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  • Rondo's status unclear as Bulls visit Celtics for Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics last saw their TD Garden home floor, they had just dropped the first two games of their series with the Chicago Bulls and were in danger of being a top seed upset by a No. 8 seed.

    • But Chicago guard Rajon Rondo, who dominated his old team in Game 2 after a decent performance in the opener, broke his right thumb in the second victory, instantly changing the series that resumes with Game 5 on Wednesday night.

      The Celtics won the two games in Chicago, evening the series, recapturing the home-court advantage and creating in effect a best-of-three.

      Rondo was originally ruled out for Wednesday, but USA Today reported Tuesday night that he might attempt to play in Game 5.

      While the Bulls are dealing with Rondo's injury, the Celtics have played under the emotional cloud surrounding their leader, Isaiah Thomas, whose sister was killed just before the start of the series.

      Thomas scored 33 points in a Game 4 win on Sunday in Chicago.

      "Mentally and emotionally, I'm not here, so I just feed off what the guys give me," Thomas said. "They give me a lot of confidence. I can't do it without those guys. They believe in me, and being here is what makes me feel sane and somewhat normal through these tough times."

      It was after that game that Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg accused Thomas of regularly palming the ball, saying: "When you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he's impossible to guard. When you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down, it's impossible to guard him in those situations."

      Thomas responded: "That's not the reason why I'm impossible to cover. I've been dribbling that way my whole life."

      After practice on Tuesday, Thomas said: "I was very surprised. Out of everything else that I do on the court, you want to bring that up? ... I don't know what he was trying to get at.

      "I only know one way how to dribble. I've been dribbling the same way my whole life. So maybe it was strategic or something, but I don't think they'll call anything."

      Mix this with the verbal battle between Chicago's Jimmy Butler and Boston's Marcus Smart, and you have some genuine bad blood between the teams heading into Game 5.

      Rondo got his cast off, and since shooting isn't his thing anyway, then the thought of his return sometime in this series is not out of the question. The way he played in the first two games in Boston, his cheerleading, and even trying to trip Jae Crowder while on the bench, earning a fine from the league, and you know what this series means to Rondo.

      "His wrist tendon has quieted down a little bit," Hoiberg said Tuesday, "so (they) just decided to remove the cast. He's still in a splint for his thumb."

      If Rondo remains sidelined, Isaiah Canaan would make his first start of the season at the point in Game 5 for Chicago. He had 13 points in 34 minutes in Game 4.

      The Celtics made adjustments after Game 2, changes easier to make with Rondo out. Boston coach Brad Stevens brought Gerald Green back from oblivion and into the starting lineup, and the move worked. Green scored eight points in Game 3, then added 18 points and seven rebounds in Game 4.

      Before Game 3, Stevens owned a 2-10 playoff record, the worst in NBA history for any coach with at least 10 decisions. Now, the picture is brighter as his team returns home for Game 5.

  • NBA notebook: Bulls' Rondo could play in Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    Early Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls ruled point guard Rajon Rondo out for Game 5 against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, but that may have changed, according to a report by USA Today.

    • USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt reported Rondo, "will see if he can give it a go," according to "a person with direct knowledge of the situation."

      Rondo was reportedly trying to shoot a basketball on Tuesday, and he now seems likely to make his return before the Eastern Conference first-round series is over. The series is tied at two games apiece.

      Rondo is no longer wearing a hard cast to protect the right thumb and a previous wrist injury.

      The series is tied 2-2.

      --All-Star Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is close to full strength and said he is ready to play when the Jazz visit the Los Angeles Clippers in Tuesday night's playoff game in Los Angeles.

      Hayward came down with food poisoning prior to Sunday's Game 4 of the series and was limited to nine minutes before he was sent home at halftime. Utah won the contest 105-98 to even the series at two games apiece.

      --The NBA released the list of early-entry applicants and 182 players have filed to be eligible for the 2017 NBA draft.

      The list includes 137 college players and 45 international players. The deadline to apply was Sunday.

      College basketball players with eligibility remaining -- and who didn't hire agents -- must withdraw by May 24 to maintain their eligibility and return to school. Other players have until June 12 to withdraw for the draft, which will be held on June 22.

      Last year, 162 players filed for early entry to the NBA, and 57 withdrew to return to college.

  • Jazz F Hayward will play in Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    All-Star Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is close to full strength and said he is ready to play when the Jazz visit the Los Angeles Clippers in Tuesday night's playoff game in Los Angeles.

    • Hayward came down with food poisoning prior to Sunday's Game 4 of the series and was limited to nine minutes before he was sent home at halftime. Utah won the contest 105-98 to even the series at two games apiece.

      Now Hayward is aiming to help the Jazz take the lead in the series.

      "I feel a lot better," Hayward told reporters on Tuesday. "I was definitely down for the count. I haven't been that sick in years."

      Hayward said that both he and his wife suddenly got sick after eating at a sandwich shop.

      Asked if he will return to the sandwich shop, Hayward shot back, "absolutely not."

      Utah coach Quin Snyder said there would no limits on Hayward's minutes.

      "It goes without saying, he's been our best player this year, our best offensive player," Snyder said. "It's good to have him after the other night."

  • Early-entry list for draft includes 182 players
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    The NBA released the list of early-entry applicants on Tuesday and 182 players have filed to be eligible for the 2017 NBA draft.

    • The list includes 137 college players and 45 international players. The deadline to apply was Sunday.

      College basketball players with eligibility remaining -- and who didn't hire agents -- must withdraw by May 24 to maintain their eligibility and return to school.

      Other players have until June 12 to withdraw for the draft, which will be held on June 22.

      Last year, 162 players filed for early entry to the NBA, and 57 withdrew to return to college.

      Among the players who have declared are the probable top three picks, listed in alphabetical order: UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Washington shooting guard Markelle Fultz and Kansas forward Josh Jackson.

      Eleven players applied from Final Four teams North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon and South Carolina.

      National champion North Carolina applicants are junior guard Joel Berry II, junior forward Justin Jackson, junior guard Theo Pinson and freshman forward Tony Bradley.

