Lakers, Bucks look to clinch second-round berths Wednesday
By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
It was only a week ago when the sky was falling on the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA’s two best teams in the regular season, the top seeds in their respective conferences, both lost their playoff openers and looked vulnerable.
Not so much now.
Order has been emphatically restored, the Bucks and Lakers are a combined 6-0 since — winning those games by an average of 15.8 points — and both teams can reach the second round of the NBA playoffs with victories on Wednesday at the Disney complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The Bucks lead the Orlando Magic 3-1; the Lakers lead the Portland Trail Blazers 3-1. The other game in Wednesday’s tripleheader is Game 5 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, that series knotted at two games apiece.
“Obviously, in Game 1, we were all disappointed in ourselves,” Milwaukee center Brook Lopez said Tuesday. “We felt we weren’t the team that we are and capable of being. Each and every game, our effort has been there since then. … The bottom line is we’ve come out and competed so much harder.”
The wake-up call helped the Lakers as well. They’ve had some of their best bubble showings since dropping Game 1, and now LeBron James has a chance to close out yet another series. James’ teams went 5-5 in his first 10 series-clinching opportunities; they’re 30-5 in those situations since.
“One thing about playing a team that’s desperate, they understand that if they lose, they go home,” James said. “So, we’ve got to be just as desperate as they are.”
A look at Wednesday’s games:
MAGIC VS. BUCKS
Milwaukee leads 3-1. Game 5, 4 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
— NEED TO KNOW: If the Bucks win, the Eastern Conference first round would be completed in just 17 games. That would be the fastest opening round, in either conference, since the league went to the best-of-seven format in 2003. The East needed 19 games to get through Round 1 in 2002 — when best-of-five first rounds were still played.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic has three 30-point games already in this series. The only other Orlando players to do that were Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. No Magic player has four 30-point nights in the same series.
— INJURY WATCH: Orlando F Aaron Gordon (strained left hamstring) is listed as questionable, after missing the first four games of the series. Magic coach Steve Clifford sounded far from certain Tuesday that Gordon would play.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Bucks. Miami is resting and waiting for the second round, where it’ll face the winner of this series. Milwaukee was great in its two series closeout opportunities last year, beating Detroit and Boston by a combined 48 points, and would benefit from a similar effort Wednesday.
THUNDER VS. ROCKETS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets have 77 3-pointers already in this series, putting them on pace to be the first team in NBA history to make 100 in a single series. The record for any series is 95, set by the Rockets in the West semifinals last season.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Oklahoma City’s defense. The Thunder are going to give up 3s; everyone does against the Rockets. But in the two Houston wins, Oklahoma City forced 14 turnovers. In the two Oklahoma City wins, the Thunder forced 30 turnovers.
— INJURY WATCH: Houston G Russell Westbrook (quad) has missed the first four games, and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Tuesday that he remains listed as day-to-day.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Everybody. It’s 2-2. The margin for error is razor-thin for both sides now.
TRAIL BLAZERS VS. LAKERS
Lakers lead 3-1. Game 5, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: LeBron James’ teams are 13-0 all-time in first-round series, on the cusp now of making that 14-0 and getting the Lakers to the second round for the first time since 2012. James has walked off a winner in 57 of his 68 career first-round games; Cleveland went 36-8 with him in those, Miami went 16-2.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Lakers G Danny Green. He was 3 for 4 from 3-point range in Game 4, suggesting he might be in a rhythm. Green isn’t a volume scorer — his last 50 playoff games, all of them starts, haven’t resulted in a single 20-point effort — but if teams must guard him more closely everything will get a lot easier for the Lakers.
— INJURY WATCH: Portland G Damian Lillard (right knee) was getting an MRI on Tuesday, the results of which could have an enormous impact on the Blazers’ hopes of pulling off a comeback in the series.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Lakers. With the Houston-Oklahoma City series certain to last until at least Friday, the Lakers are playing for rest and preparation time right now. Ending this in five games ensures they won’t play again until at least Sunday.
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