Bigger stage, brighter spotlight for Wall, Lillard

First Round For The Ages

AP Basketball Writer

MIAMI (AP) -- John Wall was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Damian Lillard hit perhaps the signature shot of the opening round of these playoffs.

Within the game, both are already considered stars.

Over the next couple weeks, casual fans might see why.

Wall and Lillard will be on the biggest stages of their pro careers starting Monday, when the conference-semifinal round of the NBA playoffs gets underway. Major challenges await them both - Wall and the Washington Wizards take on East No. 1 seed Indiana, while Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers face West No. 1 seed San Antonio.

But if the first round was any indicator, neither will fail to embrace the spotlight that's coming their way.

"Playoffs bring a bigger light," Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. "These guys are very good, young, talented players. Now you're getting an opportunity to see what the future of the NBA looks like with these young guys. They're ready for the moment. They're playing unbelievable basketball."

Plenty of the usual suspects - Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin - are in the second round, and it's fairly common to see them on television either playing the game or flexing their stardom in other ways.

Wall and Lillard, they don't exactly have the same status.

Then again, neither had been in the playoffs before now, either.

Wall and Bradley Beal - another postseason rookie - combined to average 38.6 points per game in Washington's surprisingly easy five-game ouster of Chicago in the opening round.

Lillard made 23 3-pointers in the first round, the first 22 of them all likely to be forgotten, the last one likely to get replayed for generations. His buzzer-beating 25-footer won Game 6 for Portland and finished off the Blazers' series with Houston.

"That's definitely the biggest shot of my life - so far," Lillard said.

Here comes the second round, the biggest chance of his NBA life - so far.


Five things to know about the conference semifinals:

HOME MATTERS: Yes, road teams won a whopping 24 of the 50 games played in the opening round. But in the end, home court ultimately proved critical, with San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Clippers and Indiana all winning Game 7's at home. Toronto was the only home-court team to fall in a Game 7, losing to Brooklyn by a point.

WINNING IS HARD: Here's something that illustrates how tough it is to win even a first-round series in the NBA: Miami and Oklahoma City are the only teams to appear in the conference semifinals in each of the past four seasons. How hard is year-in, year-out success these days? Consider that six of the eight conference-semifinalists in 2010 didn't even make the playoffs this year.

CALMER CLIPPERS: The safest bet of the second round is that the Clippers will face much less drama than they did in the opening series. While the Donald Sterling story surely won't go away anytime soon, the Clippers should be able to have their minds more on basketball now - and that will be critical as they face the Thunder and Durant, the presumed MVP-in-waiting.

UPSET WATCH: The top two seeds in both the East (Indiana, Miami) and West (San Antonio, Oklahoma City) all made the second round. History says at least one of them won't be going any further. Not since 2005 have the conference finals both been of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 variety.

FISHER CHASING HISTORY: If Oklahoma City doesn't get swept by the Clippers, Derek Fisher will likely stand alone atop an NBA all-time list. Fisher has played in 155 postseason wins, tied with Robert Horry for the most in league history.


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