Sports Minute: Disney is nice but for NBA's top teams, no place like home
By BRIAN MAHONEYAP Basketball Writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Lakers and Bucks exited practice Wednesday to palm trees around them and sunny skies overhead.
The weather is good at Walt Disney World. The service is great. The setting seems ideal.
For the best NBA teams, it's anything but.
The top-four seeds in each conference should be playing in their arenas right now, with home-court advantage in the first two games of their playoff series. They'd have their fans screaming during the action and in many cases families waiting at home afterward.
Boy, do some of them miss that at the moment.
“If's definitely a difference. You can feel it,” Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton said. "There's times where we really depended on our crowd last year and during the season this year to kind of pull us out of our struggle or whatever it was. And here, there is none of that.
"We have to bring it every single night. We can't rely on our crowd, our fans to give us that energy. We have to bring it ourselves."
Milwaukee and Los Angeles, the No. 1 seeds in each conference, both bring 1-0 deficits into their games Thursday. So do the fourth-seeded Indiana Pacers, another “home” team in name only who dropped their opener against Miami.
Everyone at the bubble points out that it's the same for all of them. They've all been on this road trip for more than a month, all dealing with obstacles they never faced in another postseason.
But right now it's more hurting the teams that should be playing in front of rowdy fans, not virtual ones. The celebrities along the sidelines at Staples Center are part of an atmosphere that can make the Lakers so tough to beat at home, and the passion for basketball in Indiana means the Pacers can always count on a big backing in their arena.
And maybe it would have helped after losing if players could have done the things they like at home, instead of spending much of their time in their rooms on campus. All that time alone may even make it harder to shake off a loss than in a normal situation.
“That's case by case but personally I don't think so,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “In the playoffs, guys feel the losses, they enjoy the wins and I don't think it matters that much that we're here than elsewhere. So I'm confident in how we're going to respond.”
If they don't — and neither the Lakers nor Bucks have played well enough at Disney to make it a sure thing they will — they'll be halfway to joining the short list of No. 1 seeds to have dropped a seven-game series against a No. 8.
It hasn't happened since 2012, when Philadelphia beat Chicago. That was at the end of another unusual season, shortened to 66 games because of a lockout.
This one, following the suspension because of the coronavirus, is even more challenging.
“Now that we're in the playoffs, the focus has gone to playoff basketball, that mentality. So I think we've been able to adapt to it," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "It's certainly something we've never gone through and hope to not have to go through again, but we're here like the other teams and I think everybody is making that adjustment.”
A look at Thursday’s games:
PACERS VS. HEAT
Miami leads 1-0. Game 2, 1 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: There's not many adjustments to make after the opener with how familiar the teams are with one another. They played twice in their final three seeding games before Miami pulled away late to win Game 1 on Tuesday.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jimmy Butler. Whether it's taking big shots on offense or coming up with key stops on defense, he loves the responsibility of taking on the biggest moments in playoff games.
— INJURY WATCH: Victor Oladipo took part in the Pacers' workout Wednesday after leaving in the first quarter of the opener when he was poked in the eye. The eye has responded well and he is hopeful of playing in Game 2.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Myles Turner. With Domantas Sabonis lost to injury, the Pacers need Turner to do even more on the inside to pick up the slack. He had only nine points in the opener.
THUNDER VS. ROCKETS
Houston leads 1-0. Game 2, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets will try to keep rolling after a strong showing in the opener, when they made 20 3-pointers, scored 76 points in the middle two quarters and got 37 points from James Harden in coasting to a 123-108 victory.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Ben McLemore. He's been a good fit in the Houston offense this season and was a pivotal one while injured Russell Westbrook sat out Game 1, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points.
— INJURY WATCH: Westbrook continues to nurse a quadriceps injury.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Dennis Schroder. The Thunder guard was one of the league's top reserves this season but is still playing his way back into top form after leaving the bubble for the birth of his child. He was just 3 for 12 for six points in the opener.
MAGIC VS. BUCKS
Orlando leads 1-0. Game 2, 6 p.m. ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks played down their Game 1 loss and credited Orlando's strong play, but Milwaukee still hasn't looked like the team that rolled to the best record before the stoppage.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Middleton. His 4-for-12 opener was far from Milwaukee's biggest problem, but it's far below what the Bucks should expect from him.
— INJURY WATCH: While Orlando has been facing injuries to Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks are fully healthy. Coach Mike Budenholzer said that's causing some problems because he can't give everyone the minutes they need.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Brook Lopez. Milwaukee's center was such a key to their defense that he is talked about as a candidate to make an All-Defensive team. But he didn't enough success in Game 1 when he defended Nikola Vujecic, who scored 35 points.
TRAIL BLAZERS VS. LAKERS
Portland leads 1-0. Game 2, 9 p.m. ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: These teams are seeded No. 1 and No. 8 based on what they did over the entire season, but there is no such difference in the bubble. The Blazers are 8-2 at Disney, while the Lakers are now 3-6.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Lakers' lineup. Vogel said he believes in adjusting when necessary and may decide the Lakers need more speed on the floor and go smaller.
— INJURY WATCH: Rajon Rondo practiced again Wednesday after being cleared to return following right thumb surgery and if his conditioning is good enough, the Lakers could use him against Portland's backcourt.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Lakers' guards. Nobody expects them to outplay Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but they can't afford to be as bad as they were in Game 1, when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 0 for 9, Danny Green 4 for 12 and Alex Caruso 1 for 6.
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