By Doc RiversAs told to Rob Peterson
Doc Rivers knows something about the playoffs. In his 13-year playing career, Rivers went to 10 postseasons with the Hawks, the Clippers, the Knicks and the Spurs. He even shares the single-game playoff record for most assists in a half -- 15. As coach of the Magic, Rivers led Orlando to three playoff appearances in four full seasons at the helm.
With the NBA Playoffs 2004 starting Saturday, April 17 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), we asked ABC analyst Doc Rivers to place the first-round Western Conference matchups under the microscope. Using the same critical eye and candor he's employed all season as a member of the NBA Blog Squad, the good Doc, who will be in Sacramento on Sunday to call Game 1 of the Kings-Mavericks series (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), answered three questions about each series.
What is the most intriguing matchup? "At first inclination, I would say the Andre Miller-Sam Cassell matchup. Cassell has struggled against guards with size. And when it comes to scoring, Cassell has destroyed any guard the same size as him. You can look at that machtup and say: Can Miller stay in front of Cassell and can Cassell guard Miller in the post?
"But another one that intrigues me is Kevin Garnett and Nenę. Very few people can match Garnett's athleticism, but Nenę comes close. Nenę is definitely stronger, but Garnett is longer and quicker. And experience will play a huge factor. Garnett has a ton of playoff experience."
Who is the Nuggets' go-to guy? "It's Carmelo Anthony. It's interesting when your go-to guy is a rookie, but he has responded beautifully. There have been plenty of rookies who have averaged 21 points, but more important is Carmelo's ability to take and make big shots. That's a rare ability. For most guys, that skill takes a couple of years to develop, but Carmelo has already done that."
Who is the Timberwolves' go-to guy? "That would be Garnett. Even though with Cassell, every team he has been on, he's taken big shots and made them. Latrell Sprewell also has the ability to make big shots. But Garnett is the guy who will get them for Minnesota, and who has come up big all year and is the MVP of our league. He's kind of had a coming out part the last three to four years, but this year, he's on the best run of his career."
In order for the Wolves to win, they need to ... "... do a couple of things. Transition defense will be a key. The Nuggets don't want to face the Wolves in a half-court game. If Minnesota can get back on defense, it will be very difficult for the Nuggets to win."
In order for the Nuggets to win, they need to ... "... get in the open court or else it will be difficult for them. Carmelo Anthony has to have a huge series. Andre Miller has to have a huge series. The X-factor is Marcus Camby. He's a solid basketball player, a great shot-blocker and he could affect Garnett. He can also provide some extra scoring.
"But as far as whether we'll see another No. 8 upset a No. 1, I'm picking the Wolves in this series because of Denver's youth and Minnesota's experience. That, and KG's talent has been overwhelming. I love the Nuggets and coach Jeff Bzdelik has given them a ton of confidence. Camby played for a No. 8 seed, the Knicks, that won. I bet he's in that locker room telling everyone that it's possible."
What's the most intriguing matchup? "Obviously, Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal, no doubt about that. Yao has played extremely well against Shaq in the first two games and OK in the third. By the fourth meeting, Shaq had taken over. One of the adjustments Shaq made was to get very physical with Yao. Shaq closed Yao's space where he operated and made it difficult for Yao to get his shot off. Shaq's one of the few players who can close Yao's space and still look at him eye-to-eye.
"It'll be interesting to see how Yao adjusts. He's going to need to pick-and-pop (set a screen and then pop out for the jumper) and get his jumper off. It'll also be important for Steve Francis to make his shots off pick-and-rolls instead of dancing around with the ball.
"Coming into this series, Shaq is the most dominant player of his era. He becomes even more dominating with a task at hand. I like to call him a sleeping giant and when he elevates his game, the Lakers are very difficult to beat."
Who is the Lakers' go-to guy? "Kobe Bryant is the best go-to guy in the league, and the best since Jordan. And as crazy as it sounds, he's even matching Jordan humongous shot for humongous shot. The two shots he hit at the end of the Portland game are as good as it gets for anybody. The only person who thought he could make both shots is Kobe. That's what makes him great. ."
Who is the Rockets' go-to guy? "This is difficult. I would say Yao is most of the time, especially if Jeff Van Gundy had his way. They need to let him get his shot and be the great passer that he is in this series. But I wouldn't be shocked to see the ball in Francis' hands."