      Three players from national runner-up Gonzaga declared -- freshman center Zach Collins, junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and junior forward Johnathan Williams.

      Oregon could potentially lose three players: junior forward Dillon Brooks, sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey and junior forward Jordan Bell.

      South Carolina sophomore guard PJ Dozier also applied for the draft.

  • Bulls' Rondo could 'give it a go' in Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    Early Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls ruled point guard Rajon Rondo out for Game 5 against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, but that may have changed, according to a report by USA Today.

    • USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt reported Rondo, "will see if he can give it a go," according to "a person with direct knowledge of the situation."

      Rondo was reportedly trying to shoot a basketball on Tuesday, and he now seems likely to make his return before the Eastern Conference first-round series is over. The series is tied at two games apiece.

      Rondo is no longer wearing a hard cast to protect the right thumb and a previous wrist injury.

      "His wrist tendon has quieted down a little bit," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Tuesday. "So just decided to remove the cast. He's still in a splint for his thumb."

      Prior to the report by Zillgitt, Hoiberg said Isaiah Canaan would be the starting point guard in Game 5. It would be Canaan's first start of the entire season.

      The Bulls took a 2-0 series lead behind Rondo's strong play. He fractured the thumb during Game 2, in which he nearly posted a triple-double with 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and also had five steals.

      Chicago attempted to replace him with Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams in Games 3 and 4, but lost both games. When Grant and Carter-Williams were again ineffective early in Game 4, Canaan scored 13 points in 34 minutes.

      Canaan wasn't even active for Game 3.

      "It really tests your mental part of basketball," Canaan said. "Our job is to play, whenever it may be. It may be the first 10 games of the season. It may be the last 10 games.

      "Everybody on this team wants to play, and you can only have five out there. So, whenever your name is called, you've got to be ready to go, no matter when it is."

      The Bulls averaged 108.5 points with Rondo while winning two games in Boston. They averaged just 91 points without him while losing two home games in Chicago.

  • NBA roundup: Warriors complete sweep of Trail Blazers
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    PORTLAND, Ore. -- Stephen Curry scored 37 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter as the Golden State Warriors buried the Portland Trail Blazers 128-103 Monday night at Moda Center to complete a four-game series sweep.

    • Draymond Green scored 21 points for the Warriors, whose second-round Western Conference playoff opponent will be the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

      Kevin Durant returned to the Warriors' lineup after missing two games with a left calf injury, and he scored 10 points and hit both his 3-point attempts in just 20 minutes of action.

      Damian Lillard scored 34 points and Al-Farouq Aminu added 25 for the Trail Blazers.

      Golden State jumped to a 14-0 lead in the game's first three minutes. Curry's 3-point shot made it 28-5 six minutes in. Portland started 1 of 11 from the field; the Warriors hit 12 of their first 14 attempts.

      Hawks 111, Wizards 101

      ATLANTA -- Dennis Schroder, saddled with three early fouls and held scoreless in the first half, finished with 18 points to help the Atlanta even the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at two wins apiece.

      Schroder scored on two 3-pointers, a jump shot and a driving layup in the final four minutes as the Hawks rebuffed Washington's comeback effort.

      Paul Millsap won the showdown with Markieff Morris, who called the Atlanta forward a "crybaby" after Game 3. Morris had nine points and four rebounds. Millsap totaled 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

      Washington was led by Bradley Beal with 32 points. John Wall scored a series-low 22 points and added 10 assists and five rebounds.

      Raptors 118, Bucks 93

      TORONTO -- Norman Powell, starting for only the second time in the series, scored 25 points as Toronto defeated Milwaukee to take a 3-2 lead in an Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchup.

      Game 6 will be Thursday in Milwaukee.

      Powell was put into the lineup for Game 5 in Milwaukee after Toronto's poor effort in Game 4. Kyle Lowry added 16 points and 10 assists for the Raptors. Serge Ibaka chipped in with 19 points and DeMar DeRozan had 18.

      Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 30 points and nine rebounds.

  • Illness, injuries bug Jazz, Clippers heading to Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    LOS ANGELES -- In three of the four postseason games between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, the winning team prevailed despite losing a star player during the action.

    • Whether or not the trend continues in Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series on Tuesday night at Staples Center, at least one of the clubs will start without a top performer.

      Utah captured Game 4 on Sunday to even the series 2-2 despite playing the second half without All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who couldn't overcome a case of food poisoning.

      Joe Johnson, the Game 1 hero, rescued the Jazz again in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his game-high 28 points, including 11 straight at one point. He helped the Jazz to claim a 105-98 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

      As of Monday night, the Jazz hadn't announced whether Hayward would play Tuesday. The club said his status was to be determined, meaning his availability probably wouldn't be known until after the Tuesday morning shootaround or before tipoff.

      If Hayward isn't able to play, Jazz coach Quin Snyder would be forced to mix and match his lineups, much as he did in Games 1 and 4.

      "It's beyond next man up for us," Snyder told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's really a process of the day. We've really become numb to it. It's almost like the weather."

      In Game 4, the Clippers were forced to weather the storm without Blake Griffin, who is sidelined for the rest of the postseason with a plantar plate injury to his right big toe he sustained in the team's Game 3 win.

      Point guard Chris Paul collected 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds Sunday, but he couldn't prevent the Clippers' fourth-quarter fade.

      The Clippers also received a solid outing from guard Jamal Crawford, who struggled in the previous three postseason games before coming off the bench to score 25 points with a career-high five 3-pointers in Game 4. However, foul trouble limited Crawford in the fourth quarter.

      "Give (the Jazz) credit. They made shots and we missed every shot down the stretch," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought the turning point for us was Jamal's fifth (foul) and they were small, and we had to take him out. And we didn't have another guard. I thought they hurt us in that stretch because Jamal had it going."

      It was the second time in the series that Utah prevailed while playing short-handed. Rudy Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee less than 20 seconds into the opener, returned for Game 4 to deliver 15 points and 13 rebounds.

