Trail Blazers, Knicks top list of upset specials

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There are things we know about this year’s NBA playoffs. The beer in Madison Square Garden will be too expensive. Lakers fans will blame any loss of their team on the referees. Derrick Rose will dominate Indiana and some will claim that as further proof of his deserving the MVP.

And some higher seed is going to get upset in the first round.

The NBA does not (nor will it ever) have NFL-style parity, but there are just too many good teams on the bottom half of the standings this season for one not to rise up and smack down a higher seed. It’s going to happen.

So who is it going to be?

The usual bet is the four-five seed matchup, but not this year. Atlanta is going to put up a better fight than they did last year against Orlando, but to believe in that upset is to believe Jason Collins can best Dwight Howard for four out of seven games. I’m not on board there. As for Denver, they have been special and fun since the trade, out working everybody and sharing the ball on offense. Problem is, the Thunder have similar strengths and better players. Denver will make them work, but OKC will pull away like they did in the last two meetings between these two teams.

No, the potential upsets are the three/six seed matchups. The Knicks and the Trail Blazers have a real shot to advance.

The Knicks have a puncher’s chance in this series. They are not the better team, they are not deeper, they are not anywhere near as committed to their system as the Celtics. Shaq or no Shaq, Boston is superior.

But the Knicks have two guys who can simply take over games and win them single handedly — and they are in a system that gives them the freedom to do that. Boston players will have a hand in the face of Carmelo Anthony all series, but there is no better shooter of contested shots in the league (well, maybe Dirk Nowitzki, but it’s close). Anthony is fully capable of putting up 40+ with that hand in his face and winning a game. At some point in the series Amar’e Stoudemire may shake free of Kevin Garnett and take over a game himself.

Then there is the Knicks secret weapon in Chauncey Billups — his steady hand has long proven to be a big playoff asset. He does not get rattled, he’s seen it all before.

What the Knicks also have with Billups and Anthony is two of the best guys at game winning shots around. If the Knicks can keep it close, so it comes down to a one-possession game, they have serious closers. They’d have a real puncher’s chance because they have the guys that can land the haymaker.

It’s not going to be easy — but it is going to be entertaining. But maybe, just maybe if the Celtics late regular season struggles carry over to the playoffs, the Knicks can shock the world. And give Spike Lee the idea for a new documentary.

The sexy upset pick — and we picked it as well — is Portland to beat Dallas.

There are a couple of reasons why. The trade deadline acquisition by Portland of Gerald Wallace is a key one — a lot of fans don’t realize just how good this guy is. Dirk Nowitzki does, and he knows Wallace will be draped on him all series. And make him work on the defensive end. Wallace is not flashy but the guy is good at everything and works harder than everyone. He’s a monster.

Another reason is LaMarcus Aldridge — he averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season. He will occupy Tyson Chandler’s time and may lead to Chandler in foul trouble. Also, Portland brings Brandon Roy off the bench now and he can win a game (as can Rudy Fernandez from three on the right night). Dallas has depth, they have Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.

Dallas was the better team over the course of the season, but the playoffs are about matchups. And Portland has some advantages there. Enough that they could pull off an upset.

And teach the lesson to Dallas one more, hard time that building for the regular season and playoffs are different.

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..