The fourth and final second round series finally got underway Friday night, and the trio of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon combined to deliver Houston an emphatic win over the top-seeded Lakers. And in the East the top seed is on the ropes, as Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the Heat dropped the Bucks into a 3-0 hole. No team in NBA history has ever won a series when trailing 3-0, so the odds aren’t in Milwaukee’s favor.
Heat 115, Bucks 100 (Miami leads, 3-0)
As has been the case throughout this series, Jimmy Butler was front and center in leading the Heat to a win. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, four more than the Bucks as a team, and finished with 30 to go along with seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 35 minutes. He and Bam Adebayo (20/16/3/2 blocks) were dominant in their respective matchups, with Jae Crowder (17/4/5 with five 3-pointers), Goran Dragic (15/5/3/2/1 with three 3-pointers) and Tyler Herro (13/8/3 with two 3-pointers) also scoring in double figures.
Miami’s rotation was down a player, as Kelly Olynyk was held out due to a knee injury. His absence meant a few minutes for Meyers Leonard, who played nine and accounted for two assists, but this was a game in which Erik Spoelstra relied primarily on six players. All five starters and Herro played at least 30 minutes, with Kendrick Nunn getting 12 and Andre Iguodala (ankle) 11. Derrick Jones Jr. absorbed the other minutes made available by Olynyk’s absence, shooting 2-of-2 from three and scoring six points with one blocked shot in six minutes.
Jones Jr. and Leonard would likely be in line for another minutes split should Olynyk miss Game 4, which does neither any favors from a fantasy standpoint. There’s no reason to use either in any DFS format.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (21/16/9/1/2) finished one assist shy of a triple-double but this was not a great game for him, as he shot 7-of-21 from the field and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. A 63.1 percent shooter inside of the arc during the regular season, Giannis has made just 51.2 percent of those attempts in this series. Miami has effectively walled off the area around the basket, and with Antetokounmpo having a shaky perimeter shot that percentage drop has been an issue. He also tweaked his right ankle during the first quarter, and despite saying after the game that it was no issue Antetokounmpo was seen leaving the arena with a noticeable limp.
Khris Middleton (18/3/7/2/1 with two 3-pointers) was also held in check, while Brook Lopez (22/6/1 steal/2 blocks with three 3-pointers) led the team in scoring. It’s worth noting that despite the Bucks’ season effectively being on the line Antetokounmpo played 35 minutes and Middleton 36, and Mike Budenholzer explained his reasoning after the game.
“Obviously, it’s 48 minutes. You gotta be good for the last 12,” Budenholzer said. “If anything, I think keeping us fresh and ready to go and compete and all those things and Khris was in a little bit of foul trouble. You know, it’s a high level. If you’re going as hard as these guys are in a playoff game, 35, 36 (minutes), I think that’s pushing the ceiling.”
As long as Antetokounmpo and Middleton are healthy and avoid foul trouble, they should play at least 40 minutes Sunday as Milwaukee’s season is on the line. Anything less would be problematic.
Wesley Matthews played just 21 minutes, and he wasn’t on the floor down the stretch as Butler led Miami to the win. After Matthews checked out with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth, Butler tallied ten points and two assists. Three Bucks reserves played at least 21 minutes, with George Hill (13/2/2 with one 3-pointer) playing 31 minutes, Marvin Williams (2/9/2/1) 22 and Donte DiVincenzo (10/2/1 steal with two 3-pointers) 21. Hill and DiVincenzo are worth considering as cheap DFS options for Game 4, but I’m not expecting much from either beyond what they were able to provide Friday night.
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Rockets 112, Lakers 97 (Houston leads, 1-0)
Like Denver, Houston was beginning its second round series with just one day off after an emotional Game 7. Unlike the Nuggets, who were blown out by the Clippers Thursday night, the Rockets took control of their game against the Lakers in the fourth quarter. A big question entering this series was how would Houston match up with the Lakers defensively, and they began the game with Eric Gordon guarding LeBron James and P.J. Tucker on Anthony Davis. Both Gordon and Tucker more than held their own, and the former also chipped in with 23 points, three rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 34 minutes. Tucker finished with a line of six points, nine rebounds, one assist, two steals and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes.
James Harden (36/2/5/2/1 with three 3-pointers) and Russell Westbrook (24/9/6/1 with one 3-pointer) did most of the heavy lifting offensively, with Austin Rivers (10/3/1 with two 3-pointers in 16 minutes) also scoring in double figures. Houston went eight deep but they did lose a player, as Danuel House did not return after taking an inadvertent shot to the face from Tucker during the third quarter. House played 20 minutes on the night, and it’s likely that his minutes would be absorbed by Rivers and Jeff Green (7/4/2/3 with one 3-pointer in 24 minutes) should he have to miss additional time. Ben McLemore checked into Friday’s game before Rivers did in the first quarter, but that didn’t mean much as he played a grand total of four minutes on the night.
Davis (25/14/1/3/3 with one 3-pointer) and James (20/8/7/2 blocks and two 3-pointers) paced the Lakers offensively, but in the case of the latter this was not a particularly good night. James was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, and with just under three minutes remaining the Lakers’ two stars departed the game for good. The one change to the rotation was the return of Rajon Rondo, who was making his debut in the bubble after missing time due to thumb and back injuries. Rondo played 25 minutes off the bench, tallying eight points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers.
He and Kyle Kuzma (8/2/1 with one 3-pointer in 28 minutes) were the first reserves off the bench, with Rondo stepping into the rotation spot formerly occupied by Alex Caruso. Caruso played 16 minutes but put up a solid stat line, scoring 14 points with two rebounds, four assists, one steal and two 3-pointers. I’d lead Rondo when assessing the potential impact of the two from a fantasy standpoint due to the minutes distribution, but I’m not ready to give up on Caruso, either. Danny Green (10/2/1 block with two 3-pointers) shot just 4-of-12 from the field and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also struggled, shooting 2-of-8 on the night and putting up a line of five points, three rebounds, one steal and one 3-pointer.
Something else to watch with the Lakers in this series will be how the center position is handled. JaVale McGee played 13 minutes and Dwight Howard 11, but neither was particularly effective. McGee shot 2-of-2 from the field finishing with four points, three rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot, while Howard accounted for just one points, four rebounds and one steal. Frank Vogel hasn’t hesitated to use Davis at the center position this season, especially in crunch time, but the matchups may dictate him having to use this approach even more against the Rockets.