Three more games in the NBA Playoffs on Friday night. We’ve got a preview for all three match ups below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Series tied 1-1
If Dwane Casey has any concerns coming to Brooklyn, they aren’t about his players.
The Toronto Raptors have already proven they can handle the road just fine.
As for his boss, general manager Masai Ujiri, who figures to hear an earful Friday night?
”I told him I wasn’t going to sit next to him or anything like,” Casey said Thursday, ”but he’s fine. He’s seen a lot, so he’s going to be OK.”
Casey is confident his young Raptors will be as well when they face the Nets in Game 3 of their first-round series, which is tied at one game apiece.
Some of the best action came before it even started.
Ujiri ended his comments at a rally before Game 1 in Toronto with an expletive about Brooklyn, earning a $25,000 fine from the NBA.
The lost money may be the least of Ujiri’s concerns if some of Brooklyn’s most passionate fans spot him in the Barclays Center crowd.
”Very, very eager to see how they respond to the “F Brooklyn,”’ Nets center Kevin Garnett said. ”Very, very eager to see how they respond to this kid.”
The Nets are counting on the usual home boost in a building where they were unbeatable for two months during the regular season. Brooklyn won a franchise-record 15 straight games, tied for the longest home winning streak in the NBA this season, in February and March before dropping two down the stretch after they had clinched a playoff spot.
Yet home-court advantage hasn’t meant much in this postseason, where Chicago and Houston both fell into 2-0 holes in their own arenas, so the Nets realize they can’t rely too much on it.
”We understand that this is not going to be easy by any means,” Nets veteran Joe Johnson said.
”You just look around throughout the playoffs, a lot of teams have been losing at home.”
The Raptors were one of them, with the Nets winning the series opener. Toronto bounced back for a 100-95 victory in Game 2, overcoming its turnover problems by overwhelming Brooklyn on the boards and getting 30 points from All-Star DeMar DeRozan, including a franchise playoff-record 17 in the fourth quarter.
Now the Raptors need a breakthrough on the road, where they have lost 12 straight in the playoffs since beating Philadelphia in Game 1 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, and are just 3-15.
But Toronto was 22-19 away from home this season, a franchise record for victories and tied for the most among East teams. Casey knew the Raptors had learned how to handle the road in December, when they beat Dallas in overtime and followed that two nights later by handling Oklahoma City its first home loss.
”Being a young team, it’s very unusual, because I’ve been with older teams that some of their eyes get big in places like Oklahoma City and back in the day, in Portland,” Casey said.
”So again, it’s a trait they have that you can’t put your finger on why they have some resolve that they do on the road. But this is going to be the first playoff atmosphere that they have and it’s going to be exciting to see how they react under the bright lights.”
According to DeRozan, they act the same on the road no matter the circumstances.
”We understand, you want to call the underdog, whatever you want to call it, we go in there with that mindset. We feel like everybody’s against us and we’re out there to go against everybody,” he said. ”That’s our mindset, honestly, every time we step on the road.”
The Raptors won in their first trip to Barclays Center this season, and they were the opponent in the first regular-season game there in 2012, so they’ve already seen Brooklyn at its best.
This time they will see it at its angriest – or at least, Ujiri will.
”I don’t know if their GM is going to be here or not,” Johnson said, ”but I’m sure Brooklyn is looking forward to it.”
Chicago Bulls @ Washington Wizards (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 6:00 p.m. MST
Wizards lead series 2-0
If empty seats are any indication, the Washington Wizards are just as big of a surprise in their own city as they are to the rest of the NBA.
After winning their first two games on the road in one of the most intimidating arenas in the league – the United Center – the Wizards are curious to see what it’ll be like when they host their first playoff game in six years. Usually it’s the crowd that spurs on the players in the postseason, but in this case there’s hope that the team’s performance will generate a spirited turnout Friday night for Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls.
”Come on out and enjoy playoff basketball. Be ready to join the show and get in at tip-off or before,” owner Ted Leonsis wrote Thursday on his blog. ”Don’t be too cool for school and stroll in at end of first period – I never understood that about some NBA crowds. You pay for a full game of basketball; get in the mix with your friends and family at tip-off, please.”
Washington ranked 18th among 30 NBA teams in attendance this season, averaging 17,026. But that figure is misleading because D.C. crowds are notoriously late-arriving – the NFL Redskins have been known to practically beg fans to show up for the opening kickoff – and the tip-off atmosphere for Wizards games at the Verizon Center is sometimes nonexistent.
”You definitely notice it,” guard Bradley Beal said. ”Especially when you first run onto the floor and there’s nobody there. You look up in the third quarter and everybody’s there. So we definitely need that crowd to be loud for us in the beginning and get us going.”
The Wizards were 22-19 at home this season, worst among the 16 teams that made the playoffs. However, they won all four of their sellouts: two against the Miami Heat, and once each against the Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The transient nature of the area means D.C. fans are often cheering the opponent. During one Heat game the Wizards playfully mocked those wearing Miami colors by featuring them on a ”Bandwagon Cam” on the video scoreboard.
Of course, the home team hadn’t been cheer-worthy until recently. The Wizards went through a long bad spell after their previous playoff appearance in 2008, and they opened their home slate this season by laying an egg against the going-nowhere Philadelphia 76ers.
