Four more games in the NBA Playoffs on Sunday. We have a preview for all four match ups here. You can check them out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Chicago Bulls @ Washington Wizards (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 11:00 a.m. MST
Wizards lead series 2-1
An already rough-and-tumble playoff series between the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls now has a full-blown fracas, an ejection and a Game 4 suspension for Nene.
What everyone will be watching when these clubs meet Sunday, with Washington leading the Eastern Conference series 2-1, is just how physical the play will get – and whether things will escalate again.
”There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and talking,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Saturday, before the NBA announced Nene would sit out Game 4. ”We just have to be sure we’re keeping our composure in that area. I don’t want them stepping back at all from a physicality standpoint. Not at all. It just reaches that line, and we’ve got to know where that line is.”
Nene was tossed with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter of Chicago’s Game 3 victory Friday night after wrapping both hands around the back of Jimmy Butler‘s head and neck as they stood so close their foreheads touched. Rod Thorn, the NBA’s president of basketball operations, announced Saturday that Nene would miss one game without pay for head-butting and grabbing Butler ”and attempting to throw him down.”
”When you play physical … things get hot,” Nene said with a smile and a shrug Friday.
He did not speak to reporters Saturday.
Trevor Booker is expected to start at forward in Nene’s place Sunday. Booker is averaging 4.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 23.3 minutes in the playoffs. He averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds during the regular season.
”Just like each one of us, he’s a guy with a big ego,” Wizards center Marcin Gortat said about Nene. ”There’s nobody in this locker room who’s going to be pushed around like that. And that’s just how he reacted. Does he deserve two technical fouls? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, he got kicked out and we had to play without him.”
Added Washington guard Bradley Beal: ”It gets to the point where you just get pushed to the limit way too much, and I think Nene got pushed to the limit. Do we agree with what he did? Not necessarily, but he did it and we can’t take it back.”
Butler made two key 3-pointers after his scuffle with Nene, helping the fourth-seeded Bulls win 100-97.
The visiting team has won all three games of the series. The other pattern that’s been established, as Bulls center Joakim Noah noted: ”They have a lot of physical players. We try to play a physical game.”
During Washington’s victory at Chicago in Game 2, some lesser contretemps led to a total of four players getting called for technical fouls: Washington’s Beal and Trevor Ariza, and Chicago’s Noah and Kirk Hinrich.
”This is the playoffs. It’s all normal stuff,” Bulls coach Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
And so, really, neither club seemed all that surprised at the rising temperature in Game 3.
Noah, who has spent plenty of time jostling with Nene in the low block, called the ejection a ”turning point” Friday.
Indeed, not only did Nene average a team-high 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in Washington’s road wins in Games 1 and 2, but the team’s entire approach changes when the 6-foot-11 Brazilian is on the floor.
He provides big-body defense and soft-hands passing. He can score and rebound. He’s so influential that John Wall, Washington’s All-Star point guard, has called him the ”X-factor.”
During the regular season, Washington won two of three games against Chicago, but lost to the visiting Bulls 96-78 on April 5 without an injured Nene.
Asked whether he thought Nene’s actions in Game 3 warranted a suspension, Noah said, ”As a player, those aren’t things I can control. The only thing I can control right now is eating lunch and ice baths and sleeping and shooting free throws and things like that.”
Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 1:30 p.m. MST
Clippers lead series 2-1
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers would prefer to be talking about how well Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have played against the Golden State Warriors. Or how his team has defended Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Or just about anything that has happened on the court in the first-round playoff series.
Instead, Rivers and his players spent Saturday talking about how they would respond to an audio recording of a man identified as Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games.
“The fact that I had to spend 45 minutes in a meeting instead of watching film did not make me happy,” Rivers said.
Whether the comments – which drew sharp criticism and calls for action from around the NBA – affect the Clippers in Game 4 against the Warriors is all that worries Rivers right now. Los Angeles leads the series 2-1 and has looked every bit like a championship contender in winning the past two games.
Chasing a title is the reason Rivers said players decided against protesting or even boycotting the game. They want to win for each other, he said, and not for Sterling or anyone else.
