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Can Jazz slow down Warriors’ juggernaut in Game 3?

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP)– So far, the Golden State Warriors have lived up to expectations that they would be a postseason juggernaut.

The two-time defending Western Conference champions have not yet tasted defeat in the NBA playoffs. They also have not faced much of a challenge offensively or defensively in their first six games.

Golden State took a 2-0 lead over the Utah Jazz in their Western Conference semifinal series after leading wire-to-wire yet again in a 115-104 victory on Thursday night. Utah will try to get itself back into the series in Game 3 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

The Warriors have displayed a knack for pouncing on Utah early and quickly digging a hole too deep for the Jazz to climb out of.

Utah endured slow first-quarter starts in Game 1 and Game 2. A second straight slow start on Thursday crippled efforts by the Jazz to rally. They fell behind 33-15 at the end of the first quarter and managed to cut the deficit to six in the fourth quarter before running out of gas.

The Warriors never lost the lead, but Utah forced them to sweat for a while late in the game.

“It wasn’t easy,” Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said. “We felt it. We know we can play better. We broke down in a lot of areas where we should have been better. But in the same breath too, we did some nice things. We had 33 assists. We held them to five offensive rebounds. And at the end of the day we got the (win).”

Even while falling short, the Jazz feel they learned a formula for solving the first quarter jinx in Game 3.

Utah came out strong after halftime. The Jazz attacked the rim more frequently instead of settling for contested jumpers on each possession. They forced turnovers and turned a potential blowout into a tighter affair.

“After we got blitzed there in the first quarter — once we settled in — we kind of figured it out a little bit,” forward Gordon Hayward said. “We figured out how to get into the paint and get some shots for ourselves and some better looks. Our spacing was a lot better. We’re going to have to try to take that and move forward with it.”

Hayward played the biggest role in bringing Utah back. He scored 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting after going 4 of 15 from the field in the series opener.

His contributions provided added value with starting point guard George Hill sidelined because of a sore toe. Hill is still day-to-day heading into Saturday.

“You’re not going to have big windows,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You got to take advantage of them. I thought he was more aggressive as the game went on, taking his shot and making quick decisions.”

Golden State has excelled at playing efficient offense in both games against Utah. The Warriors dished out 33 assists on 42 field goals on Thursday after notching 32 assists on 40 baskets in the series opener. They have shot 49.1 percent from the field through two games.

Four different players are averaging in double figures for the Warriors in the series. Stephen Curry is leading the way with 22.5 points per game.

Defensively, Golden State has forced 14.5 turnovers per game and is averaging 22 points off of turnovers.

The only time the Warriors looked vulnerable on Thursday was when they got away from the formula that works well for them. Lapses on a few possessions on both ends of the court caused some tense moments, something Golden State wants to shore up heading into Game 3.

“We kind of lost our focus there a little bit,” forward Draymond Green said. “We turned the ball over, had defensive breakdowns. Just didn’t stay locked in. We got to do a better job of that, especially on the road. If you’re able to get a lead, you got to try to put the game away.”

Green tweaked his left knee in Game 2 and left for a short time before returning in the fourth quarter. He is listed as probable for Saturday.

Utah was 29-12 at home during the regular season but lost two of its three home games in the first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.