Posted April 20, 2013 on AP on Fox
Five things to watch in the first round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday: GAME 3 IN BOSTON: April 26, 8 p.m., Knicks at Celtics. You won't want to be one second late for the start of that telecast on ESPN, because if the scene at the first Bruins game since the Boston Marathon explosions was any indicator, then the emotions that pour out from the stands in the Celtics' first home game since that tragedy may be unprecedented. The NBA got the scheduling right - all basketball-watching eyes will be on Boston for that game, as they should be, and the other two matchups that evening are later games on the West coast. Regardless of what happens in the first two games of that series in Madison Square Garden, the Celtics will have to be heavy favorites in Game 3. --- JAMES HARDEN'S RETURN: Given that he shot only 38 percent during the NBA Finals last season, it could be argued that James Harden hurt the Oklahoma City Thunder then, and now he'll try to do it again - just while wearing the uniform of the Houston Rockets. Maybe it's fitting that Harden and the Thunder meet in the first round, after talks about an extension broke down reportedly when the team offered a $55 million deal and the player insisted on $60 million. Yes, one of Harden's best games this season came against the Thunder, a 46-point outing in February. But his only trip back to Oklahoma City this season resulted in one of his worst games, a 3-for-16 shooting effort. Whatever angst he felt then, he'll likely feel something similar in Game 1 on Sunday. --- WHAT WAS JENNINGS THINKING?: Nothing inspires reigning MVP LeBron James more than the playoffs, with the possible exception of hearing someone say he's going to lose in the first round. So maybe Milwaukee guard Brandon Jennings shouldn't have told the crowd at the Wisconsin Sports Awards that he and the Bucks were going to beat the Miami Heat in six games. Granted, every athlete always thinks they're going to win - which is perfectly understandable, since really, what else are they going to say? But some of the things Jennings has said in recent weeks about the Heat, like how Milwaukee matches up with the defending champions, has captured Miami's attention. Odds of the Heat overlooking the Bucks now: About zero, possibly less. --- HELLO, BROOKLYN: When the Nets face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, it'll mark the first time a Brooklyn team (at least from one of the four major U.S. pro sports) has hosted a playoff game since Oct. 10, 1956. The Yankees beat Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers 9-0 in Game 7 of the World Series in that one, and a mere half-century-and-change later, Brooklyn fans are finally getting a chance to cheer at another playoff game. The Nets' bounceback season has almost seemed overlooked at times year - this is the franchise's first time in the playoffs since 2007 and its first time hosting a Game 1 since the New Jersey days of 2006. And the Nets are heading into the postseason on a bit of a roll, having won six of their last seven games. --- CLIPPERS-GRIZZLIES RENEWED: The only first-round rematch from a year ago might shape up to be a classic this time around. The Clippers went into Memphis and won a Game 7 last season, and Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Co. will have the home-court edge for this series. Some of the stats posted by these teams this season are ridiculously identical. Both went 56-26 overall, with identical home (32-9) and away (24-17) records. The Clippers were 35-17 in games against Western Conference opponents and the Grizzlies were 34-18 in those games. If this matchup doesn't go the distance again, basketball fans might get short-changed. The winner will face either the Thunder or the Rockets, and probably will be a bit tired when that second-round series starts.

Harden ready to face former team in playoffs

OKLAHOMA CITY You had to know this was going to happen. You just knew James Harden was going to come back at some point, and at some point it was going to really matter. And now the Thunder are in a no-win situation, while Harden is poised for the ultimate "I told you so" moment. Five days before the season started, the Thunder traded the popular Harden to Houston,...

Thunder prepare to face Harden, Rockets

OKLAHOMA CITY You had to know this was going to happen. You just knew James Harden was going to come back at some point and at some point it was going to really matter. And now the Thunder are in a no-win situation while Harden is poised for the ultimate "I told you so" moment. Five days before the season started, the Thunder traded the popular Harden to Houston and...

Can Harden impact Thunder series?

The favorite to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy sits comfortably in an Eastern Conference lacking few, if any, real challengers. But while the Miami Heat begins defense of its title with a series of not-so-intriguing first- and potential second-round playoff match-ups, the Western Conference is riddled with compelling games and storylines. The West may not have the presumptive...

Harden, Rockets blasted 120-91 by Thunder

James Harden is going to need much more help from his Houston Rockets teammates if he hopes to knock off the team that traded him away before the season started. Kevin Durant scored 24 points, Russell Westbrook made a run at a triple-double in three quarters and the Oklahoma City Thunder routed Harden and the Rockets 120-91 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff...

Thunder out to prove they're better without Harden

(Eds: APNewsNow. Will be updated. With AP Photos.) By JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer The Oklahoma City Thunder have faced questions all season on whether they'd be able to succeed after trading James Harden away during training camp. Harden blossomed in Houston, becoming an All-Star and the NBA's fifth-leading scorer in his first opportunity to be a franchise's featured...

Toronto Raptors Turned Down Offer For James Harden

The Toronto Raptors apperantly really wanted to keep Jonas Valanciunas in When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded shooting guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets prior to the season, there was a lot of speculation surrounding where else Harden could have ended up. Due to salary restrictions and already having Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka locked...

Harden changes everything for young Rockets

(Eds: APNewsNow.) By CHRIS DUNCAN AP Sports Writer Jeremy Lin looked around on the first day of the Houston Rockets' training camp with more hope than expectation. James Harden arrived three weeks later and everything changed. The Rockets are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Houston will face Oklahoma City, Harden's former team, in the first...

Playoffs bring The Beard back to Oklahoma City

The Beard is back. After getting traded to Houston at the end of training camp, James Harden had a feeling he might be meeting up with his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates when the NBA playoffs rolled around. Sure enough, his Rockets will open the postseason Sunday night at Oklahoma City. Harden spent his first few years in the league building friendships with Kevin Durant...

All goes wrong for Harden in return to OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kendrick Perkins ran the break, Derek Fisher made a contested 3-pointer, Kevin Durant drew a charge on his old pal James Harden, dogs jumped rope at halftime and another fan made another 20,000 half-court shot. Everything went right for the Thunder against Houston in their first playoff game as the defending Western Conference champs, and if Sunday was supposed...

Storylines to watch in the Western Conference first round

The NBA postseason kicks off on Saturday. If you are like me, you are really looking forward to watching the Western Conference playoffs unfold. The talented teams run 1-8, and we are in for some pretty intense battles, even in the first round. Heading into the weekend, there’s a few interesting storylines to keep an eye on. 1. James Harden returns to OKC The Houston Rockets...

NBA Western Conference Playoffs: First Round Preview

NBA Western Conference Playoff preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Houston Rockets: It will be a nice storyline to see James Harden go up against his former team in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. He better say hi and bye quickly because this series won’t last too long. The Thunder took 2 of 3 from Houston this year and won those games by a combined 52 points. Russell Westbrook...

Everything goes wrong for Rockets

Game 1 in OKC was a disaster for Jeremy Lin, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets. This series is going to be an utter mismatch.
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