No. 1: Harden 'ready to go' for Game 5 -- The Houston Rockets are one playoff win away from reaching the Western Conference semifinals. To pull that off, they'll need everyone ready to go, starting with All-Star guard James Harden. After the Rockets won Game 4, word circulated that Harden was playing in that game with an ankle injury. He says he'll be ready for Game 5 tonight (8 ET, TNT):
Houston Rockets guard James Harden revealed that it's been difficult for him to get a burst on drives to the basket since he rolled his ankle in Game 3 of the first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he vowed he'll be ready to go for Tuesday's Game 5.
"Got some treatment, and I'll be ready to go tomorrow," Harden said before Monday's practice.
Harden went 5-for-16 from the field, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range, for 16 points in the Rockets' 113-109 win in Game 4 on Sunday. It was the fewest points Harden has scored in this postseason.
"It's the playoffs, everybody is banged up, so you just got to find a way to fight through it and find a way to help your teammates win games," Harden said. "For me, it's not necessarily scoring. I don't have to score a certain amount of points as long as I'm making the right plays and guys are getting shots, everybody is in a good rhythm -- that's all that matters."
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UPDATE, 3:02 p.m. -- Gordon Hayward explains how and when he got sick (and not in much detail, thankfully) and says he's ready to go tonight for Game 5 against the Clippers ...
No. 2: Hayward travels to L.A., could play in Game 5 -- There were two storylines that shaped the Utah Jazz's Game 4 win on Sunday against the LA Clippers. First, was the stomach flu that forced Jazz star Gordon Hayward out of the game after playing a handful of minutes. The second was Joe Johnson's play down the stretch to seal Utah's win. As Game 5 tonight nears (10:30 ET, TNT), Hayward may be able to suit up for it, writes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:
As of late Monday afternoon, the Utah Jazz hadn't commented officially on Gordon Hayward's status for Tuesday's Game 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
Still — despite the bout with food poisoning that cost Hayward most of Sunday's Game 4 — the All-Star forward is expected to travel with the team to Los Angeles. So chances are, he will be available and ready to play.
Hayward went home at halftime of Sunday's Game 4, which ended in a 105-98 Jazz win. He spent the night and the first part of Monday in his bed trying to recover.
"Even when he was sick, there wasn't any way Gordon wasn't going to try and give it a go," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "It shows how he feels about the team, his teammates and this playoff experience. I took him out at one point to give him a blow, but I knew after the first quarter there wasn't much there. There wasn't anything he could play through, he was just so depleted."
If Hayward is able to play in Game 5, and look more like himself, it will give Jazz a boost in what looks to be the most critical game of the series. Hayward scored 40 points in Game 3, lighting the Clippers up from all over the floor. In Game 4, he looked a shell of himself. He had no explosion in the open floor, he was slow defensively and his only make from the field was a 3-pointer from the corner in the opening minutes.
"It's beyond next man up for us," Snyder said, of dealing with yet another injury. "It's really a process of the day. We've really become numb to it. It's almost like the weather."
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No. 3: Fizdale ready for epic Game 5 vs. Spurs -- The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs have the always-pivotal Game 5 of their series staring each of them down tonight (9 ET, NBA TV). If the last two games of the series are any indication -- and, in particular, the epic finish of Game 4 -- then there's no reason to make plans to do anything else tonight. At least that is the mentality of Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal:
Grizzlies coach David Fizdale believes the feeling-out process is done in their first-round series with the San Antonio Spurs.
The teams spent the first three meetings earning lopsided victories until Game 4’s overtime thriller.
The expectation for Game 5?
“I expect another epic game,” Fizdale said about a pivotal Game 5 against the Spurs Tuesday night with the series tied 2-2. “That last game was an epic game. You’ve got two hard-playing teams, two well-prepared teams. They’ve got that championship pedigree so that tells me right there that there will be no letdown from them. They’re fuming right now, ready to get back and play. We’ve got to be ready to go in there and earn it.”