      Johnson lifted the Jazz in Game 1 by scoring 21 points and hitting the winning bucket at the buzzer to stun the Clippers at Staples Center.

      Austin Rivers (strained left hamstring), who has missed the past 10 games, is expected to return for Game 5. However, Doc Rivers said his son would play limited minutes.

      "I don't know what to expect," Doc Rivers said. "I would say if he gave us a couple of good minutes, I would be good with that."

  • Rondo out, Canaan to start at point for Bulls
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    The Chicago Bulls will try Isaiah Canaan as their starting point guard in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference series against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.

    • The Bulls have struggled since Rajon Rondo sustained a thumb injury in Game 2 in the best-of-seven series and sat out the past two games, both Chicago losses. The series is tied 2-2.

      Rondo was without his cast Monday during a day off, but coach Fred Hoiberg ruled Rondo out for Game 5. However, there is a chance that Rondo, who also is dealing with a wrist injury, could return for Game 6 after he initially said he would be out several weeks.

      "His wrist tendon has quieted down a little bit," Hoiberg said Monday. "So just decided to remove the cast. He's still in a splint for his thumb."

      Canaan will be making his first start after shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 26.6 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. He also is not considered a great defender.

      Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams were unable to get the job done at the point in place of Rondo in Games 3 and 4. Canaan was the Bulls' only effective point guard in Game 4, finishing with 13 points in 34 minutes.

      Grant and Carter-Williams have combined to make just 6 of 28 shots from the field and they committed nine turnovers in the past two games.

      In the first two games, Rondo had a combined 23 points, 20 assists, 17 rebounds, seven steals and four turnovers.

      The rest of the Bulls' lineup knows it needs to help offset the loss of Rondo and not put it all on Canaan.

      "Obviously with Rondo going down, the ball's going to be a lot more in my hands," said Chicago's Dwyane Wade, who had 11 points in Game 4. "But I talked to Coach about it, there were a couple opportunities where I could have been more aggressive. Some of it is on me.

      "I have to figure out a way to, certain times, be more aggressive than I was last game. And I'll figure it out. I've been playing a long time, so I'll leave it up to myself to figure it out."

  • Rockets can close out Thunder in Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook on Sunday drew a line in the sand rebuffing the disparagement of teammates, offering a statement of support and solidarity in the aftermath of another come-from-ahead defeat in Game 4.

    • While the numbers are glaring -- Oklahoma City is plus-3 with Westbrook on the court in its Western Conference first-round postseason series with the Houston Rockets, minus-40 with him on the bench -- there is another point to consider.

      The Rockets' three-man bench has been exceptional throughout the series, which resumes with Game 5 on Tuesday night at Toyota Center and the Thunder on the brink of elimination.

      On Sunday in Oklahoma City, it was reserve center Nene who carried the load, posting 28 points and 10 rebounds in a 113-109 win. But all season long, the Rockets have come to rely on Nene and guard Eric Gordon, with guard Lou Williams joining the fray at the midseason trade deadline.

      "They've been having that confidence all year long. I've been having that confidence in them," Houston All-Star guard James Harden said. "That's how we've been playing all along."

      Williams (72 points), Gordon (60) and Nene (54) are second, third and fourth in scoring for the Rockets this series. Their production has been integral in keeping the Rockets rolling through lulls and has set the stage for fourth-quarter rallies. Houston has outscored the Thunder 128-89 in the final period this series.

      Westbrook is averaging a triple-double this series (35 points, 12 rebounds, 11.3 assists) but is shooting just 31.6 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter. The Rockets' ability to throw multiple looks in his direction has paid off in crunch time.

      "The game changes. You've got to be able to withstand runs, especially against a team like that because they shoot a lot of threes and create situations where they make runs," Westbrook said. "You've got to be able to withstand them for 48 minutes."

      If the Thunder are looking to correct late-game collapses, the Rockets are seeking solutions to their sluggish starts. Houston erased deficits of 15 and 14 points to win Games 2 and 4, and is aiming to avoid those early holes altogether.

      The Rockets anticipate a jolt of energy from their crowd in what will be the first close-out game of the series. They also recognize it will take far more than that.

      "Obviously, we've played well here the first two games," Houston forward Ryan Anderson said. "We just want to continue to play hard, keep our same game plan but getting a good start for us is really important."

      One potential hope for a breakthrough for Houston: The Rockets have yet to catch fire from behind the arc. After averaging 15 3-pointers on 37.5 percent shooting against the Thunder during the regular season, the Rockets are shooting just 31.8 percent (42 for 132) on 3s despite scoring 114.8 points per game.

      Oklahoma City continues to hang its hat on defense. That could be false hope.

      "Every game we've played we've done things that we need to do better and better. I still think there are areas we can get better at and improve," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Overall for the most part, the things that we wanted to do against Houston defensively, we've tried to do pretty well."

  • Warriors' Durant to return for Game 4 vs. Blazers
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    Golden State forward Kevin Durant is available to return from a two-game absence to play Monday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Trail Blazers in Portland, the Warriors announced.

    • Durant, who participated in Monday's shoot-around with no limitations, sat out the past two games with a calf injury sustained in the second half of the series opener.

      The Warriors hold a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

      Durant practiced Friday and participated in Saturday's shoot-around but sat out that night's game, a 119-113 win for Golden State.

      Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who could miss the rest of playoffs due to complications following two back surgeries two years ago, said last week that Durant would have played in Game 3 if it "was Game 7 of the Finals."

      Golden State guard Shaun Livingston, who has a right index finger sprain and hand contusion, and swingman Matt Barnes, who has a sprained right ankle, were ruled out for Monday's contest. Livingston hasn't played since Game 1. Barnes has been out since April 8, missing the final two regular-season games and the first three playoff games.

  • Spurs, Grizzlies down to best-of-3
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    The first-round Western Conference playoff series between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs has, after four games split between the two teams, come down to which squad can win two of the next three.