”We had a good record on the road,” forward Nene said. ”But at home we need to pay attention a little bit more.”
Now that the playoffs are here, coach Randy Wittman expects the volume to be up. The Wizards will add color to the occasion – literally – by going red, white and blue, leaving red T-shirts for fans sitting in the lower bowl, white for those in the middle and blue for the ones near the rafters.
”We’ve got some really great loyal people that’s been here through some tough times, that stuck with us,” Wittman said. ”Chicago was electric, and I don’t anticipate anything different here.”
It’s worth noting that all the noise in the world didn’t help the Bulls. Chicago blew double-digit leads in the second halves of the first two games, and the Bulls lacked a reliable go-to scoring option down the stretch.
The Bulls didn’t practice Thursday, but the message from coach Tom Thibodeau and his players this week has been consistent: The games have been close, so it’s not time to reinvent the wheel or shake up a rotation that doesn’t have much depth.
”You’ve got to rock with what you’ve got,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. ”You’ve got to play with whoever’s out there on the court. The room for error is short.”
The Wizards, meanwhile, are trying to guard against overconfidence. Leonsis pointed out that his NHL Capitals – who play in the same building – have lost a seven-game series after winning the first two on the road, in 2003 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
”That lesson can’t be lost on any one,” Leonsis wrote. ”It isn’t lost on me.”
Point guard John Wall was asked if the Wizards were thinking sweep. He said he was only thinking of Game 3.
”If you’re thinking sweep and you lose Game 3,” Wall said, ”now you’re in a bind.”
Houston Rockets @ Portland Trail Blazers (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 8:30 p.m. MST
Blazers lead series 2-0
Houston has a LaMarcus Aldridge problem.
The Trail Blazers’ All-Star forward has been dominating with more than 40 points in each of the opening two playoff games with the Rockets in Houston.
Portland is up 2-0 as the series moves to Rip City on Friday night, giving the Rockets little time to figure out how to defend Aldridge.
He opened the playoffs with a franchise postseason-best 46 points in the Blazers’ 122-120 overtime victory, then followed it up with 43 points in the 112-105 win on Wednesday night.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale summed it up best when he said: ”So far, he’s had a hell of a series.”
Aldridge found success in the paint in the opener so the Rockets adjusted – but so did Aldridge, who went outside to pepper Houston with midrange jumpers. Thirteen of his 18 field goals came from 10 feet out or more.
”He’s making tough shots, he’s getting to the foul line. He’s offensive rebounding. He’s doing the whole package and it’s tough for us,” said Houston guard James Harden. ”We gotta figure something out real soon. In game three, it is either we win or it’s over.”
Aldridge is the first player to score 43 or more points in consecutive playoff games since Tracy McGrady in 2003, and the first to score at least 40 in back-to-back postseason games since LeBron James in 2009.
It almost goes without saying that Aldridge is the first Blazer with at least 40 points in back-to-back playoff games.
”You can tell just by his approach how he’s really dialed in and he’s playing big. He’s really taken it upon himself to do all these things,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Thursday. ”Give him all the credit. He’s been wanting this moment for a long time and he’s rising to the challenge.”
Aldridge acknowledged the team for his success.
”This team in general just believes in me so much and they ride the wave so well,” he said. ”When I’m going one through 15, they are all cheering and telling me to shoot it. If I pass up a shot, they’re all mad at me and I think having 15 guys having your back like that is great.”
Aldridge’s play has put Portland in charge as the team returns home. The Blazers haven’t opened a playoff series 2-0 since 1977, when they got the early jump on the Lakers en route to the Western Conference title. Portland went on to beat Philadelphia for its lone NBA championship
Portland ranked seventh in the league during the regular season with just 10 losses at home.
Only three teams have come back to win after losing the first two games of a seven-game series at home: The last was the 2004-05 Mavericks, who came back against the Rockets. Houston is 0-7 overall when falling behind 0-2 in the first round since the 1983-84 expansion.
Dwight Howard said it’s no time to panic.
”We’ve played against Portland in the regular season and we were successful. We just got to play basketball. We can’t look back. We have to stay positive,” he said. ”They (Portland) won two games but it’s the first to four and we can’t let our heads down. We dug a hole but we can always get out of it.”
Howard had 32 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss, while Harden had 18 points.
Harden was the league’s top shooting guard in the regular season, but he’s 14 of 47 from the field in the playoffs for his worst two-game stretch of the season.
”We’ve done a good job guarding without fouling and one thing about playoff basketball is that everybody has the every possession mentality,” Stotts said. ”We didn’t fall asleep on him and I don’t think he got a lot of easy looks and every great player in this league, you just want to make them work and I think Nick and Wes in particular really have made him work.”
For his part, Harden isn’t really concerned about a slump. He’s more focused on the Blazers – and stopping Aldridge.
”I’m not worried about my offense, I’m worried about our defense, our defense as a team. When we get stops and get out in transition everybody feels good about themselves and that’s when the assists flow in and things start going well,” he said. ”If we can’t get stops it makes it more difficult. They are a very good team.”
Be sure to check out the rest of our NBA Playoffs coverage here at Purple and Blues. Also, for your Utah Jazz fix, be sure to check out our “Morning Jazz” segment and more.