Towns Sr. gave Tee Morant an earful on the sidelines as it became clear that Minnesota was going to steal Game 1 on the road from Memphis. The two shared a handshake and laugh.
But don’t fret. Tee Morant is confident his son and the Grizzles will bounce back. He sent a message to millions of viewers at home: "We ain’t dunking no smoke. Memphis. Memphis. Memphis,” he said while looking into the ESPN cameras during the game.
– Cydney Henderson
Karl-Anthony Towns put Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr. on a poster. With 5:17 left to go in the third quarter of the Grizzles- Timberwolves series opener Saturday, Towns slammed down a dunk with his right hand over Jackson.
The dunk put the T-Wolves up by three over the Grizzles.
A fan was removed from the series opener between the Grizzles and Timberwolves after a woman chained herself to the back of the basket and threw flyers onto the court during the second quarter at Memphis’ FedExForum.
Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights activist organization, identified the game protestor as Zoe Rosenberg. She wore a shirt that “Glen Taylor roasts animals alive.” The organization said the stunt was part of "ongoing efforts to get Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to step down and return factory farm bailout money."
There as a brief delay as security cut the protestor’s chain and carried her out the arena. According to USA TODAY Sports’ Network’s Damichael Cole, "She was pumping her firsts while being carried out by security."
This is the second fan protest at a Minnesota Timberwolves game this postseason. During the Timberwolves’ play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, an animal rights protester glued her hand to the hardwood along the baseline and sprawled out before security was able to pry her away.
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, who missed the final 16 games of the regular season as well as the two play-in games because of foot and finger injuries, is expected to play in Sunday’s Game 1 against the Miami Heat, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Collins averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Hawks this season. He was instrumental in their surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals last season.
The first two quarters of Minnesota-Memphis – the Mississippi River Showdown -- featured talented young guards. Playing in his first playoff game, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, 20, scored 19 first-half points and the Timberwolves took a 65-62 lead into halftime.
Memphis guard Ja Morant, 22 and likely headed for his first All-NBA selection, also had 19 points in the first half. T'wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had just 11 points in a play-in game victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, had 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block in the opening half. Fourteen turnovers hurt Minnesota in the first half.
Foul trouble watch: Memphis big Jaren Jackson Jr., a key to Memphis’ defense, had three fouls in the first half and has played just eight minutes.
The Brooklyn Nets ruled guard Ben Simmons out for Game 1 against Boston on Sunday. As Simmons, who has not played a game this season, returns to game condition and lessens his back soreness, there is talk that he will make an appearance at some point in this series. Simmons has done solo work in practice and is expected to begin practicing against teammates within the week.
Donovan Mitchell scored 30 of his 32 points after halftime, Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 26 and the Utah Jazz opened the playoffs with a 99-93 victory Saturday over the Dallas Mavericks, who were without injured All-Star guard Luka Doncic.
Bogdanovic had Utah’s only two 3-pointers before halftime, in a 13-2 run over the final 3 1/2 minutes that put the Jazz ahead to stay. Mitchell, who always seems to step up in the postseason, came alive after the break.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks, starting the playoffs at home for the first time since their NBA title season 11 years ago, sorely missed their 23-year-old superstar. Doncic strained his left calf six days earlier in the regular-season finale. Coach Jason Kidd has said only that he is day to day.
Jalen Brunson, the starting point guard with Doncic out, had 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting with seven rebounds. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 22 points, Reggie Bullock added 15 and Dorian Finney-Smith 14.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Dallas.
Dallas star Luka Doncic is listed as day-to-day with a strained left calf, and while the Mavs won’t risk a long-term injury, their success against Utah depends on his availability.
Utah took Game 1 99-93, and Dallas was in his game start to finish, trailing 92-91 late in the fourth quarter.
Even though Jalen Brunson had 24 points and Spencer Dinwiddie had 22, Dallas simply didn’t have enough offense, shooting 29-for-76 from the field
Not only was Doncic’s scoring missed, so was his rebounding. The Mavs were outrebounded 53-34 by the Jazz.
If Doncic can go, the Mavs still have a chance to win the series. Each game he misses, the Mavs’ chance declines. It was an untimely injury – in the final game of the regular season – and it could lead to an early exit for Dallas and leave the Mavs 0-3 in first-round series with Doncic.
After the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the L.A. Clippers, 109-104, in the play-in game tournament to advance to the playoffs, they had an over-the-top celebration. And that drew plenty of laughs from TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew, as well as NBA Twitter. It is just the second playoff appearance in 18 years for the Timberwolves. Before Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., coach Chris Finch said he has no worries about his team’s emotions. "(They play) with a lot of swagger, lot of belief, lot of confidence," he told reporters. "That’s what you want from young players. It’s not my job to temper their behaviors coming into a big game. I want them to let it fly."
Dallas star Luka Doncic (strained left calf) missed Game 1 against Utah on Saturday, but the Mavericks trail just 45-43 at halftime of their first-round series. Dallas led for much of the first half, including a 41-32 lead late in the first half. It was scoring by committee for the Mavs: Jalen Brunson (12 points, six rebounds), Spencer Dinwiddie (10 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points) and Reggie Bullock (five point, three rebounds, one assist, one steal).
What to watch in the second half: Utah’s 3-point shooting. The Jazz made just 2-of-17 3s in the first half and the first one didn’t come until Bojan Bogdanovic with 3:10 left in the first half. Bogdanovich carried the Jazz offensively with 20 points in the first half. Utah struggled from the field (17-for-42 ) and Donovan Mitchell has just two points on 1-for-9 shooting.
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.
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.
Contributing: The Associated Press