Three Things to Know: Lakers have found their shooting touch
The East has gone to form (aside from one Orlando upset game), but the West has been wild in the NBA playoffs, and that continued on Monday. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
1) The Lakers have found their shooting touch, and that’s bad news for Portland.
In the last two games, Danny Green is 5-of-8 from three. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 5-of-12. Kyle Kuzma, who has been hot since the seeding games, hit 5-of-9 threes Monday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers already had LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing well, their defense has gotten back to elite form, and now their role players are knocking down shots.
That was bad news for Portland on Monday, Los Angeles cruised to a 135-113 win and now have a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series. Lakers have found their stride and evolved into the best team in the West these playoffs so far, which is bad news for Portland. And the rest of the West.
As always, it starts with LeBron, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds in Monday’s win.
The Lakers have not been a great shooting team all season, but they’ve been good enough. Expect there to be off nights again, but the Lakers are in a groove.
The Lakers are finding the chemistry they showed during the regular season. No other team in the West — not the stumbling Clippers, not Houston, certainly not defenseless-Denver — is playing on the Lakers’ level right now.
Portland, already battling injuries in this series, may be without Damian Lillard in Game 5. Lillard pulled up on a drive during the third quarter Monday and quickly asked out of the game. By the fourth quarter he was having an MRI on his right knee (the MRI machine is on the NBA campus in Orlando).
That MRI was “inconclusive” according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports/TNT, he will have another Tuesday.
Rodney Hood has been out much of the season and hasn’t played in the bubble. Zach Collins was sidelined with a stress fracture. C.J. McCollum is playing through a fracture in his lower back. Now Lillard (it’s hard to imagine Portland taking the risk of playing in in Game 5 Wednesday). Portland was going to have a tough time in this series if everything went right. It hasn’t. They fought hard, but the Blazers look done.
2) Jimmy Butler and Heat advance a day after 76ers go home
Vindication is a sweet thing for Jimmy Butler.
The Philadelphia 76ers looked disorganized and without a true leader or shot creator in getting swept out of the playoffs by Boston. Coach Brett Brown paid the price for that with his job, but the problems in Philly run deeper than the coaching.
The very next day, Jimmy Butler — the one that got away in Philly because he wasn’t sold the organization was fully committed to winning, and winning his way — led the Miami Heat to a sweep of the Indiana Pacers to advance to the second round.
Butler has found a cultural fit and home in Miami, and with him the Heat are playing well, enough that they can push the Bucks in the next round (Milwaukee is up 3-1 on Orlando).
Butler did play through a soft-tissue shoulder issue, but predictably after the game blew it off when asked about it. He will get a few days of treatment before the next round begins, but it is something to monitor.
3) Rockets miss Russell Westbrook as Chris Paul, Thunder even series
It’s this simple: When James Harden is on the court in these playoffs, the Rockets outscore the Thunder by 6.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Rockets are -1.9 per 100 — and most of that drop is in the last two games, when Houston is -25 without Harden.
Houston misses Russell Westbrook.
That was evident as Chris Paul led a 15-point second-half comeback by the Thunder Monday, and that 117-114 win tied the series at 2-2. CP3 had 22 points in the second half as he hunted out matchups against Harden late in the game (and Harden couldn’t keep CP3 off his spots, like this dagger).
Dennis Schroder added a career playoff-high of 30 points. A critical Game 5 is Wednesday.
The Rockets won the first two games of this series, but as the Thunder have gotten comfortable playing against the small-ball Rockets, everything has changed. The Rockets need to flip that script, and Westbrook would help.