Three Things to Know: Who is in more trouble, Bucks or Lakers?

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Day 2 of the NBA playoffs were all about the upsets — two eight seeds beat two No. 1 seeds. Welcome to the upside-down bubble. But which top seed is in real trouble? Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) The Lakers are danger zone because Blazers, Lillard are that good

After a disappointing Game 1 loss — which followed right in line with a disappointing eight seeding games — the Lakers can rightly say, “we’re better shooters than this.” As a team the Lakers shot 5-of-32 from three (15.6%) in Game 1, and Lakers not named LeBron James shot 32.5%. That was not about Portland’s defense — which was third-worst in the bubble, and fourth-worst in the regular season before that — it was about the Lakers literally shooting hit-the-side-of-the-backboard badly.

The Lakers are in a real danger zone because Damian Lillard can do this every night.

Portland should scare Los Angeles. The Lakers are in trouble because they have little margin for error in this matchup. This is no typical 1-8 matchup for the Lakers, they don’t have the luxury of coasting through and get their legs under them. With Jusuf Nurkic back in the rotation and CJ McCollum moving better than a guy with a fractured back has a right to, this is the core of a Portland team that won 53 games last season and went to the conference finals. This team is outstanding, even if their defense is not.

Frank Vogel and the Lakers can’t play around. Vogel needs to sound like Apollo Creed’s trainer in “Rocky” — “they don’t know it’s a damn show, they think it’s a damn fight.”

The Lakers can’t play their way into form, Vogel and company need to make ruthless adjustments to get their best players more minutes. Maybe start Kyle Kuzma or Alex Caruso over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Less JaVale McGee (who started but played just 12 minutes) and more Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris.

Ultimately, however, that is tinkering on the fringes.

Anthony Davis has to shoot better than 8-of-24. He was drawing fouls and getting to the line (28 points on the night), but he has to dominate the Nurkic/Zach Collins/Hassan Whiteside front line of Portland.

Then there’s LeBron James. It’s hard to criticize a guy who just had a 23 point, 17 rebounds, 16 assists triple-double — making him the first player in NBA history with a 20+, 15+, 15+ playoff game — but with this roster, with these shooting woes, the Lakers need more scoring out of him. Portland has no wing players who can begin to guard him (Gary Trent Jr. tries, but he’s just undersized for the task). LeBron has to rack up points.

The Lakers were better than this before the break and there’s reason to believe they can get back to that level of play — a championship level. But LeBron may need to carry them until the rest of the team can catch up with him.

LeBron and Davis have to do this quickly because Portland is for real — and now their confidence is even higher. Portland believes it can win this thing.

2) New season, same old questions for Milwaukee

It is a new season, a new playoffs, but in Game 1 it was the same old questions — and a couple of new bubble-related ones — that haunted Milwaukee in its Game 1 to Orlando. It’s fair to question if the Magic can maintain this level of play, but the questions about the Bucks are real:

• How do they counter when the other team builds a wall and cuts Giannis Antetokounmpo off from getting to the rim? Orlando did just that in Game 1, following the blueprint Toronto laid out 15 months ago, and Milwaukee still did not have an answer. The Bucks were not dreadful from three as a team (33% for the game), but when teams wall off the Greek Freak, then Khris Middleton (4-of-12 shooting), Eric Bledsoe (5-of-11) and Brook Lopez (2-of-9) need to make them pay. Orlando paid no price in Game 1.

Remember, that was a Magic team Tuesday without Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, or Aaron Gordon. Even if the Bucks win this series, what happens when teams with better defenders start building their wall?

• The Bucks need to get their defense back. Milwaukee was clear and away the best defense in the NBA before the interruption to the season, but was 10th out of 22 teams at the Orlando restart. Milwaukee gave up 9.5 more points per 100 possessions in the bubble than they did in games before the All-Star break this season. Worse defense means fewer transition opportunities where this team shines.