    • The rugged battle to advance (or is it survive?) is tied at 2-2 after the Grizzlies answered San Antonio's two wins at home with two on their home floor, and will be renewed on Tuesday night at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

      Memphis squared the series with a 110-108 overtime victory on Saturday in which the Grizzlies found a way to win despite committing 23 turnovers that led to 31 Spurs points and a career-high 43 points from Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio's erstwhile MVP candidate.

      The difference on Saturday was Marc Gasol's floating jumper over LaMarcus Aldridge of San Antonio with 0.7 seconds left in overtime.

      "(Gasol) made the play that mattered," said Mike Conley, who led the Grizzlies with a postseason franchise-record 35 points and added nine rebounds and eight assists. "It's scary as hell watching (Leonard). He was unbelievable.

      "We have to play with the same intensity on Tuesday. Of course, we're in desperation mode. But according to the media, we were supposed to be swept anyway."

      San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said both teams played their hearts out in Game 4.

      "It was just a fantastic basketball game," Popovich said. "The fans got their money's worth. Marc made a great shot. L.A. (Aldridge) contested it very well; it (went) down.

      "We got down a couple of times but stuck with the program and kept on playing, which is always a good thing to see."

      Leonard carried the Spurs into the overtime by scoring their last 16 points. In the final four minutes, he was 5 of 7 from the floor (including 3 for 3 from 3-point range), 3 of 3 from the line, took a rebound (after one of his own misses, leading to free throws) and stole the ball twice, with both steals ending up in baskets he made.

      "Honestly, I'm taking suggestions on how to guard Kawhi Leonard," Memphis coach David Fizdale said. "I've tried everything and the guy is just tough. Man, is he a superstar."

      Tony Parker added 22 points for the Spurs two nights after he didn't score and wasn't credited with an assist in San Antonio's Game 3 loss.

      "You know it's going to be a physical series," Parker said. "Memphis is going to make it hard. You know they are going to do a lot of fouling and stuff like that. They made more shots.

      "Obviously, playing at home, they play with a lot more confidence and I have to give them credit. I thought we played well enough to win the game."

      The teams have split eight games this season, with the home team winning each time.

      "Guys are more comfortable at home," Fizdale explained. "You know, sleeping in their own beds and playing in their own arena. For our young guys, those first few games they had the jitters and maybe coming home, getting their feet wet here, playing well and now going back out on the road, they will feel a little bit more comfortable."

  • Bucks try to take back advantage against Raptors
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors regained their energy to bounce back in Game 4. Now it is up to the Milwaukee Bucks to do the same Monday night in Game 5 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

    • After being humiliated in Game 3, the Raptors made some adjustments both in strategy and attitude Saturday to even the series 2-2 with an 87-76 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

      "I've always said we play better with our backs against the wall," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "It's a tough way to live, but I love our team's resilient personality.

      "I wish we wouldn't have a stinker before we play that way, but if we can consistently get everybody at their potential level, I think we'll be in good shape."

      The Bucks committed 21 turnovers Saturday. Seven of those were by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was held to 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field.

      "We need to do a better job moving the ball, find the open guy," Antetokounmpo said. "The Raptors are collapsing in the paint and we need to do a better job of finding the open man and take care of the ball. If we do that, we're going to be in a great position."

      It will be up to the Bucks to show their resilience in Game 5 at the Air Canada Centre if they want to regain the advantage they had after winning 97-83 in Game 1 at Toronto and 104-77 in Game 3 at Milwaukee.

      "Our tempo was extremely slow," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said Saturday. "Give them credit; they slowed us down. It wasn't a high-scoring game. No one could make a shot.

      "But our tempo in that second half came to a halt. Our energy level was low, for whatever reason. We've got to fix that going into Game 5."

      Among the adjustments made by the Raptors on Saturday was to use center Jonas Valanciunas off the bench and start guard Norman Powell at small forward.

      Powell provided a spark at both ends of the court just as he did in last year's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.

      He scored 12 points – including five straight to give Toronto a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter -- and also helped provide strong defense against Bucks guard Khris Middleton.

      Powell's role was to go to the hoop to help open things up for Kyle Lowry, who had 18 points, and DeMar DeRozan, who had 33 points after scoring only eight with no field goals in Game 3.

      "Just to have a presence there, to put the defense in rotation," Powell said. "We needed more drives, more kick-outs to have their defense scrambling because they're so long.

      "Their length is really disruptive, they're blitzing Kyle and DeMar in pick-and-rolls so you need someone to attack, loosen up the defense and re-attack on the kick-outs or hit the shooters for open shots."

      Valanciunas, who has started 357 games and come off the bench six times in his career, came into the game when Bucks center Greg Monroe entered.

      Valanciunas scored 12 points and Monroe had 14.

      "I thought (Valanciunas) handled it really well," Casey said. "It's tough for a guy that's started every game that he's been physically ready for and able to play.

      "And to understand this is the playoffs, it wasn't anything he did wrong but just the matchup that he had with Monroe. I thought he came in and did an excellent job. He had the proper attitude, proper disposition and he was a pro."

      Said Monroe said: "We just couldn't really score, honestly. They only had 87 points. It was just a sloppy game for us. We definitely got off to a slow start; we didn't come out energetic. We have to come out ready. It's the playoffs. From the tip to the last horn, you've got to play at a high level."

      DeRozan was feeling a sigh of relief after picking up his play.

      "I was just going quick, being aggressive, not waiting on the doubles," DeRozan said. "It was getting to my sweet spot and making a quick move, a quick play.

      "We played two Game 7s last year; we played six games in the conference finals with the champs (the Cleveland Cavaliers). You go back to every moment you were in and understand what needs to be done, if you're coming off a bad game."

  • Jazz C Gobert (knee) upgraded to questionable for Game 4
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    Utah Jazz standout center Rudy Gobert was upgraded to questionable for Sunday night's Game 4 against the Los Angeles Clippers, coach Quin Snyder told reporters at the team's mid-day shootaround.

    • Gobert hyperextended his left knee and suffered a bone bruise during the first possession of Game 1. He missed the following two games and was initially listed as doubtful for Game 4 before he displayed improvement.

