Health issues nag Sixers, Clippers and Bucks as they try to erase 2-1 deficits in the NBA playoffs

Sat, Apr 27, 2024
NBA News (AP)

Health issues nag Sixers, Clippers and Bucks as they try to erase 2-1 deficits in the NBA playoffs

Health issues hang over the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, with all three teams trailing 2-1 in their first-round playoff series going into their respective Game 4s on Sunday.

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns are mostly healthy but facing elimination after falling behind Minnesota 3-0. No NBA team has recovered from that deficit to win a series.

Joel Embiid scored 50 points as the 76ers got their first victory against the New York Knicks in Game 3, but the reigning MVP played with a bulky brace on his surgically repaired left knee while revealing after the game he is dealing with lingering symptoms of Bell's palsy, a form of facial paralysis.

Kawhi Leonard acknowledged after the Clippers' 101-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks that his balky right knee didn't respond well coming out of Game 2, his first appearance in more than three weeks.

The Bucks are still waiting for the debut of Giannis Antetokounmpo (left calf strain) in their series against Indiana, and star guard Damian Lillard aggravated an Achilles tendon injury after earlier dealing with a knee issue in a Game 3 loss in overtime to the Pacers.

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Khris Middleton scored a playoff career-high 42 points, including a tying 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left in regulation, after missing practice a day earlier with a sprained right ankle.

Lillard, who was clearly limping at times in Game 3, was in a walking boot Saturday and underwent an MRI to determine the extent of the Achilles damage.

Bucks coach Doc Rivers said Saturday it was "not looking good" for Lillard and that he doubted Antetokounmpo would be cleared to play following a pregame workout.

"We're taking a lot of hits right now injury-wise, and our guys are hanging in there," Rivers said after the Game 3 loss. "Dame goes out, we think he's out, he comes back and says, 'I don't have much, but I'll go.' Khris, we didn't think was playing. So proud of this team."

KNICKS AT 76ERS

New York leads 2-1. Game 4, 1 p.m. EDT, ABC

- NEED TO KNOW: The 76ers got the Game 3 victory they needed to give themselves a shot at winning the series. The 76ers are home, where they won a play-in tournament game against Miami and then beat the Knicks. Philadelphia scored 43 points in the third quarter, the most it has posted in a playoff quarter since a franchise-record 51 in the third against Brooklyn in 2019.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Embiid was 13 of 19 from the floor, made 19 of 21 free throws and hit five 3-pointers in the Game 3 victory. Embiid, who scored a franchise-best 70 points against San Antonio in January, became the first player in NBA history to score 50 points on fewer than 20 shots in a playoff game.

-- INJURY WATCH: Again, Embiid. He has one good eye, one good leg, and one transcendent postseason performance. Embiid says the Bell's palsy has affected him since before the play-in tournament, and he doesn't have a timetable on a complete recovery. New York's Mitchell Robinson, a valuable defender against Embiid, sprained his left ankle in Game 3 and left the arena in a boot.

- PRESSURE IS ON: The Villanova trio. Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo are the three former Villanova Wildcats who carried the Knicks in the first two games at Madison Square Garden. Brunson did lead the Knicks with 39 points and 13 assists in Game 3 after shooting poorly in the first two. Hart - whose spectacular 3-point shooting in New York was an unexpected bonus for the Knicks - scored 20 points but DiVincenzo had five.

CLIPPERS AT MAVERICKS

Dallas leads 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC

- NEED TO KNOW: Dallas is winning with defense, having held the Clippers under 100 points in consecutive victories. The Mavs kept the opponent under triple digits in back-to-back games just once in the regular season. Luka Doncic's 22 points in Game 3 were the fewest in the superstar's 14 playoff victories with Dallas. The Clippers have been at their best in this series when James Harden is connecting from 3-point range. Their biggest lead in Game 3 was seven early in the second quarter, after the last of Harden's four 3s in a three-minute span. The 10-time All-Star didn't hit another from long range until LA was down 19 early in the fourth quarter.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Leonard's knee didn't respond well after two full days off. Now the 32-year-old has to come back on shorter rest. The seven shot attempts were Leonard's fewest in a playoff game in 10 years. "Frustrating that it happened to me this late in the season," said Leonard, adding he intended to play Sunday. "We're going to keep going. We're going to get it right."

- INJURY WATCH: Dallas is likely to be without G Tim Hardaway Jr. again because of a sprained ankle. Daniel Gafford had a strong showing to boost the Dallas defense but has a lingering back issue.

- PRESSURE IS ON: With Leonard clearly hampered by the knee injury, Paul George will have to be much better than he was in Game 3. He was saddled with foul trouble when the Mavericks retook control of the game late in the third quarter and ended up with just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. The nine-time All-Star was 1 of 6 from 3 in the first playoff game together for George and Leonard in which neither reached double figures.

BUCKS AT PACERS

Indiana leads 2-1. Game 4, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Indiana has won six of the eight meetings against Milwaukee this season and has done it, in part, by flipping the script. The NBA's third-worst rebounding team during the regular season has outrebounded Milwaukee in seven straight contests, with its per-game average jumping from 41.5 to 48.3 in the playoffs.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Milwaukee's midseason acquisition of G Patrick Beverley could prove especially valuable with all the injury issues. The 35-year-old averaged 2.6 assists and 0.6 turnovers after joining the Bucks and could be asked to shoulder a heavier burden.

- INJURY WATCH: Playing without Antetokounmpo and Lillard in a meaningful game would be new for the Bucks. The only such instance in the regular season was a 125-107 loss at Oklahoma City in the second-to-last game.

- PRESSURE IS ON: After his playoff career high, Middleton may have to do even more to avoid the Bucks being on the brink of a third consecutive postseason disappointment after winning the 2021 title.

TIMBERWOLVES AT SUNS

Minnesota leads 3-0. Game 4, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Anthony Edwards scored 36 points in a 126-109 victory as the Wolves dominated a third straight game in what's become a lopsided series. The Suns had title hopes with the All-Star trio of Durant, Booker and Bradley Beal, but the club's three-year run of winning at least one series is in jeopardy.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Wolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter of Game 3, helping turn a tight game into another blowout. He's averaging more than 14 points per game off the bench, six more than in the regular season.

- INJURY WATCH: Suns guard Grayson Allen missed Game 3 after spraining his right ankle in the series opener and aggravating the injury in Game 2. Phoenix has missed the NBA leader in 3-point shooting percentage from the regular season. There is hope Allen will be available Sunday.

- PRESSURE IS ON: Suns coach Frank Vogel. The veteran coach might be one-and-done with the franchise after being hand-picked by owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones. Vogel has struggled to win with this top-heavy roster, and the Suns might be looking for a different voice again.

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AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Dan Gelston and Michael Marot contributed to this story.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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