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Five Things to Watch on Playoff Saturday: Will Damian Lillard find his jump shot?

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You can tell we are getting into the serious part of playoff series because the games are starting to get a little chippy. Expect more of that Saturday (and hopefully the referees let them play a little). He’s what to keep your eye on.

1) Back home in Portland, will Damian Lillard find his shot? And C.J. McCollum, too? 
Through the first two games against the Clippers, Lillard has averaged 19 points a game on 33.3 percent shooting, and 21.4 percent from three (down from 25.1 ppg on 41.9 and 37.5 percent in the regular season). Just check out his playoff shot chart.

Lillard shotchart

Add to that, C.J. McCollum is averaging 12.5 points a game on 32.1 percent shooting through two games. The Clippers are trapping and being aggressive, but after Game 2 Lillard owned up to just missing the clean looks they do get.

“Our coaching staff did a great job of watching film and putting myself and C.J. in different positions where they couldn’t really take a lot away from us,” Lillard said. “I just got to make the shots. I think that’s what it comes down to.”

We could talk about Portland’s need to play better defense on the Clippers guards, or pick-and-roll coverages, or a host of other potential adjustments, but unless the Blazers’ guard duo that carried them all season starts to deal better with the aggressive Clippers’ defense and hit their shots, it’s all moot. Lillard had better find his shot in Portland fast, or the Blazers will go down 0-3 and can start making tee times for next week.

2) Can Oklahoma City keep the pace up and run past the Mavericks? In the two Oklahoma City blowout wins in this series, the games averaged 97.9 possessions per game. The one loss it was 94.  In addition to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook knocking down their open looks (and Mavs fans should expect they will), the other determining factor in this series has been pace. Oklahoma City has the better, younger athletes and wants to get out and run. That isn’t brain surgery. If the pace is up again it will be easy buckets for the Thunder and another win, Dallas’ only hope is a slow, grinding game.

3) Can the Hornets overcome the loss of Nicolas Batum? The loss of Batum to a sprained ankle hits the Hornets where it hurts. (Where exactly do you hit a hornet to make it hurt?) They are going to miss his defense as an option to contain Dwyane Wade. They are going to miss his ability to hit the three and be a secondary playmaker on the offensive end. Coach Steve Clifford will either move Frank Kaminsky or Jeremy Lin into the starting lineup, but both are going to have to have big games for the Hornets to have a chance. I expect Courtney Lee will now draw the Wade assignment and he has to have a big game — Wade has averaged 22 points a game so far. Charlotte also has to do better dealing with the size of the Heat (which is why maybe the 7-footer Kaminsky gets the start). Charlotte was a much better team at home than on the road this season, they will need every bit of that — and a huge game from Kemba Walker — to avoid going down 0-3 in this series and it being all but over.

4) Can the Indiana Pacers contain Jonas Valanciunas? In Game 3 you can say that Valanciunas, battling foul trouble, wasn’t as big a factor with nine points and 14 rebounds — but he was +16. For the series, the Raptors are outscoring the Pacers by 3.9 points per 100 possessions when Valanciunas is on the court. Ian Mahinmi did better in Game 3, but the Pacers need to be able to contain him and Luis Scola on the boards (especially offensive) and make the Raptors bigs work harder on the defensive end. I wonder if Frank Vogel will start rookie Myles Turner (as he did in the second half of Game 3). For all his rookie mental lapses, Turner brings some offense and energy the Pacers need if this series is going to head back to Toronto 2-2. The Pacers need to handle the Raptors’ size.

5) Can somebody give Paul George a little help here? DeMarre Carroll had his best game by far these playoffs in Game 3, and it’s no coincidence that George was just 6-of-19 shooting in that game. George is still going to have to do a lot (he had 25 points and six assists in Game 3) but if Carroll is bodying up the Pacers’ No. 1 option then Monta Ellis, George Hill and the rest of them need to step up and knock down more shots. The Pacers could use more minutes and a big night from C.J. Miles. Indiana just needs to find more offense and it can’t all come from George.

Miami injuries: Goran Dragic tears plantar fascia; Bam Adebayo tweaks shoulder

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The Lakers physically overwhelmed the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals — and it led to some Miami injuries that could dramatically impact the rest of the series.

Heat starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo both had to leave the game with injuries, not to return.

Dragic left the game in the first half not to return with what multiple reports have said is a torn plantar fascia. There is nothing official from the team, but this is a bad sign.

As Jeff Stotts wrote at In Street Clothes, it is possible to play through a torn plantar fascia but it is both very painful and limiting.

If he plays again this series, the Dragic that returns would be a shell of the Dragic that used his quickness to tear apart the Boston defense in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dragic’s ability to blow by his man in isolation and get into the paint helped make Miami’s offense a threat, and without this penetration they floundered against the Lakers’ length. Rookie Tyler Herro got the start in the second half for Miami Wednesday, and for the game he was -35 (tying the All-time NBA record for worst +/- with Kobe Bryant from Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals).

Another of the Miami injuries was to starting center Adebayo, who tweaked the shoulder that had bothered him in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami.

There was no update from the team (as of this writing), but Tim Reynold of the Associated Press wrote Adebayo himself expects to play.

Adebayo is crucial for the Heat — he is their best defensive rebounder and the guy they will turn to in the crunch to cover Anthony Davis. He struggled against the length and physicality in

Having Dragic and/or Adebayo out will reduce the already-slim margin for error for Miami in this series to almost zero.

“We’re still expecting to win. We still know that we can,” Jimmy Butler said of the Heat mindset after the game. “Like I said earlier, we want [Dragic] out there with us. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, but until we can have him back, we got to go out there and we got to fight even harder. We got to try to cover up what he gives us and make up for it. We’re capable of it. We have to be capable of it. Moving forward with or without Goran we better hurry up and tie it up 1-1.”

The NBA continues its fast pace of games in the Bubbe: Game 2 of the NBA Finals is Friday night. Less than 48 hours away

 

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.