      "He's making a lot of progress," Snyder said. "He's a lot farther along than I thought he'd be at the time of his injury."

      The Jazz won Game 1 despite losing Gobert but lost the following two contests.

      Gobert averaged 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and an NBA-leading 2.6 blocked shots per game during the regular season. He is viewed as one of three candidates for Defensive Player of the Year honors -- the others being San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard and Golden State forward Draymond Green.

      "His effect is obvious," Snyder said. "He's a dynamic player and he makes us better."

      The Clippers are experiencing their own injury issues and lost power forward Blake Griffin for the series due to a toe injury he suffered in Game 3.

  • Bulls' Rondo fined $25K for trying to trip Crowder
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    Injured Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo was fined $25,000 for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder, the NBA announced Sunday.

    • Rondo was on the bench in street clothes for Friday night's Game 3 when Crowder was in the vicinity and about to head up the court. Rondo stuck out his leg at Crowder with 31.1 seconds left in the first quarter as the forward ran by.

      Rondo, who fractured his right thumb in Game 2, claimed afterward that he didn't attempt to trip Crowder.

      "When you tear an ACL, your legs get stiff on you every once in a while," Rondo told reporters in an apparent reference to his serious knee injury in 2013. "I stretched my leg out. I also do that throughout the game. I guess he was so deep into our bench, it looked maybe whatever may have happened."

      Boston won the contest 104-87 but the Bulls hold a 2-1 series lead.

      Game 4 is Sunday night in Chicago.

  • Rockets' Beverley fined $25K for fan altercation
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 for a confrontation with a fan after Friday night's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA announced on Sunday.

    • Beverley reportedly got into the postgame incident with Stuart Scaramucci, the son of Thunder minority owner Jay Scaramucci.

      In the first half, Beverley landed at the feet of Scaramucci and immediately pointed to referee Scott Foster and complained about Scaramucci. It wasn't clear from video what Scaramucci may have done or said.

      Beverley confronted Scaramucci after the contest and they had a heated exchanged. Rockets teammate Sam Dekker and security guards led Beverley away.

      Beverley declined comment about the situation on Saturday and said he would "talk more after the investigation is done."

      The feisty Beverley scored just one point in Game 3 after averaging 18 points and eight rebounds in the first two games.

      Game 4 was Sunday afternoon at Oklahoma City.

  • Kerr's illness still unknown, return to Warriors not set
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    The health of Steve Kerr is now the Golden State Warriors' biggest concern and the ailing head coach may miss the remainder of the Western Conference first-round playoff series.

    • The Warriors announced Saturday afternoon that Kerr, who missed the team's morning shootaround, would not be able to coach Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night because of an illness.

      Assistant coach Mike Brown filled in for Kerr in the 119-113 victory over the Blazers as the Warriors rallied to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

      "He hadn't been feeling well for a couple days, so I knew it would be a possibility," Brown told reporters before the game.

      Specific details about Kerr's condition have been scarce and the cause of the illness is not yet known.

      According to San Jose Mercury News sources, at the worst of this current illness, Kerr was in excruciating pain and he could barely walk.

      Kerr, who could miss Game 4 on Monday night, is no stranger to health issues as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year missed the first 43 games of the 2015-16 season while dealing with headaches, nausea and an ailing neck due to complications from back surgery.

      Kerr hasn't felt well all series, according to people around him, and recently the pain became unbearable, the Mercury News reported, adding it is unknown if these issues are even related to his past health problems.

      Stephen Curry scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter -- including the Warriors' final nine points of the game -- as they rallied from a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Trail Blazers in Game 3.

      The Warriors did it under the direction of Brown, formerly the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.

      "He's obviously going through a lot physically, and that's first and foremost for him to take care of himself, make sure he's on the road to recovery and feeling like himself," Curry said of Kerr at the postgame podium.

      "We've got his back. We've had certain situations all year (and) previous years where players are down and you've got the 'next man up' philosophy. Same with Coach Kerr. He's done a great job of implementing a philosophy and a strategy and an identity of how we play Warrior basketball. And even in his absence, we want to kind of live up to that.

      "Coach Brown did a great job of stepping in -- (and) the whole coaching staff -- and that'll have to continue until he's back. But us as players, we have an opportunity to keep fighting, keep playing and keep pushing to our goal."

      Curry told ESPN immediately after the game that he grabbed the game ball following the final buzzer to present to Kerr.

      "Our coach is going through a lot right now, physically," Curry said on ESPN. "He told us this morning this is a situation where we need to rally and go out and win a game for him. But we felt that the way the game had gone, we had to fight and do it for him ... and the way that he said it was that we had to win one for the Gipper. So, shout out to Coach Kerr."

  • Nurkic returns for Trail Blazers
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, who has been out for three weeks with a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg, is scheduled to start Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night in Portland, Ore.

    • Meanwhile, the Warriors will be without forward Kevin Durant for the second straight game because of a calf injury. He was listed as questionable for Saturday's contest up until nearly game time. Durant suffered the injury in the second half of Game 1.

      Nurkic missed the final seven games of the regular season and the first two playoff games at Golden State.

      His status for Saturday's game was not known until about an hour before tipoff, but the 7-foot center, known as the Bosnian Beast, has been shooting around in warmups.

      In 20 games since joining Portland, Nurkic is averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.25 assists in 29.2 minutes.

      The Warriors hold a 2-0 advantage in the series. Besides Durant, Golden State is without coach Steve Kerr because of illness as well as guards Shaun Livingston (right index finger sprain and hand contusion) and Matt Barnes (sprained ankle).

  • NBA roundup: Grizzlies get even with Spurs
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol's floating jump shot over LaMarcus Aldridge with 0.7 seconds left in overtime gave the Memphis Grizzlies a 110-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night at FedExForum to even their first-round Western Conference playoff series 2-2.

    • Memphis won despite a playoff career-high 43 points for San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard. Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 35 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists. Leonard added eight rebounds, six steals and three assists to his stat line.

