Lakers return to Staples Center with big win
The first Los Angeles Lakers playoff game at Staples Center since 2013 wasn't quite Showtime, but the fans still got what they wanted.
The Lakers topped the Phoenix Suns 106-93 to take a 2-1 series lead in the first round. The win is the defending champions' first playoff win at their old stadium since 2012, having played all of last postseason at Disney World.
The NBA's top regular season defense by defensive rating was on full display, holding the Suns to 19-of-42 shooting in the paint. Devin Booker also struggled, shooting 6-of-19 for 19 points and getting ejected in the final minute of the game after a hard foul on Dennis Schroder.
Meanwhile, Anthony Davis had a second-straight monster game, posting 34 points and 11 rebounds. After a rough Game 1 (13 points, 5-of-16 shooting), Davis now has 68 points in his last two games.
LeBron James, meanwhile, was doing this:
The Lakers also continued a complete swap of Montezl Harrell for Marc Gasol at center behind Andre Drummond. Gasol has seen significant minutes off the bench since a DNP in Game 1, while Harrell hasn't played a minute since playing 15 minutes in Game 1. Given the threat of Deandre Ayton, that's not a surprise.
It wasn't a complete win for the Lakers, though. Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope exited the game with a left quad injury and will undergo an MRI on Friday.
Game 4 is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday at Staples Center.
Nuggets hold off Blazers on the road
The Portland Trail Blazers have been searching for a Nikola Jokic solution.
You can also add Austin Rivers to the list.
The MVP finalist had 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Rivers scored 21 points in Denver’s 120-115 win over the Trail Blazers on Thursday. Denver now leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
Rivers scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers.
The 28-year-old guard signed a 10-day contract with Denver in April before he was signed for the remainder of the season. While expecting 21 points a night is unlikely from Rivers, his shooting provides Denver with another weapon to pair with Jokic.
Damian Lillard had 37 points on 15-for-31 shooting from the field. Portland's bench chipped in only 19 points — 17 coming from Carmelo Anthony.
Bucks push Heat to brink with blowout win
Home cooking didn't help.
After getting blown out on Monday, the Miami Heat faced another Milwaukee Bucks buzzsaw on Thursday. The Bucks, unfazed by a crowd of 17,000 at American Airlines Arena, posted a 113-84 win to take a 3-0 lead in their opening round playoff series.
With the win, the Bucks pushed a Heat team that upset them in last year's playoffs to the brink. They've done so in dominant fashion. Miami kept things close in a 109-107 Bucks win in Game 1. Since then, Milwaukee has exerted its will on both sides of the floor.
After shooting 41.5% from three and scoring 132 points in Game 2, the Bucks leaned into their defense Thursday, limiting Miami to 37.6% shooting from the field. But that's no knock on their offense. The Bucks looked just fine when they had the ball, shooting 48.3% in a balanced effort that saw six players score in double figures.
Khris Middleton led the scoring effort with 22 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo posted another big double-double with 17 points, 17 rebounds alongside five assists. Backup guard Bryn Forbes followed up his 22-point effort (6-of-9 from 3-point range) with another good shooting effort Thursday, scoring 11 points while connecting on 3 of 7 3-point attempts.
And Jrue Holiday once again may have been the most effective player on the court. The offseason Bucks arrival tallied 19 points, 12 assists and three rebounds while posting a game-high +41 in the plus/minus column. If you're looking for the difference in this year's Bucks team and last, Holiday as a good place to start.
Much like Game 2, the Bucks opened up a big early lead and didn't let the Heat within striking distance. With 2:46 left in the first quarter, Milwaukee opened up a 20-8 lead. Miami never again closed the gap to single digits.
Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday, when Miami will look to fend off a sweep. Heat fans probably shouldn't hold their breath.
After Thursday's game, the Bucks are +525 to win the NBA championship, behind the +400 Los Angeles Lakers and +185 Brooklyn Nets, their likely second-round playoff opponent.
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