“It’s just a matter of who out-executes who at this point,” Fizdale said. “Who does what they do better. Hopefully, our guys will be up for that challenge. I told our guys ‘Let’s go in there and win.’ We’ve got the ingredients to do it. But talking about it and doing it are different things.”
The Grizzlies turned the tables on the Spurs in Games 3 and 4 by becoming the aggressors on defense. Memphis’ ball-pressure proved disruptive and turned San Antonio into a one-man show with Leonard’s usage rate increasing by the minute.
“We just need continuous effort, multiple efforts because all of (the Spurs) seem to be great shooters,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. “We’ve got to try to make it a little bit more physical. That’s where we excel.”
“It starts on the defensive end,” Conley said. “Early in the first two games, we weren’t aggressive enough defensively. We weren’t imposing our will. Last game, when we got down 10 (in the first quarter), we got back to getting stops and getting out in transition. JaMychal (Green) getting a lob there was a big part of the game. And that comes off defense. The offensive stuff will follow suit.”
Memphis’ offensive rating in its two wins (111.8 points per 100 possessions) was equal to what the run-and-gun, three-point shooting Houston Rockets posted during the regular season.
Both teams identified strong defense as the X-factor in Game 5.
Conley pummeled the Spurs in pick-and-roll situations. The Spurs will welcome back starting center Dewayne Dedmon returning from his Game 4 absence as their best pick-and-roll defender.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be prepared for everything,” Fizdale said.
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No. 4: Lillard calls Blazers' season one of 'growth' -- Portland's surge in the post-All-Star break portion of the season was the stuff of dreams. The Trail Blazers will always have that second-half run of the 2016-17 season to reflect on and enjoy. After being swept from the playoffs last night by the Golden State Warriors, though, that's of little solace to Blazers star Damian Lillard. ESPN.com Chris Haynes has more:
After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he's developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.
"You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they're so good that they're going to be there," Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. "That's who you're going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That's what it is."
The two-time All-Star is proud of the team's push down the stretch of the regular season, but he's not satisfied.
"I wouldn't say it was a successful year," Lillard told ESPN. "We got tested and I think we answered the bell. I felt like we showed our true colors by the way we fought. But I wouldn't say successful. I think it was growth. A year of growth for us."
In last year's playoffs, the Warriors bounced the Trail Blazers out of the second round in five games. Lillard's anger was evident after Monday's lopsided loss. "I don't even know what to think right now," he said. "It's very frustrating. But you know me, I'm going to come back stronger than ever."
When addressing the press, Lillard spoke highly about how well the Warriors play together and how everyone is on the same page. He has reached the realization that the Trail Blazers must take a page out of the Warriors' book.
"You also got to understand that if you ever want to get out the West, you're going to have to go through them," Lillard said during his media address. "And for me, I understand that's what it is. It's always been that way in the NBA. I think about when the Pistons were just beating up on [Michael] Jordan. [They] were just kicking his butt every year, and he had to get through them if he wanted to get to where he wanted to get to. That's just what it is. [The Warriors are] going to be there. They're going to be there every year. We have to look at that and understand that we got to be better. We have to go get better, and come back better as a group if we want to move past them."
Kevin Durant loves Lillard's competitive spirit. He told ESPN that the Trail Blazers are a few pieces away from contending.
"I think they want somebody on the wing that can take the pressure off those two guards (C.J. McCollum and Lillard), somebody that's big for their position. But they're right there, man. They're a good team. They started off slow. I think they should have been a higher seed, but they fought their way to get in the playoffs. They have a future center in [Jusuf] Nurkic who took them over the top, but I think they need another ball handler on the wing to get them going. It's going to be fun playing against these guys in the next few years."
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers is going to play tonight for the LA Clippers after being out since March 30 (hamstring) ... Isaiah Cannan will start at point guard for Game 5 of Bulls-Celtics on Wednesday ... Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird delivered the franchise's 2021 All-Star bid to the NBA in an Indy Car yesterday ...