      Leonard scored the Spurs' last 16 points in the fourth quarter and his fade-away jumper with 12 seconds left in regulation gave San Antonio a 96-94 lead. But Conley, who had 11 points in the fourth, answered with a floater in the lane with 4.5 seconds left to tie the game at 96. Leonard missed a contested 21-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

      Warriors 119, Trail Blazers 113

      PORTLAND, Ore. -- Stephen Curry scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Golden State rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Portland.

      Klay Thompson added 24 points for the Warriors, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series. CJ McCollum scored 32 points and Damian Lillard added 31 for the Trail Blazers, who host Golden State in Game 4 on Monday night.

      Lillard scored 22 points and McCollum 17 as Portland led 67-54 at halftime. The Blazers extended their advantage to 75-59 early in the third quarter before settling for an 88-87 lead entering the final period.

      Raptors 87, Bucks 76

      MILWAUKEE -- DeMar DeRozan shook off his dismal Game 3 performance and scored 33 points as Toronto evened their Eastern Conference best-of-seven first-round playoff series with Milwaukee 2-2.

      DeRozan missed all eight of his field goals and scored eight points in the Raptors' 27-point Game 3 loss but exploded early

      Saturday, scoring 21 points in the first half and made 12-of-22 shots for the game.

      Tony Snell led the Bucks with 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers while the rest of the team went 0 for 11 from distance. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 14 points but committed seven of Milwaukee's 20 turnovers.

      Hawks 116, Wizards 98

      ATLANTA -- Paul Millsap had 29 points and 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double and Atlanta led wire-to-wire in beating Washington in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

      Millsap was 12 of 20 from the field and had five assists. His only problem was at the line, where he was 5 of 9. The Hawks, who trail in the series 2-1, also got 27 points from Dennis Schroder, 20 of those in the first half, with nine assists.

      The Wizards got 29 points from John Wall, who was 10 of 12 from the field and added seven assists and four rebounds. Wall scored 32 points in each of the first two games.

  • Spurs C Dedmon sidelined for Game 4
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon sat out Saturday's Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series against the host Memphis Grizzlies because of an illness.

    • The Spurs, who entered the contest with a 2-1 series advantage, made the announcement approximately two hours before tipoff.

      San Antonio elected to start with a smaller lineup as opposed to inserting Pau Gasol immediately into the game to square off against his brother, Memphis center Marc Gasol.

      Dedmon, 27, has averaged 1.3 points per game in the series after recording 5.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest during the regular season.

  • Clippers consider how to adapt without Griffin vs. Jazz
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    SALT LAKE CITY -- How far can the Los Angeles Clippers go without Blake Griffin?

    • That's a question facing the Clippers after Griffin suffered a season-ending injury to the plantar plate in his right big toe in the first half of Friday's 111-106 victory over the Utah Jazz.

      Los Angeles rallied in the second half without Griffin to take a 2-1 lead over Utah in the Western Conference first-round series, but it came at a huge cost.

      Without Griffin in the lineup, the Clippers will have to make major adjustments to their offensive sets. Los Angeles prefers to run high pick-and-roll with Griffin and Chris Paul. Griffin averaged 25.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the first two games of the series.

      Now the Clippers must find new ways to attack the Utah defense heading into Game 4 on Sunday night.

      "One of the biggest adjustments is we obviously won't be able to play through the post as much," Paul said. "Blake is such a dynamic player in that we go to him in the post and we cut and move off of him.

      "In the ball screens, a lot of times he's our other assist guy. A guy we play off of and stuff and just his leadership. It's just a different feeling when he's on the court."

      Paul sparked Los Angeles in the second half in Game 3, scoring 24 points en route to a season-high 34 points. He hit four straight baskets in the fourth quarter to fuel a decisive 15-0 run.

      A bigger load will fall on his shoulders and on DeAndre Jordan to pick up the slack.

      Paul seems up to the challenge. He is playing some of his best basketball in the postseason. The veteran guard is averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds against Utah.

      "He's just good, number one," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "He trusts the actions we're running, number two, and he has an amazing wheel. He really does. He's just a tough, tough guy.

      "He's stubborn in a very, very positive way. All the great ones have that in them. They are stubborn enough like they aren't going to lose."

      The Jazz are already in the position of navigating the postseason without one of their best players. Rudy Gobert has been sidelined for all except 17 seconds of the series after hyperextending a knee and suffering a bone bruise on the opening possession of Game 1.

      Gobert was upgraded to questionable for Game 4, Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters Sunday at the team's mid-day shootaround.

      "He's making a lot of progress," Snyder said. "He's a lot farther along than I thought he'd be at the time of his injury."

      Dealing with Gobert's absence hasn't been easy. Utah appeared poised to take a series lead on Friday until Paul took over in the fourth quarter.

      Gordon Hayward powered the Jazz to an early double-digit lead after exploding for 21 of his career-high 40 points in the first quarter.

      Hayward went 7 of 8 from the field while playing all 12 minutes in the quarter. He scored the most points of any Jazz player in a quarter in a playoff game.

      Hayward struggled a bit down the stretch. He scored a single fourth quarter field goal and threw away an inbounds pass in the final seconds.

      Snyder said other players need to step up to take the pressure away in those situations.

      "Gordon is our leader out there on the court," Snyder said. "He had a big game. It just shows there's other things that you got to do.

      "I don't look at it as a wasted effort or anything like that. He's capable of doing that. We've been talking about him having one of those nights, if he stays aggressive."

      Limiting the Clippers around the basket continues to be a problem for the Jazz. Utah has allowed 48.7 rebounds per game in three games against Los Angeles. The Jazz are also surrendering 49.3 points in the paint per game.

      It has opened the door for the Clippers to get plenty of second-chance baskets and make it tough for the Jazz to get stops at critical junctures. Utah is in must-win mode going into Sunday's home game.

      "Definitely, you don't want to go down 3-1 going back to their place," Jazz guard George Hill said. "They have been playing well at home. Yes, it's a must-win situation for us. I feel like we would rather put the pressure on them going there 2-2 knowing we can get a win there and bring it back home."

