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The Lakers handled the Suns for a 2-1 lead as Chris Paul continues to fight through his shoulder injury, the Nuggets took a 2-1 lead on the Blazers and the Bucks thumped the lifeless Heat once again to take a 3-0 lead in their series on Thursday night.
Lakers 109, Suns 95 – Anthony Davis came as advertised again with 34 points, 11 rebounds, a steal and a block on 11-of-22 shooting and hit 12-of-14 free throws as the Lakers easily beat the Suns and took a 2-1 lead in the series. Davis didn’t hit a 3-pointer, but looks to be in top form just in time for the heart of the playoffs. LeBron James added 21 points, six boards, nine dimes, a steal and a 3-pointers on 9-of-19 shooting, and Dennis Schroder added 20 points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and a 3-pointer on 6-of-11 shooting. Those are really the only three Lakers you need to worry about, although Kyle Kuzma also came through with eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two 3-poiners, despite hitting just 2-of-12 shots on the night. Schroder took a hard foul from Devin Booker and hit the ground hard late in the game, but looks to be fine. And LeBron looked a little more engaged tonight as he continues to fight back from his sprained right ankle. The Lakers are cookin’ and the Suns are in trouble, especially with Chris Paul hurting.
For the Suns, CP3 made it through 27 minutes and hit just 3-of-8 shots for seven points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal in the loss, and it’s pretty clear he’s having trouble in all facets of his game, including shooting, passing and dribbling. Paul appeared to aggravate his right shoulder injury in the fourth quarter and while he’ll likely continue to play through it, especially since the Suns are just two games away from elimination, it’s hard to see him being himself again against the Lakers. Honestly, I would have held him out of Games 2 & 3 and given the Lakers those games in hopes that Paul would be fully healthy for Game 4, but I’m not an NBA coach or executive, clearly. Maybe if Hawks’ coach Nate McMillan were CP3’s coach, Paul would just be getting ready to re-enter the fray with six full days of rest, as McMillan is the most conservative playoff coach in the history of the NBA. But, unfortunately, he coaches the Hawks and a healthy 22-year-old Trae Young, whom he treats like an old man. And yes, I’m aware of my ridiculous homer bias when it comes to some of my takes. But, McMillan might have actually rested Paul in Games 2 and 3 against the Lakers, and that makes a lot more sense to me than him keeping Trae on the bench as long as he did with the game on the line in Game 2 for the Hawks against the Knicks.
Deandre Ayton was money once again, hitting 11-of-15 shots for 22 points, 11 rebounds, a steal and two blocks, Devin Booker hit just 6-of-19 shots and one 3-pointer for 19 points, four rebounds and six assists, Cameron Payne added 15 points, six assists, four steals and three 3-pointers off the bench, and Torrey Craig had 11 points, four boards and three 3-pointers in just 15 minutes. LeBron looked like he had an issue with Jae Crowder last night and put him in the blender a couple times and Crowder and Booker were ejected late for shady fouls and trash talking. The Lakers are clearly in the heads of the Suns and with CP3 hurting, it looks like this series is probably over. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see a fully healthy CP3 going against the Lakers in this series. As for Ayton, he looks like a different player in the playoffs and has now hit 32-of-39 shots and is averaging 21.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks with three double-doubles in three games of this series so far. I feel sorry for the Suns and their fans that Paul is not going to be 100 percent in this series.
Nuggets 120, Blazers 115 – MVP-to-be Nikola Jokic hit 12-of-24 shots, four 3-pointers and 8-of-8 free throws for 36 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the Nuggets to a win over the Blazers to give Denver a 2-1 lead in the series. Austin Rivers, who was last seen sitting on his couch and awaiting a call from the NBA, started and hit 7-of-14 shots and five 3-pointers for 21 points, four rebounds, two assists and a block in 37 minutes. And Michael Porter Jr. (15 points, three 3-pointers), Aaron Gordon (13 points), and ‘my man’ Facundo Campazzo (11 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 2 3-pointers) came through as the Nuggets got a big win in Portland. The Nuggets regained homecourt advantage tonight and may never look back. I was one of the few NBA ‘pundits’ who didn’t write off the Nuggets when Jamal Murray went down and the emergence of Rivers and the stellar play/hustle of Campazzo have simply been a blast for us to watch. Monte Morris added eight points, five boards, five assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in 25 minutes off the bench and it feels (to me) like the Nuggets are now going to win this series.
Damian Lillard hit 15-of-31 shots for 37 points, five assists and five triples, C.J. McCollum had 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and three 3-pointers and Norman Powell added 18 points, four boards, two assists, a steal, two blocks and two 3-pointers on 8-of-14 shooting, but it simply wasn’t enough against Jokic and company. Jusuf Nurkic had 13 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a block before fouling out with five minutes left in the game, which was a key in the Nuggets’ win. Carmelo Anthony scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, but was the only Blazer to contribute much off the bench. Robert Covington, who has drawn the ire of fantasy managers everywhere this season, had six points, 11 boards, four assists, a steal and a block, but hit just 3-of-9 shots in the loss. The Blazers aren’t dead just yet, but the Nuggets hold home-court and are in the driver’s seat. Denver, even without their starting point guard, appears to be the better team.
Bucks 113, Heat 84 – I don’t even want to write this one up. It’s 3:15 in the morning and this series is a joke. Giannis Antetokounmpo needed just 33 minutes (two fewer than 22-year-old Trae Young) for 17 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and a steal on 6-of-12 shooting for the Bucks to blitz the Heat for the third straight game. Khris Middleton led the way with 22 points, eight boards, five dimes and three 3-pointers, Jrue Holiday added 19 points, 12 assists and two 3-pointers on 7-of-10 shooting, and Brook Lopez added 13 points, five boards and two blocks in the blowout win. Bobby Portis had 11 points and nine boards in 17 minutes off the bench and Bryn Forbes connected for three 3-pointers for 11 points, also off the bench. The Bucks are simply awaiting the winner of the Nets-Celtics series, which is about as exciting as this one. The Winner of the Bucks-Nets series will likely take the East, although I’m not ready to count out the Sixers, who basically have gotten a first-round bye against the Wizards.
For the Heat, Jimmy Butler hit 7-of-17 shots for 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and two 3-pointers, Bam Adebayo added 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block, and Nemanja Bjelica (really?) hit three 3-pointers for 14 points. Yep, those were the only Heat players to score in double figures. Starter Goran Dragic hit 3-of-14 shots for eight points, starter Duncan Robinson was 1-of-6 for two points and starter Trevor Ariza was 0-of-4 for zero points in the loss. The Heat look a lot like the Celtics, and the two teams appear to be in a foot race to see who can reach Cancun first. The Heat are going to win that race, as they’ll be eliminated in Saturday’s Game 4, while the Celtics will have to wait until Sunday to go fishing. That’s a tough break in the NBA’s version of the Amazing Race, but maybe the Celtics can get lucky and catch an Express Pass, or some other form of help in order to reach the beach before the Heat. I’m just psyched that I may not be forced to watch another Heat, Celtics or Wizards game this season.