• Mike Budenholzer has to change his rotations. Antetokounmpo played fewer than 35 minutes in Game 1. Why? He’s your MVP player in his prime, play the man 40 minutes in a close playoff game. The list goes on: Middleton 31 minutes. Bledsoe 28 minutes. There is no more conserving players for the playoffs — this is the playoffs. Ones after an unprecedented four-month break. It’s win or go home.

It’s too early to panic about the Bucks. While Nikola Vucevic absolutely can sustain this level of play, I’m not convinced the rest of the Magic can. What we know is a Steve Clifford coached team will play hard and smart, they will not role over.

Orlando will pose questions, it’s time for Milwaukee to show it can answer them.

3) Houston’s defense is better than you think

James Harden can drop 37 points and set up teammates any time he wants. We know that.

Houston quietly started playing pretty good defense during the restart in Orlando — it had the seventh-best defense of the 22 teams at the restart, with a 109.1 defensive rating.

That defense carried over to Game 1 against Oklahoma City, a game the Rockets won going away, 123-108. They did that without Russell Westbrook, still recovering from a quadriceps issue. OKC could not use Steven Adams and good ball movement to punish the small-ball Rockets.

If Houston’s defense is for real (and nine games in Orlando is not enough for me to call it real, it’s still a small sample size) watch out.

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

NBA reacts anthony davis
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):


No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary


No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103 (Lakers lead series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Anthony Davis drains game-winner at buzzer to put Lakers up 2-0

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It looked like Nikola Jokic, the All-NBA Second Team center, was going to be the star of the game — he scored Denver’s last 11 points and had them up with 2.7 seconds to go.

Then Anthony Davis — the All-NBA First Team center — drained this game-winner, a three over Jokic at the buzzer to win the game.

This is why the Lakers got Anthony Davis (and gave up a lot to get him).

That shot gave the Lakers the 105-103 win to put them up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Davis carried the Lakers at the end of the game, hitting a couple of clutch threes, and finished with 31 points and nine rebounds. He has been the best Laker in this series, with 68 points and 19 rebounds through two games.

For the Lakers, it was a dramatic win in a game where they were sloppy with 23 turnovers, and where their defense came apart for stretches of the game. Good teams win ugly games, that’s how the Lakers have to view it.

Denver supporters may want to spin this as “look how much better we played” — and they did, slowing the pace down (97 possessions, via and getting inside more, taking advantage of switches — but the reality is the Lakers are only going to have bad outings once or twice a series and the Nuggets needed to take advantage. They didn’t, and this loss stings.

“This is the Western Conference Finals. No moral victories, no silver linings,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame.

Davis’ good look to win the game came on the kind of defensive breakdown Denver has at times that other teams have not exploited these playoffs. Mason Plumlee was inserted for his size and defense, and he was on Davis, who simply runs across the top of the arc. Plumlee doesn’t stick with him, instead running over by LeBron James, who is just hanging out at the elbow (but Denver fears), and acts like there should be a switch. Torrey Craig can’t switch, if he does that LeBron has a free lane to the rim and an easy two. If it was an X-out style switch then Plumlee needed to trail Davis all the way to Jokic, he didn’t, leaving Jokic a ridiculously long closeout. Jokic read the play and got there to contest, but Davis had gotten a clean look.

Jokic had 30 points and nine rebounds for Denver, taking over the game when it mattered most and looking like an elite playoff performer. Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting and (as The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted on Twitter) was +16 in 44:14 minutes, meaning Denver was -18 in the 3:46 he was on the bench getting some rest. Denver got 15 points from Michael Porter Jr. and good minutes out of P.J. Dozier (although his five missed free throws in six attempts came back to bite the team).

Los Angeles got 26 points and 11 boards from LeBron and 11 points each from Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Lakers came out flat in this game except for LeBron, who had the team’s first 12 points. It looked like a close game until the Lakers went on an 18-3 run in the second quarter, with 8-0 of that coming with LeBron on the bench. The highlight of that was an Alex Caruso dunk that had the Lakers bench up and yelling.

Los Angeles stretched the lead out to as many as 16, but the Nuggets never quit.

Anthony Davis had to shut the door on them.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.