  • Warriors coach Kerr to miss Game 3 with illness
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr will miss Saturday's Game 3 of the Western Conference first-round series against the host Portland Trail Blazers due to illness.

    • The Warriors are also without star forward Kevin Durant (calf) for the second straight game.

      Assistant Mike Brown will serve as acting head coach in place of the 51-year-old Kerr, who did not attend the team's morning shootaround.

      Kerr is no stranger to health issues as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year missed the first 43 games last season while dealing with headaches, nausea and an ailing neck after undergoing major back surgery.

      In addition to Durant (calf), guard Shaun Livingston (finger, hand) and swingman Matt Barnes (ankle) were also ruled out for the Warriors, who hold a 2-0 advantage in the series.

  • Celtics seeking equalizer at Bulls
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    CHICAGO -- The Boston Celtics arrived in Chicago just hoping to play their way back into their Eastern Conference playoff series with the Bulls.

    • Now, with a win on Sunday at the United Center, the Celtics can return home in a dead heat with the Bulls.

      Boston drew even in the best-of-seven series with a 104-87 victory on Friday night. In a game in which the Celtics saw a 20-point lead dwindle to one early in the third quarter, Boston pounded the Bulls from the perimeter with 17 3-point field goals and used fast-paced ball movement to keep Chicago from ever getting close.

      But after earning their first victory in the series, the Celtics understand they will have to keep pushing in order to get their second.

      "It's certainly better to be down 2-1 than 3-0," Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Saturday. "We're going to have to play with great purpose, be intentional about the way we approach (Sunday's game). We know it's going to be really hard and each game is its own entity."

      The Celtics relied on a balanced scoring attack to build their lead. While guard Isaiah Thomas -- who scored 16 points, well off his season average of 28.9 points -- didn't score as much as his teammates have become accustomed to, he contributed nine assists.

      Still dealing with the death of his sister, who was killed in a car accident last weekend, Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers to widen the gap after Chicago had drawn to within a point.

      His teammates fed off his effort and then did enough to get within a game of the Bulls.

      "I felt like as a team, we had a much better rhythm (Friday)," Celtics center Al Horford said.

      The Bulls, meanwhile, struggled with pace in their first game playing without injured point guard Rajon Rondo. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams both struggled in Rondo's absence and leading scorer Jimmy Butler was 7-of-21 from the field. Chicago turned the ball over 18 times and had only 14 assists (compared to Boston's 34) and the offensive woes -- coupled with the Bulls' defensive issues -- all added up to the 17-point loss.

      Now, like the Celtics did on Friday, Chicago will enter Sunday's game looking to bounce back.

      "We're in a good position," Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. "One thing Rondo did before he went out is help us win two games on the road. Now we have two of the next three (games) on our home court and we have to come in and care of business at home."

      With Rondo out indefinitely, the Bulls won't have a lot of time to make the adjustments they will need to get to within a game of closing out the Celtics. Wade said after Friday's loss that Chicago can't afford to use Rondo's absence as an excuse.

      But given what's at stake before the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5, the Bulls believe they can do what's needed to make the Celtics' comeback efforts even tougher. Now, they will need to carry out their plan on their home floor.

      "I think a big theme of the playoffs should be possession by possession, quarter by quarter, game by game," Bulls center Robin Lopez said. "You just try to keep a level head, even with failure and success. We're going to come back (Saturday) and look at the film to make improvements."

  • Pacers attempt to avoid sweep by Cavaliers
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Paul George was driving to the lane and scoring at will. Lance Stephenson was hitting his 3-pointers and barking. Myles Turner was posterizing center Tristan Thompson.

    • Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking Thursday night. The Indiana Pacers led 74-49 at halftime and were on their way to climbing back into their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

      About an hour later, LeBron James and Cleveland had torn the hearts out of the Pacers and their fans, having completed the largest comeback in NBA playoff history.

      With two of the Big 3 on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, James led a bunch of "cerebral players" as the Cavs beat the Pacers 119-114 to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

      Game 4 is Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and the Pacers will be fighting for their playoff lives, knowing they let one get away. Indiana has never been swept in a seven-game playoff series.

      "There are three things in life," coach Nate McMillan said. "You can give in. You can give up or you can give it all you got. I expect us to give it all we can."

      The Pacers played that way in the first half Thursday as they set a team record for points scored in a half with 74. But the second half was a different story.

      "We came out in the second half with a 25-point lead and had a chance to put our foot on their throat," said George, who tallied 36 points as well as 15 rebounds and nine assists. "Instead, we came out relaxed and just allowed them to step into wide-open 3-pointers."

      James finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love did not play in the fourth quarter -- not one second.

      Coach Tyronn Lue went with a group of veterans who understood where they needed to be on offense and were willing to play lock-down defense. Iman Shumpert didn't score, but he harassed George enough where the Pacers star finished the game 10 of 28.

      "Our bench definitely got the game ball tonight," James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the game. "Channing (Frye), Shump (Iman Shumpert), D-Will (Deron Williams), Kyle (Korver), those guys came in and gave us huge minutes. We needed everything from them."

      With that group on the floor, the Cavaliers shot 62 percent from the floor and outscored the Pacers 35-23 in the fourth quarter.

      "They were awesome," Irving said of the bench group that helped finish the game. "They had us going crazy on the bench."

      Frye especially was deadly, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and finishing with 13 points, four rebounds, two steals and one block in 20 minutes.

      While Cleveland took Friday off, the hangover from Thursday's loss permeated a quiet Indiana practice on Friday.

      "It's weighing on me today," George said. "It will weigh on me tomorrow, probably up until Sunday."

      McMillan said his team was "(ticked) off ... that we allowed that game to get away, which we should be."

      "We had control of that game and you need to learn a lesson from that game," the coach added. "It's a 48-minute game and you have to come out with even more urgency in that third quarter to put this team away."

      The Pacers' approach to Sunday's game is simple: win or go home.

      "We've got one on our floor," George said. "We've got to treat it as our Game 7 and we've got to look at this series as four Game 7s. We've got to do it one game at a time."

