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                ***** NBA Previews from The Sports Network *****
                                 Monday, May 4
                              (All times Eastern)
 
 
 (3) CHICAGO BULLS (0-0) AT (2) CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (0-0), 7 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The series everyone wants to see begins Monday night
 when LeBron James leads his Cleveland Cavaliers against the Chicago Bulls in
 Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena.
 
 The Cavaliers and Bulls were expected to clash sometime during the playoffs.
 Before the season, most thought it would be in the conference finals, but the
 Atlanta Hawks ruined that.
 
 Actually, the Boston Celtics did, too.
 
 After the Cavaliers blew through the C's, Game 4 turned ugly and cost the Cavs
 big time. Kevin Love became tangled with Boston's Kelly Olynyk and with a
 sudden thrust, Love's left shoulder became dislocated and the All-Star forward
 underwent surgery. He will miss this series and four to six months.
 
 "Really sad that we're going to be missing Kev for the playoffs," Cavs coach
 David Blatt said before practice Thursday. "Obviously he's a big part of our
 team. I'm sad for him because he was playing so well and so excited about his
 first playoff series, but at the same time, very determined for us to maintain
 our level and to continue to be ambitious about our goals."
 
 Things actually got worse for Cleveland in Game 4. J.R. Smith took a wild,
 blind swing that connected with the face of Boston's Jae Crowder, which
 injured Crowder's knee. Smith has been suspended the first two games of this
 series.
 
 The Cavs finished off the Celtics a week ago Sunday and got plenty of time to
 prepare for the Bulls.
 
 "This is challenging for me," James said after practice Wednesday. "I have a
 lot of energy and I'm getting bored. I'm ready to play. I'm challenged for my
 patience."
 
 The Bulls will present a bigger challenge than James' boredom.
 
 Chicago needed six games to get past the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls
 closed out the Bucks in a 120-66 annihilation on Thursday night at the Bradley
 Center.
 
 The close-out contest featured some ugliness as Milwaukee's Giannis
 Antetokounmpo was ejected for a very late flagrant foul on Mike Dunleavy. The
 Bulls forward wasn't a saint in Game 6 as he got tangled up twice with Michael
 Carter-Williams.
 
 The Bulls survived and for the first time all season will have Dunleavy,
 Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Bradley in the starting lineup
 versus the Cavs.
 
 Cleveland won the Central Division by three games over the Bulls, who missed
 every starter, except Gasol, for stretches this season. The Cavs won three of
 four regular-season meetings, including one in Chicago.
 
 Rest could be an issue for the Bulls considering all the injuries they battled
 all season. They were up 3-0 on the Bucks, but gave away Game 4, then stumbled
 in Game 5 at home.
 
 But Game 6 was an amazing performance, leading by over 50 points throughout
 the second half.
 
 "The benefit is we understand what it takes to win playoff games better now,"
 Gasol told the team's website. "We finally got off to a good start and set the
 tone really well. That's something we needed to do that didn't happen before
 throughout the series. Now we have to keep the same edge, the same intensity,
 the same mindset, the same approach we brought tonight to the next series."
 
 Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Cleveland.
 
 
 (3) LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (0-0) AT (2) HOUSTON ROCKETS (0-0), 9:30 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The health of Chris Paul's hamstring is the center
 storyline when Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston
 Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers tees off Monday at the Toyota Center.
 
 Paul strained his hamstring in Saturday's Game 7 of the first round against
 the San Antonio Spurs. According to LA head coach Doc Rivers, Paul's MRI "came
 out pretty well," but the All-Star guard is questionable for Game 1.
 
 "If there's any risk, he won't play," Rivers said on Sunday. "I can tell you
 that right now. I just don't know yet. We'll find out (Monday)."
 
 The Clips advanced on Saturday thanks to a gutsy performance by Paul in a
 classic series.
 
 Paul's acrobatic go-ahead basket with one second remaining lifted the Clippers
 to a 111-109 win over the defending champion Spurs in a Game 7 thriller.
 
 After Tim Duncan's free throws tied the game with 8.8 seconds left, Paul had
 the ball just inside halfcourt with Danny Green draped all over him.
 
 Paul dribbled to his right to get a step on Green and alertly leaned farther
 right to avoid Duncan, flicking the ball in over both defenders to put the
 Clippers in front.
 
 "No balance on the shot, falling backwards, amazing," Rivers said.
 
 Boris Diaw's ensuing lob inbounds pass into the lane intended for Kawhi
 Leonard was batted away by Matt Barnes, ending the game.
 
 Paul's astounding shot was the 31st lead change of a classic nip-and-tuck
 game. There were 16 ties and neither team led by more than eight points.
 Eleven of the lead changes came in the fourth quarter.
 
 It was a fitting conclusion to a tight seven-game series.
 
 "I'm a better person after going through this series," Rivers said.
 
 Paul exited at the 1:52 mark of the first quarter with a left hamstring strain
 before returning with 6:27 remaining in the second.
 
 Despite the injury, Paul managed to score 18 of his 27 points in the second
 half. He was 9-of-13 from the field overall and knocked down five of his six
 attempts from beyond the arc.
 
 Now the Clippers get a well-rested Rockets team.
 
 Houston defeated the Dallas Mavericks in five games in round one, meaning, the
 Rockets have been resting and preparing since Tuesday.
 
 The two teams, who haven't met in the postseason since 1993, split four
 meetings this season. Each team won in the other's building and the Rockets
 won the final two encounters to halt a six-game series losing streak.
 
 "You can only put so much on the regular season," said Rockets coach Kevin
 McHale. "We're both going to try and do what we do well."
 
 James Harden was his usual spectacular self against the Mavericks, scoring
 28.4 ppg and handing out 7.8 assists. He is expected to either win, or finish
 second for league MVP.
 
 Dwight Howard, who missed several contests versus the Clippers this season,
 was also very good in the quarterfinals. He averaged 16.6 ppg and 13.8 rpg.
 Howard's presence in the paint was as special as always, blocking three shots
 per game.
 
 Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Houston.
 
 
 05/04 08:44:31 ET

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