No. 1: Durant still questionable for Game 4 -- Given their druthers, the Golden State Warriors would always prefer to have All-Star forward and former NBA MVP Kevin Durant in their lineup. That wasn't the case on Saturday, as Durant sat out a Game 3 comeback win with a left calf strain. As a closeout Game 4 tonight looms (10:30 ET, TNT), the Warriors may again be without Durant, writes Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle:
With Steve Kerr ruled out for Game 4 of the first round Monday, the Warriors still face an important question: Will Kevin Durant play?
The eight-time All-Star is questionable, a team spokesman told The Chronicle. It is possible that, with a 3-0 series lead over the Trail Blazers, Golden State might not want to bring him back until the Western Conference semifinals.
Durant, who has now missed two straight games with a left calf strain, appears to be almost completely healthy. He participated in practice Friday and shoot-around Saturday with no problems.
Additionally, Shaun Livingston (right index finger sprain) and Matt Barnes (right ankle/foot sprain) are questionable for Game 4. With those three sidelined, the Warriors routed Portland by 29 points in Game 2 and came from behind for a 119-113 win in Game 3.
* * *
No. 2: Harden says he played Game 4 with an ankle injury -- The Houston Rockets are heading home with a 3-1 series edge on the Oklahoma City Thunder after last night's win in Game 3. That victory was highlighted by the play of veteran big man Nene, who was 12-for-12 and dominant in the paint in the victory. As for the Rockets' standout guard, James Harden, he struggled a bit (16 points on a poor shooting night) that could be attributable to an injury. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com has more:
Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden made the revelation to ESPN's Lisa Salters after the Rockets' 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.
Harden went 5-for-16 from the field (including 0-for-7 from 3-point range) and scored 16 points. It was the fewest points Harden has scored this postseason.
Despite the poor effort, the Rockets were able to get support from Nene, who scored a team-high 28 points off the bench and tied an NBA record by making 12 shots without a miss.
"It was pretty tough; we don't make excuses," Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. "We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there's moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we're going to have to get off to a really good start."
Harden didn't walk with a limp, but he didn't have his usual push on drives to the basket.
* * *
No. 3: Schroder would like to work with Wall -- The relationship between length of a playoff series and the amount of bad blood therein is often a direct one in the NBA playoffs. Such has been true in the case of the Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards series, where few are trying to make some kind of peace. Hawks guard Dennis Schroder had some words for John Wall after a Game 3 win, but overall respects the Wizards' star guard and wants to workout with him this summer. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more:
Dennis Schroder and John Wall have done plenty of on-court trash talking during the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the Hawks and Wizards. Schroder hopes there will be more civil dialog following the season.
The Hawks young point guard said he has learned a lot from his All-Star Wizards counterpart and would like to continue to do so this summer. Schroder said he has approached Wall and the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving about working out together.
“To compete against almost the best point guard in the league, you get better every game,” Schroder said of Wall following a practice Sunday. “I told him already I want to work out in the summer. I told that to Kyrie (Irving). Kyrie told me that too. You keep getting better playing against these guys.”
* * *
No. 4: LeBron best first-round player ever? -- The Cleveland Cavaliers can kick back and relax this morning after they finished their first playoff task. Sweeping away the Indiana Pacers in the first round gives the Cavs time to heal up and, for those not playing, to admire the first-round legacy LeBron James has crafted for himself. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com ponders whether or not James is the best first-round player ever:
LeBron James might very well be the greatest player in the history of NBA first-round playoff series.
He aims higher, of course, but his place in history in the opening round of the playoffs is pretty well etched, especially after the Cavs' 106-104 series-clinching win over Indiana Sunday.
The win was the 21st in a row for James' teams. That's an NBA record, dating back to when the league expanded to its current 16-team postseason format in 1984.
In 12 seasons, he's never lost an opening-round series. He's 48-7 in first-round games, and is averaging 29 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 6.9 assists. He hasn't lost a game in the first round in five years.
Can it really be this easy?
"Competition is very hard," James said Sunday, when he was more or less asked that question. "Mentally challenge yourself every year to go out and try to do what's right, put your body on the line, put your team on the line to try to be successful -- is very hard. I go out every night to try and win a ballgame, do whatever it takes to help my teammates be successful and do whatever it takes to help me be successful. That's been the result of it.
"I'm truly blessed and honored to be in a position where I hold a record in this league that's had so many great players and so many great teams throughout the years in the postseason."
For a quick comparison: Michael Jordan's Bulls lost first-round series his first three trips to the playoffs. He averaged 37 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in 46 first-round games. The Bulls went 31-15 in those contests, and his longest winning streak in the first round was 11 games.
Against the Pacers, James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists in an eye-popping 43:44 minutes per game. James pounded out 33 points, 10 boards and four assists in Game 4, including his lone 3-pointer with 1:08 left that put the Cavs ahead for good and stopped the Pacers' 9-0 run.
* * *
No. 5: Raptors keeping Antetokounmpo under wraps -- Giannis Antetokounmpo had been in the playoffs before the current run he's on. But this time around, Antetokounmpo is an All-Star and go-to guy for the Milwaukee Bucks and in staking the team to a 2-1 series edge, looked every bit that part against the Toronto Raptors. His game took a step back in Game 4 (which Milwaukee lost) and Toronto is feeling better about containing him going forward. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:
It’s almost too much to ask the Raptors to play the same kind of swarming, crowding, quick defence again that led to Antetokounmpo’s minimal production, just as it’s too much to expect him to post such pedestrian numbers when Game 5 unfolds at the Air Canada Centre on Monday.
But it is to dream for Raptors fans.
Still, consider this: In Game 3, DeMar DeRozan did not make a basket and finished with eight points. It killed him and motivated him and made him make sure he had a significant impact on Game 4. He ended up scoring 33 points, leading his team in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals and playing at an astonishing level of efficiency.
And if he can do it, can’t Antetokounmpo? The Raptors know how real that possibility is.
“He’s in the upper echelon of players that carry their team and that’s the only way you can get back on track, to respond,” DeRozan said Sunday. “It’s on us to be ready for that as well, understanding it’s going to be a tougher challenge. A lot of us have been in this situation with great players before . . . we’ve got to understand how to approach it the right way.”
There are a handful of tactical reasons why the Raptors were able to limit Antetokoumpo’s impact on Saturday. They were able to get back more quickly in transition to throw a wall of bodies at him, a smaller Toronto lineup let the Raptors switch defenders of basically the same size on to him, and no one else from the Bucks was doing enough damage to loosen up the Toronto defence.
“There’s situations where we let them be comfortable, get to where they want to go, set the screens where they want to set them but the speed of getting back in transition was much better,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
“Just our overall physicality was much better in certain situations where we need it to be. (It’s) not going out there slugging somebody and hitting somebody in the head, but making them feel you when they’re trying to cut through the lane (and) dive to the basket in the low post.”
* * *
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook made a point to stick up for his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates after Game 4 ... Steve Kerr won't be coaching the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 tonight and the Portland Trail Blazers have ruled out Jusuf Nurkic for the game as well ... Rodney Hood got out of his series-long funk late in Game 4 for the Utah Jazz ... Do the Chicago Bulls just plain lack the depth needed to win this series? ... Paying tribute to former NBA referee Jess Kersey, who died on Sunday ...