“For me, I want to focus on my guys. I came here for them. They came here for each other. Our goals have not changed,” Rivers said passionately after the Clippers’ practice at the University of San Francisco. “It’s like one of the players said, “Hey, when I was a kid, I had a goal to win a world championship. It was to do that. It wasn’t to win a world championship for someone.’”
Chris Paul released a statement through the players’ union that said “this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively.” Paul and Griffin declined further comment after practice. Other players were not made available as Rivers said he’d speak for the team.
“A lot of guys voiced their opinions. None of them were happy about it,” Rivers said. “This was a situation where we’re trying to go after something very important for us, something that we’ve all dreamed about all our childhoods. Donald or anyone else had nothing to do with that dream, and we’re not going to let anything get in the way of those dreams.”
Sterling, a real estate owner who has a long history of alleged discrimination and offensive behavior, made his team the center of NBA attention for all the wrong reasons.
In a recording posted on TMZ’s website, a man reported to be Sterling questions his girlfriend’s association with minorities. Clippers President Andy Roeser said in a statement that the team did not know if the tape is legitimate or has been altered.
Roeser also said the views expressed on the recording do not reflect Sterling’s beliefs and that the woman on the tape – identified by TMZ as V. Stiviano – “is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’”
Sterling has not commented on the situation.
Rivers and his players faced more than 50 reporters at practice Saturday. A day earlier, only about a dozen were at the team’s hotel for the interview session.
All that the hoopla meant for the Clippers as a team, Rivers said, was one monumental “distraction” before its biggest game of the season.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who played for the Clippers from 1992-94, said “there’s no place” for Sterling’s alleged remarks but his team would remain focused on the game. His players echoed those sentiments, saying they wouldn’t be deterred by one man’s beliefs – no matter how offensive.
Rivers also said the audio recording would not serve as added motivation.
“We’re playing Golden State, and Golden State is our enemy right now,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to keep it, and that’s where we want to keep it.”
The Clippers have won the last two games to take a 2-1 series lead. Griffin had 32 points, Jordan hauled in 22 rebounds, and Paul added 15 points and 10 assists in a 98-96 win Thursday in Game 3.
Los Angeles limited Curry to 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting, but the All-Star guard did pile up 15 assists. Thompson had a team-high 26 points after shooting 2 of 4 and finishing with just seven in Golden State’s 138-98 loss in Game 2.
Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Nets lead series 2-1
Kyle Lowry had a banged knee, busted lip and a knot on his elbow, and Dwane Casey sounded more like a corner man than the coach of the Toronto Raptors.
”He’s been in a 15-round bout,” Casey said after Game 3.
Now the Brooklyn Nets can land the punch that would really put the Raptors on the ropes.
Brooklyn takes a 2-1 lead into Game 4 on Sunday night, when it can deliver the biggest blow yet.
”I think the series is really in the fight. It’s a dogfight out there,” Nets guard Shaun Livingston said Saturday. ”Everybody is banged up and bruised up, but you know, it’s not really time to feel sorry for anybody, you know what I mean? We’re trying to win a series, so we’re going to do what we’ve got to do.”
The Nets knocked the 6-foot Lowry around on their way to a 102-98 victory on Friday night. He got up only nine shots before fouling out with 15 points and four assists in 38 minutes.
The point guard was sore on Saturday but said he had no doubt he was going to play Sunday and deal with whatever punishment the Nets try to inflict. After averaging a career-best 17.9 points along with 7.4 assists during the regular season, he knows he needs to be more effective against a Brooklyn team that seems determined to take away one of Toronto’s few offensive threats.
”They’re paying so much attention to me, sometimes they’re playing 4-on-4,” Lowry said. ”And honestly, it’s one of those things where we as a team make an adjustment, but personally I’ve got to find a way to get the ball and get more aggressive.”
All-Star DeMar DeRozan had his second straight 30-point game on Friday, and reserve Patrick Patterson scored 17 points before missing two free throws with the Raptors trailing by two and 19 seconds left. But there wasn’t much else to Toronto’s offense, with Terrence Ross – who had a 50-point game during the regular season – remaining ineffective and fellow starting forward Amir Johnson unable to back up his strong performance from the Raptors’ Game 2 victory.
