The Rio Grande Valley Vipers, operated by the Houston Rockets, and Reno Bighorns begin their D-League playoff's semifinal series this evening on (tape-delayed) VERSUS at 10 p.m. Central Time -- or later, depending on when the Chicago Blackhawks finish their game with the Vancouver WhateverTheirMascotIs.
The Vipers (not "Valley Vipers" as I've read elsewhere) and the Bighorns split the regular season series, but there's been quite a bit of roster turnover since the mid-January match-ups as five of the players that played in those games are now in the NBA and each team only has one starter that remains the same.
The Vipers were gifted a first round victory in their series with the Bakersfield Jam when Trey Johnson was called-up to the Lakers after Bakersfield was able to pick up a game one victory. The Bighorns, on the other hand, were involved in a dogfight with the Erie BayHawks -- my pick as the second best team in the postseason.
My Game One Match-Up To Watch is Rio Grande Valley's Patrick Sullivan against Reno's Patrick O'Bryant.
Neither NBA-caliber big man played up to his talent level consistently in his team's first round series so if either does in the semifinals, his team could have quite the advantage.
Sullivan is a 6-foot-9 post player that earned invites to play with the Memphis Grizzlies during the Vegas Summer League and Houston Rockets during the preseason before ending up with the Vipers in time for the D-League season. Sullivan scored 20 points, grabbed seven boards and recorded three steals and two blocks in game three against the Jam to help RGV advance after scoring just nine points total in the first two games.
O'Bryant is a 7-foot former NBA lottery pick that ended up in Reno after being cut in China earlier this season because he was frustrating the coach. After averaging 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game during the regular season, O'Bryant was held to just 10 points in 56 minutes over the course of three games in the Bighorns first round series. With a legitimate big man to match-up with, O'Bryant needs to be more effective against the Vipers.
Other players the casual basketball fan might recognize on Rio Grande Valley include Jon Scheyer, Jerel McNeal and Matt Janning. For Reno, coached by former NBA head coach Eric Musselman, names that might ring a bell include Bobby Simmons, Salim Stoudamire, Marcus Landry and Andre Emmett.
My pick in this series, by the way, is the Bighorns in three games. Was going to make it two, but the Vipers should win tonight with one of the best homecourt advantages in the D-League.