Sports Minute: Top-seeded Lakers, Bucks look to take charge in 1st round
By CLIFF BRUNTAP Sports Writer
The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks have restored some sense of normalcy to these anything-but-normal NBA playoffs.
The top-seeded teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively, lost their openers and are now looking to take control of their series. The Lakers could pull ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday and the Bucks could take the lead on the pesky Orlando Magic.
Lakers forward LeBron James has been around too long to get too worked up about one loss. He was confident the Lakers would recover from their Game 1 setback, and they looked much like their pre-pandemic selves in beating the Trail Blazers 111-88 on Thursday.
“I know what we’re capable of,” he said. “I know how we’re built. I don’t compare us to anyone. I compare us to us.”
The Lakers were fully aware of the challenge they would face against from the talented Blazers entering the series, led by All-Star guard Damian Lillard.
“This team was in the conference finals last year,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “They have the ability to be one of the best teams in the NBA. I don’t view it as an underdog matchup. They’re a heavyweight the way they play and with a player like Dame Lillard.”
Lillard dislocated the index finger on his left hand on Thursday. Portland coach Terry Stotts said Friday that Lillard received treatment throughout the day and he is expected to play with a splint.
Milwaukee bounced back from its opening loss to Orlando by rolling past the Magic 111-96 on Thursday. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 20 rebounds.
Game 1 was humbling for the team with the league’s best record. Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, said the Bucks were better focused in Game 2.
They'll need that same focus in Game 3.
A look at Saturday’s games:
PACERS VS. HEAT
Miami leads 2-0. Game 3, 3:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Heat are shooting 48.4% from the field in the series, and their balance has been a problem for the Pacers. All-Star Jimmy Butler leads the way with 23 points per game, but Goran Dragic is right behind with 22 per contest. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson both are averaging 15 points.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Robinson. The Heat sharpshooter tied the franchise record for 3-pointers made in a playoff game with seven in Thursday’s win over the Pacers.
— INJURY WATCH: Victor Oladipo. The Pacers guard continues to recover from a left eye injury he suffered in Game 1. He scored 22 points in Game 2, but he made just 5 of 14 shots.
— PRESSURE IS ON: T.J. Warren. The Pacers forward was a breakout force who averaged 31 points in the seeding games, but he’s averaging just 18 points in the two playoff games. Indiana needs more from him to have a chance.
THUNDER VS. ROCKETS
Houston leads 2-0. Game 3, 6 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets shot a playoff-record 56 3-pointers in Game 2. Houston led the NBA in 3-point attempts and makes during the regular season. Oklahoma City must take advantage when the Rockets get cold.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The second-year Thunder guard had struggled in the bubble before scoring 31 points in Game 2. Though Oklahoma City still lost, its offense looked more like normal with the team’s leading scorer bouncing back.
— INJURY WATCH: Rockets guard Russell Westbrook is nursing a right quad strain. He has not played in the series against his former team, and he has been shooting but not taking contact. Coach Mike D'Antoni said he doesn't expect him to play on Saturday.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Chris Paul. The Thunder guard has been solid statistically in the series against his former team, but at age 35, he doesn’t have many postseason chances to waste. He has blamed himself for Oklahoma City’s struggles.
MAGIC VS. BUCKS
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 1 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Bucks looked more like a No. 1 seed on Thursday, jumping on the Magic early and taking a 64-43 halftime lead en route to a 15-point win. The Magic ran out to a double-digit lead early in Game 1, so the start might be an indicator of how the game will go.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Brook Lopez. He emerged as a second scorer for the Bucks in Game 2, supporting Giannis Antetokounmpo with 20 points on 8 for 12 shooting. He might be needed again if All-Star Khris Middleton continues to struggle.
— INJURY WATCH: Orlando’s Aaron Gordon is listed as questionable with a left hamstring strain. He has not played in the playoffs. He averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds during the regular season.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Middleton. He is averaging eight points and shooting 25% from the field for the series, down from his 20.9 scoring average during the regular season.
TRAIL BLAZERS VS. LAKERS
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Lakers got a dominant performance from Anthony Davis in Game 2 -- 31 points and 11 rebounds. But as great as LeBron James and Davis have been, the rest of the Lakers may be the key. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 16 points in Game 2 and the Lakers will need that kind of consistent production.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: CJ McCollum. With Lillard possibly operating at less than 100%, McCollum will be expected to do more for Portland. He’s averaging 17 points in the series on 39% shooting.
— INJURY WATCH: Zach Collins, Rajon Rondo. Portland announced Friday that Collins has a stress fracture of his left ankle and that the forward will need season-ending surgery. Rondo, the veteran Lakers point guard, who has been out and recovering from surgery on his right thumb, could play Saturday.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Carmelo Anthony. The veteran forward’s scoring punch in the seeding games was an added bonus, but he’s averaging 6.5 points on 24% shooting against the Lakers.
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