In order for the Lakers to win, they need to ... "... defend the Rockets' pick and roll, get everyone involved and they have to be a happy group. They've had a heck of a season with the distractions they've had. They've had one of those years where all year, some guy has been injured or there's been all sorts of junk in the paper. But when you see they're second in the West, that's because they've been able to focus through most of it. And they're very, very tough once the playoffs roll around."
In order for the Rockets to win, they need to ... "... do two things. They need to be extremely efficient offensively; not necessarily up-tempo, but they need to create easy baskets. And two, they need someone to slow Kobe. It'll be interesting to see if Jim Jackson can accomplish that."
What is the most intriguing matchup? "Pau Gasol at four vs. Tim Duncan is a very interesting matchup. With his size, Duncan can be too dominating.
"But, a matchup that interests me is at point guard: Jason Williams vs. Tony Parker. As Parker goes, so go the Spurs. If he gets into the open court and gains confidence, the Spurs are very difficult to beat. When Williams is in a zone on offense, he has the best set of eyes in the NBA. He can deliver the pass the exact moment the guys are open. And if it's close, Williams is an 83 percent foul shooter."
Who is the Spurs' go-to guy? "San Antonio's go-to guy is obviously Tim Duncan, but he's a different go-to guy. For most go-to guys it's about making the big shot. Duncan is also willing to make the big pass. And his willingness to do either one and his ability to do both, makes him the best. He's the quiet assassin. You can't key on him when he's willing to make a pass.
"The Grizzlies will run some traps on him, as Hubie Brown has always done that effectively. The Spurs get hurt when the other guys aren't making the shots. It'll be a dog fight."
Who is the Grizzlies' go-to guy? "Pau is Memphis' go-to guy and has been all season. Williams also likes to take the big shot, but Gasol answered the challenges down the stretch in the Grizzlies' first big season."
In order for the Spurs to win, they need to ... "... have other guys make shots that their unselfish superstar is willing to share. The more everyone else makes their open shots, the more Duncan can dominate. The Grizzlies won three of four games from the Spurs this season, including one in San Antonio, but for two of those games, Duncan didn't play."
In order for the Grizzlies to win, they need to ... "... avoid a half-court, slowdown, physical series. They need the ebbs and flows in energy of a series that has a lot of transition basketball. They need easy shots and they need to get the Spurs to play that game.
"It should be an interesting series and a good coaching series, too."
"Throw out the confetti! This should be a fun, fun series. You have two teams that can score; Dallas averages 105 points per game and Sacramento averages 103 points per game. They're both one-two in field goal percentage. They're both near the top in 3-point percentage. Sacramento averages 26 assists. Let me throw out some numbers: 127, 120, 108, 111. Those have been the four winning scores the four times these teams met in the regular season. And the one time a team didn't reach 100, the Kings scored 99 points.
"The Kings' biggest weakness is their athleticism, and in transition defense they really suffer. Since Dallas has gone to small ball, they've become a transition, up-tempo team. If Brad Miller, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac can get up and down the floor, the Kings win this series. But if the Kings struggle in transition, Dallas wins this series. Dallas won three of four games, but you can throw all of that out because of injuries."
"The team that plays defense first ... wins. You better sit down to watch this series."
What is the most intriguing matchup? "I like Steve Nash vs. Mike Bibby. If you look at the last series, the winner of that matchup wins that series. The other thing to watch is the fact that Don Nelson doesn't mind using Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels. Personally, I don't think the playoff pressure will affect them. They're just going to play, but it will be key for the Mavs for them to play well.
Who is the Kings' go-to guy? "Mike Bibby. He was the only guy who made big shots in the playoffs two years ago. Peja Stojakovic is the other guy for Sacramento who can hit big shots. Both are very good offensively. "
Who is the Mavericks' go-to guy? "Dirk Nowitzki has to be the guy who steps up and make big shots."
In order for the Kings to win, they need to ... "... I think they have to do a good job on the boards. Dallas is the smaller team, but Dallas is a better rebounding team. And when Doug Christie gets involved offensively, they're very tough to beat."
In order for the Mavericks to win, they need to ... "... make their open outside shots, get in transition and slow the Kings' three bigs -- Miller, Divac and Webber."