James, Lakers facing elimination Saturday. Magic, Pelicans and Heat seek home wins

Fri, Apr 26, 2024
NBA News (AP)

James, Lakers facing elimination Saturday. Magic, Pelicans and Heat seek home wins

Nikola Jokic moved LeBron James out of the way as they battled for a rebound, grabbed the ball, got fouled and scored off the putback.

And all James could do was turn his palms skyward, as if to ask "what else can I do?"

That sequence in the third quarter of Game 3 of the first-round NBA playoff series between Jokic's Denver Nuggets and James' Los Angeles Lakers basically sums up the series. James has done his part. The Nuggets have just been better.

There's a quadrupleheader of playoff games in the NBA on Saturday - Cleveland at Orlando, Oklahoma City at New Orleans, Boston at Miami and then the first possible elimination game of this opening round when Denver takes a 3-0 series lead into L.A. to try and sweep the Lakers for a second straight season.

"It's one game at a time at this point, and you lose, you go home," James said. "You come out with the mindset, let's get one, force a Game 5 and then we'll go from there. So, as long as you still have life, then you always have belief."

The top-seeded Thunder can put the Pelicans in a 3-0 hole with a win in New Orleans on Saturday, so a sweep is still possible there. But the two East series that take the floor Saturday won't be sweeps: Orlando got Game 3 over Cleveland to cut that deficit to 2-1, and Miami got Game 2 in Boston to tie the latest installment of that rivalry.

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"We're going to fight. We're going to give ourselves a chance," Heat forward Kevin Love said. We're going to have a good game plan. We're going to pivot and figure things out. We're going to keep doing what's right, making the right play. ... You can never, ever count us out."

Celtics forward Kristaps Porzingis said Miami benefitted from feeling no pressure as a No. 8 seed.

"I think it's easier for them to play in a way because they are the eighth seed," Porzingis said. "The way they were shooting the ball, the freedom they were shooting the ball with the other night ... they all felt super-free."

Cleveland's 38-point loss on Thursday was its biggest of the season; the Cavs lost by 37 and 33 to Miami in the regular season.

"Lesson learned," Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "We'll be better on Saturday."


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

- NEED TO KNOW: Cleveland and Orlando have played seven times this season and six have been decided by at least 10 points. The other was a seven-point Magic win. Home teams are 5-2 in those seven games, and somehow, despite all the blowouts - a 38-point win for Orlando in Game 3, a 27-point win for Cleveland in the regular season - the average score of a game between these two this season is Cavs 104, Magic 103.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Rebounding. Orlando dominated Game 3, outrebounding the Cavs 51-32 after Cleveland totally controlled the boards in Games 1 and 2.

- INJURY WATCH: Cleveland's Dean Wade (knee) has been ruled out for the rest of Round 1 and Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell also had his knee - an issue for weeks - in ice after Game 3.

- PRESSURE IS ON: Orlando. Can't go down 3-1 heading back to Cleveland. A win in Game 4 makes this series a best-of-three, and the Cavaliers might really start feeling some pressure at that point.


Oklahoma City leads 2-0. Game 3, 3:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: The Thunder are seeking their first 3-0 series lead since Round 1 of the 2013 playoffs against Houston. Since the start of the 2014 playoffs, No. 1 seeds in the Western Conference are 38-9 against No. 8 seeds and the Thunder are coming off a 32-point win in Game 2. But a reason for New Orleans to have hope - the Thunder were 1-3 in their last four road regular season games.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: The Pelicans' 3-point shooting. Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones are a combined 13 for 33 from deep in this series. The rest of the Pelicans are a combined 5 for 32.

- INJURY WATCH: New Orleans is still without Zion Williamson (hamstring).

- PRESSURE IS ON: New Orleans. The Thunder have been loose all season and that won't change with a 2-0 series lead. The Pelicans have to hit back Saturday, or else.


Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 6 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Excluding 0-0 ties to start a series, this is the fifth time in the last three years that a Heat-Celtics series has been knotted up. The teams have split their last 20 playoff meetings - average score of those games is Celtics 107, Heat 106. Miami stole home-court advantage by winning Game 2 in Boston 111-101 and making 23 3s in that game.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Boston's road success. Since May 1, 2022, the Celtics are 10-13 at home in the playoffs and 69-13 at home in the regular season - a baffling discrepancy. On the road in that span, the Celtics are 12-7 in playoff games and 5-2 at Miami. That should give the Celtics tons of confidence.

- INJURY WATCH: The Heat are without Jimmy Butler (knee), Terry Rozier (neck) and Josh Richardson (shoulder).

- PRESSURE IS ON: Miami, oddly enough. The eighth-seeded Heat were the longest of long shots entering this series, and now have a chance to put Boston in a bit of trouble. Miami wasn't great at home this season and can atone here for some of the games it let get away.


Denver leads 3-0. Game 4, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ABC

- NEED TO KNOW: There hasn't been an instance of one team sweeping another in back-to-back seasons since 2017 and 2018, when James and the Cavaliers did that to Toronto. And now it's on James and the Lakers to try to keep that from happening. The Lakers have tied a franchise record with seven consecutive playoff losses (all to Denver), and the Nuggets are an absurd 13-1 in their last 14 playoff games (6-0 on the road in that span).

- KEEP AN EYE ON: The 3-point line. The teams combined to shoot 10 for 55 on 3s in Game 3, the second-worst showing in a game this year (Charlotte and Portland shot 10 for 56 on Feb. 25). Out of the last 6,229 NBA games over the last five years or so, only one had fewer 3s than Nuggets-Lakers did on Thursday (a Suns-Clippers game had only nine on June 26, 2021).

- INJURY WATCH: Denver lost reserve guard Reggie Jackson to a sprained ankle late in the third quarter of Game 3. He's averaged 8.3 minutes off the bench in the series.

- PRESSURE IS ON: Obviously, the Lakers, but it's more than in the on-court sense. The second the Lakers' season ends, all the talk will become about James' future and where he'll play going forward. Most guys wouldn't turn down a $51.4 million player option, but James - already a billionaire - certainly could.


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TIM REYNOLDS Reynolds is the national basketball writer for The Associated Press. He's based in Miami, has covered the Heat since 2003 and has covered every Winter and Summer Olympics since 2002. twitter mailto "
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