Second Round Series: Rio Grande Valley vs. Austin

by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com

Game One: at Austin, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET LIVE on VERSUS

Game Two: at Rio Grande Valley, Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA Futurecast

Game Three: at Rio Grande Valley, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA Futurecast (if necessary)

What's Next: Winner will face Iowa/Tulsa winner

Rio Grande Valley Record: 34-16, 1st place, West Conference

Austin Record: 32-18, 2nd place, West Conference

Season Series: Vipers, 5-2

March 10, at Rio Grande Valley: Austin 95, Rio Grande Valley 90

Last Meeting: The Toros won the finale of the season series with Rio Grande Valley, improving their record against the Vipers to 2-5. Curtis Jerrells and Dwayne Jones sparked the Toros with 23 points each, with Jones also adding 19 rebounds. Austin used a dominant fourth quarter to pull out the victory, outscoring the Vipers 38-22 in the final 12 minutes. Mike Harris was the leader for the Vipers with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Julian Sensely added what was then a season-high 23 points.

What To Look For

Spurs Vs. Rockets?

When you're watching this series, if you look closely enough you might think it's a match up between the Spurs and the Rockets. Both teams wear the same uniform designs of their NBA affiliates and employ similar playing styles to Rick Adelman and Gregg Poppovich's teams. The similarities extend to the rosters, as both teams currently have players on assignment. The Spurs duo of Alonzo Gee and Curtis Jerrells are quite familiar to NBA D-League fans, as they spent much of the season in Austin before earning GATORADE Call-Ups. The pair led Austin in the first-round win over Dakota and will be leaned upon come up big again if Austin is going to make their second trip to the Finals in three years. The Vipers are the first team to employ the NBA hybrid-affiliation system where the Rockets control the basketball operations of their NBA D-League affiliate. They can counter Gee and Jerrells with two-time Rockets call-up Mike Harris, who returned for Game Three of the Reno series and provided a 45-point, 13-rebound outburst that sparked the Vipers to victory. Harris has been arguably the best player in the NBA D-League this season and will be looking for another big series to help the Vipers get to the Finals. Guard Will Conroy, one of the best point guards in league history, has also spent time in Houston this season and gives the Vipers a veteran presence to lock horns with rookie sensation Jerrells. Each team also employs another former GATORADE Call-Up who might face each other on the wing, with Rio Grande rookie Antonio Anderson, a call-up to the Thunder this season, matching up with Austin's former NBA D-League All-Star Marcus Williams. Williams has received multiple call-ups in his three-year career with the Toros.

Small Ball

The Vipers and the Toros both started the season with a strong presence in the paint, but now in the postseason they are still breaking in some new faces. NBA D-League rebounding leader Dwayne Jones left the Toros due to a GATORADE Call-Up, while the solid duo of Joey Dorsey and Kurt Looby are both long gone due to trade or in Dorsey's case, a recall to the NBA. In recent weeks, both teams have been going small with Austin starting no player taller than 6-7 in their last playoff game and the Vipers starting 6-9 Julian Sensley at center in their series against Reno. Since they've come this far, expect the same in this series, which should make for exciting, fast-paced games of basketball. With the lack of size in the game, expect athletic players like Alonzo Gee and Mike Harris to grab more than their usual share of rebounds in addition to their usual scoring exploits. Also, as the biggest regular on the court, the Vipers will be looking for a big series from Sensley. The veteran of several NBA D-League seasons has had his moments for the Vipers this season, and he will be looking forward to the Toros after scoring 23 points and eight rebounds against Austin in the last meeting between the teams.

Coming Off The Bench

As discussed, both of these teams have loads of talent in their starting lineups, which means that the difference in this series might hinge on the production that they get from their reserves. Both teams have NBA D-League veterans coming off the bench who can light it up on a given night in Austin's Carldell Johnson and Rio Grande Valley's Craig Winder. Winder, in his third season with the Vipers, came off the bench in the first-round to average 16.7 points. He gives the Vipers a great luxury with a starter's level of production in a reserve role. Johnson, familiar to college fans for his NCAA tournament run at UAB, has alternated between starter and sub in his three-year career in Austin. Mostly coming off the bench in 2009-10, Johnson stepped up big in the series-clinching win over Dakota with 19 points. The starting lineups in this series are very evenly matched, so production off the bench from these players and other reserves like Austin's Corey Underwood and David McClure and Rio Grande Valley's Stanley Asumnu and Ernest Scott will play a big role in the outcome.