Western Conference – Game 4 – Thunder lead 2-1
Oklahoma City (-9/201.5) at Dallas, 8:05 p.m. ET – ESPN
The Mavericks pulled off the biggest NBA playoff upset in two decades, defeating the Thunder in OKC in Game 2 as a 14-point underdog. Money line players who somehow foresaw Kevin Durant having one of the worst games of his career earned anywhere from +1100 to +1300 as reward for their clairvoyance. Durant recovered from shooting 7-for-33 in the loss by scoring 34 points on 11-for-25 in Oklahoma City’s 131-102 victory. He still missed six of his nine 3-point attempts and is shooting just 34 percent from the field and 7-for-26 from beyond the arc, so Dallas has been able to make things difficult on the NBA’s No. 3 scorer (28.2), primarily using Wes Matthews or rookie Justin Anderson on him and running bodies at him to mix things up.
Russell Westbrook has averaged 23.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 10.7 assists but curiously didn’t grab a single rebound in Game 3, something that hadn’t happened since a game he left after just nine minutes in after breaking his hand on Oct. 30, 2014. His regular-season low this season had been a single board.
It has to be disconcerting for the Mavericks that they have been able to win a few key points of contention thus far in this series but have still been blown out in two of three. The Thunder won every quarter in Game 3 and scored 73 second-quarter points to run away with Game 2. Game 1 saw the Thunder lead 26-11 after one, 59-33 at halftime and 91-53 through three. It was a complete annihilation.
Dallas came into the series hobbled and is a little healthier as they enter this one. Dirk Nowitzki is a few days removed from the bone bruise suffered earlier in the series. J.J. Barea returned after missing Game 2 with a groin injury that forced him to leave the series opener and scored 15 points while dishing out seven assists. Although he’s a defensive liability due to his lack of size, he is the team’s primary catalyst on the offensive end with Chandler Parsons out for the season and Deron Williams (abdominal strain) sidelined. Williams, David Lee (foot) and Anderson (shoulder) are all considered questionable but are expected to play in what is essentially a must-win situation.
Backup center Enes Kanter has been an x-factor in OKC’s wins, averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. He was just 2-for-7 in the loss, scoring six points and grabbing eight boards. Oklahoma City hasn’t won consecutive road games since March 19. Serge Ibaka is 7-for-9 from 3-point range in this series in addition to his strong work defending Dirk Nowitzki. Dion Waiters’ 19 Game 3 points were a welcome contribution, punishing Dallas for understandably keying on the Thunder’s big guns. The Mavs are being outrebounded by an average of 14.7 rebounds in the three games, hanging within 10 in only the Game 2 win. The ‘under’ had prevailed in the OKC’s last four prior to Game 3, while coming in 9 of the previous 11 games for Dallas.
Western Conference – Game 3 – Clippers lead 2-0
L.A. Clippers (-1.5/207.5) at Portland, 10:35 p.m. ET – ESPN
The Clippers dominated both games at Staples Center to seemingly grab a stranglehold on the series that was expected to be the most competitive of the Western Conference’s first-round offerings, but all the clichés are being spouted prior to this Game 3. Doc Rivers is warning against over-confidence and complacency, understanding the old adage that a series doesn’t really start until a home team loses a game. The rationale is that the Clips handled the business they were expected to, but face a far greater handling in attempting to get at least a game in Portland. From their standpoint, the Trail Blazers remain confident, knowing they tend to be a different team at home and understanding that regardless of how ugly Games 1 and 2 were, tonight’s must-win can instantly gain them a foothold in this 4-5 pairing.
Losing by 20 points in Game 1 last Sunday, Portland fell 102-81 on Wednesday night in the series that’s been the most spread out schedule-wise. While every other series will have completed at least three games and the Thunder and Mavs will already be through four, the Moda Center will be the final venue to debut as a host venue in the 2016 Playoffs. The Trail Blazers went 28-13 at home this season, tied with Boston and Miami for the seventh-best mark in the NBA. C.J. McCollum will receive his NBA Most Improved Player trophy before a sellout crowd prior to the game, giving the Blazers an opportunity to capitalize on a raucous atmosphere that should be fired up early. Thus far, strong starts have eluded Portland, which fell behind 26-21 in Game 1 and 22-17 in Game 2. The Clippers have won every quarter thus far, doing the most damage in fourth quarters by outscoring the No. 5 seed 69-49.
Multiple factors have gone into the Blazers seemingly running out of gas down the stretch. Chief among them is that they’ve been playing from behind for two games and have simply seen their energy level depleted by the time the final 12 minutes have rolled around. L.A.’s bench was outscored 42-33 in Game 1, but compounded matters Portland by completely dominating Game 2, winning the battle of reserves 43-10. We’ll see whether being back home we’ll help Allen Crabbe get going since the key backup wing has gone just 2-for-8 thus far, scoring just six points and coming up empty from 3-point range. He averaged 10.3 points during the regular season, shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford is averaging 12 points off the bench, while Austin Rivers has added 10 and Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson and center Cole Aldrich have all made solid contributions. Between DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Aldrich, the Clips have been a handful inside, wearing down the Portland front line.
Damian Lillard has struggled thus far in the series, shooting just 33 percent and averaging 19 points, six below his regular-season average. He feels he got a lot of good looks early in Game 2 but wasted opportunities by not shooting it well. McCollum, who broke through by averaging 20.8 points, has averaged just 12.5 on a 32 percent clip. He’s 3-for-12 from beyond the arc. All season, Lillard and McCollum were in the mix with Golden State’s Splash Brothers and Toronto’s All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan among the NBA’s top scoring backcourts. In this series, they’re a combined 22-for-67 (33 percent) and 6-for-26 from 3-point range. That simply won’t cut it, especially with Chris Paul dominating, averaging 26.5 points, 8.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. The ‘under’has prevailed in six of the last eight Clippers games and has hit in four straight Blazers games. Portland beaten L.A. only once in six contests, going 1-for-4 in the regular season and getting run out of Staples thus far in the series. The win came at home way back on Nov. 20. Three of the four regular-season meeting went ‘under’ the posted total.