      Indiana players believe they can come back and win.

      "No doubt," Myles Turner said, "if we have any pride at all."

  • Westbrook, Thunder can level series vs. Rockets
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    The Oklahoma City Thunder won Game 3 because of a triple-double by Russell Westbrook. The Thunder also won because Westbrook was not a one-man show.

    • And because Westbrook combined with his teammates, the Thunder are facing the prospect of squaring their first-round series with the Houston Rockets as opposed to getting swept away.

      Westbrook and Oklahoma City gets its chance to even the series Sunday afternoon when it hosts the Rockets in Game 4.

      Westbrook posted his seventh postseason triple-double Friday in a 115-113 win when he totaled 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. The line was a stark contrast to Game 2, when Westbrook scored 51 points and seemed willing to do it all in the fourth quarter.

      "We are one team," Westbrook said. "I don't have a cast. I don't have a guy. We are all in this together. My teammates have done a great job all season long. We will continue to trust in each other and our abilities to stay a team and stay as one."

      It did not work in Game 2 when Westbrook misfired on 14 of 18 shots in the fourth quarter and Oklahoma City scored 22 points in the fourth.

      This time, the drop-off from Westbrook to his teammates was not as significant. Westbrook made 11 of 24 shots and 23 of his attempts were inside the arc as he constantly attacked the rim.

      His most notable help was provided by Taj Gibson, who scored 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting and also shadowed James Harden at times. Also supporting Westbrook were Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo, who contributed 12 points apiece.

      "I had to do a better job of trusting my teammates for 48 minutes," Westbrook said. "Today those guys made plays throughout the whole game and that's what I tried to do."

      The triple-double was Westbrook's second in a row, making him the first player to record back-to-back triple-doubles in the same playoff series since Jason Kidd in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals for the New Jersey Nets against the Boston Celtics.

      "I thought he was unbelievable," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "He got guys shots. He took advantage when they switched. He did a lot of different things. He played an exceptional game."

      Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the series with 35 points, 11.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. The Thunder are 5-2 when Westbrook registers a playoff triple-double but the efficient triple-double and the inefficient triple-double are reflected in the differences in the results.

      Still, despite more involvement from others, the Thunder nearly squandered a double-digit lead. They held three 10-point leads in the fourth and only a missed 3-pointer by Harden with 7.7 seconds left as Roberson defended prevented Oklahoma City from falling behind in the final seconds and possibly losing.

      "I just dribbled down the court," Harden said. "I saw the paint get closed in once I passed half court. I gave a little jab. He bit (on) it. I just shot the ball. Shot it with confidence. It was a little bit short."

      Harden provided another big game with 44 points on 11-of-21 shooting. He missed two 3-pointers in the final 15 seconds after keeping the Rockets in the game in the third quarter.

      The Rockets, however, might not have been in the position of needing Harden's 3-pointers if they started better.

      Houston was able to overcome a double-digit deficit in Game 2, falling into an early 16-4 hole. This time, the Rockets fell behind by nine after the first quarter and were facing an uphill climb most of the night.

      "We've got to come out with some dog in us," Harden said. "Second half, we did a really good job on both ends of the floor. I think both (Games) 2 and 3 we spot them 10 points and it's tough."

      Also making it tough for the Rockets is if their typical efficiency on 3-point shooting doesn't happen. So far, Houston is not shooting the ball great from distance by going 31.9 percent (31 of 97), including 10 of 35 on Friday.

      Houston was 4-12 in the regular season when shooting less than 30 percent from long range, and the Thunder emphasized closing out on 3-point shooters. It was a ploy that worked in the second half when the Rockets were 4 of 21 from 3-point range.

      So far in the series, the Rockets are getting mixed results from their 3-point shooters.

      Harden is 10 of 30 from 3-point range but Ryan Anderson is 2-of-18 after shooting 40.8 percent on 3-pointers in the regular season. Eric Gordon is 6 of 16, Lou Williams is 6 of 11 and Trevor Ariza is 0 of 6.

      Perimeter shooting aside, it also comes down to be ready from the outset.

      The Rockets were able to get away with it at home but on the road despite making a charge in the fourth.

      "We just didn't have the will or the want early in the game, and then we rectified that," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's a little bit of a re-occurring theme is that it takes us a little while to get going. We'll address it, and try to get it better. We've got to play the whole 48 like we did the last 24. The last two games we have not done that."

  • Clippers' Griffin to miss rest of playoffs with toe injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Los Angeles Clippers star forward Blake Griffin will miss the remainder of the NBA playoffs because of a big toe injury, the team announced Saturday.

    • The news came less than 12 hours after the injury to the plantar plate of his right big toe suffered in the first half of the Clippers' 111-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

      The five-time All-Star forward will be re-evaluated upon the team's return from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and will see foot and ankle specialist Dr. Richard Ferkel.

      The 6-foot-10, 251-pound Griffin injured the toe after landing awkwardly with 3:18 left before halftime. He went to the locker room during a subsequent timeout and had X-rays taken on the toe.

      Griffin scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and collected six rebounds in 18 minutes. He averaged 25.0 points and 6.0 rebounds during the first two games of the series against the Jazz.

      During the 2016-17 regular season, Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 61 games.

      Griffin, 28, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. In last year's playoffs, he aggravated a left quadriceps injury in Game 4 of the Clippers' first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers and did not return for the remainder of the series. The Clippers eventually were eliminated in six games.

      Griffin missed 18 straight games earlier this season after undergoing surgery on his right knee.

      With Griffin out in the second half, Clippers point guard Chris Paul sparked the team's second-half rally Friday night, finishing with a season-high 34 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists.

      "One of the biggest adjustments is, we probably won't be able to play through the post so much," Paul explained after the game how different the Clippers' offense will be without Griffin. "He's such a dynamic player. We go to him in the post, and we cut and move off him. ... He's our other assist guy. Just his leadership, it's just a different feeling when he's on the court."

      The Clippers have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 will be Sunday night in Utah.