The Raptors will need at least one of those guys, or perhaps center Jonas Valanciunas, who was in foul trouble and took only four shots, to contribute something to discourage the Nets from focusing so much on Lowry.
”They’re blitzing him,” Casey said. ”When he comes off pick-and-rolls, he’s got two guys there. We have to give him some outlets. He may have to sacrifice and create some shots for someone else and get his in transition and other ways. They’re trying to take he and DeMar out. We’re ready for that and we have to make sure we make “em pay for that and not let them get away with it.”
Brooklyn nearly didn’t get away with it in Game 3, as Toronto almost came all the way back from a 15-point deficit with 5 1/2 minutes left. The Nets know they will have to play better for longer to put away what figures to be a desperate team.
”We know they’re going to come out and play hard. They fought until the end last night,” Nets guard Deron Williams said. ”We’re up 15 with five minutes left and we’ve got to do a better job of closing out games. But we know they’re going to come back and be ready to play and it’s kind of a must-win for them.”
It’s been a remarkably even matchup so far, with Toronto outscoring Brooklyn 678-677 in seven games this season. The Raptors are behind in the only place that matters right now, the score of this first-round series, though they know how close they came to changing that.
”Yeah, but we know we can beat this team,” DeRozan said. ”We was down 15 and once we see we were down 15 we started playing and cut the game down. We’ve got to play like that for a full 48 minutes.”
Houston Rockets @ Portland Trail Blazers (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Blazers lead series 2-1
Portland won the first two games in Houston before the Rockets won the third, 121-116 in overtime on Friday night at the Moda Center. Game 4 is Sunday night.
”We’re still in control, the pressure is still on them,” said Aldridge, who had more than 40 points in each of the first two games before the Rockets held him to 23. ”They lost two at home so they’re trying to come here and they have to take two. They came out and played as they should, they played like they were desperate and needed a win, like they didn’t want their season to end.”
Harden had a career playoff-high 37 points on 13-of-35 shooting in Friday’s game, overcoming some of the offensive struggles that had him shooting 14 of 47 in the first two. He effectively combined on the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard, who had 24 points and 14 rebounds.
” The pressure is on them,” Harden maintained. ”Sunday is going to be a great game and we have to do a great job of being ready, being focused. We have to quiet runs to a minimum and just be out there for four quarters. The hustle plays, the loose balls, we have to get all of those.”
Game 3 had an unlikely hero in Troy Daniels, who spent time in the D-League this season and only made his NBA debut on March. 5. Daniels drained a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds to go in OT that proved to be the winner. He finished with nine points, all 3s.
It was just his sixth NBA game.
”I was ready. My teammates and coaches said just to be ready to shoot that shot and that’s what I did,” Daniels said. ”That’s my job.”
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.
No team has ever come back from 0-3, which made the Rockets’ victory crucial.
The Blazers seemed unfazed by the loss, still brimming with confidence over their 2-1 advantage.
”It would be a problem if we lost the game because of effort or because we weren’t focused on taking care of business, but we were,” said point guard Damian Lillard, who led the Blazers with 30 points. ”It’s the playoffs and nobody said we were going to come out and sweep them. We’re lucky we were able to win two games in Houston and be in the position we’re in right now. “‘
The Blazers hadn’t opened a playoff series 2-0 since 1977, when they jumped on the Lakers en route to the Western Conference title. Portland went on to beat Philadelphia for its lone NBA championship.
The Blazers returned to the playoffs this season after a two-year drought. They haven’t advanced out of the first round since the postseason in 2000.
Aldridge opened Portland’s return with a franchise postseason-best 46 points in the Blazers’ 122-120 overtime victory in Game 1, then followed it up with 43 points in the 112-105 win on Wednesday night.
Houston coach Kevin McHale addressed Portland’s All-Star forward by tinkering with his lineup, starting Omer Asik in place of Terrence Jones. Asik and Dwight Howard were able to keep Aldridge off balance for much of Game 3.
McHale also found success with a small lineup of Harden, Daniels Jeremy Lin and Pat Beverley with Howard.
”For us to win this series we have to stay composed,” Howard said. ”You can’t relax against this team You have to attack their bigs, attack their smalls and put them on their heels. That’s the only way we’re going to win this series.’