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NBA-Playoffs 2018-Champions looking for a break, Utah to even the series ???

Western Conference First Round – Game 4 – Warriors lead 2-1
Golden State (-5.5/231.5) at New Orleans, ABC, 3:35 p.m. ET

For the first time since a 123-117 Valentine’s Day loss at Portland, Golden State dropped a game that Stephen Curry appeared in on Friday night. For perspective, keep in mind that was the Warriors’ final game prior to the All-Star break. Curry shot 6-for-17.

Over two months later, having finally conquered a knee injury that kept him out the entire first round of the playoffs, Curry shot 6-for-19 in a 119-100 loss in New Orleans. The Game 3 setback means the defending champs won’t coast to the Western Conference finals, although they can still secure their ticket comfortably if they’re able to avoid consecutive playoff losses for the first time since dropping three straight against Cleveland to famously fumble away the 2016 NBA Finals.

Golden State was 16-1 in last year’s playoffs and have already lost more games this postseason than they did in dusting the competition during its most recent title run. From that standpoint, it makes this game a great test of the Warriors’ resiliency, especially now that they’re whole again.

Curry wasn’t solely to blame despite the loss coming in his return to the starting lineup. Anthony Davis dominated everyone, aided by a 21-assist night from Rajon Rondo, who made sure his teammates found their comfort zone in the Pels’ first playoff victory since 2011.

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the team’s primary offensive threats when Curry was sidelined, combined to shoot 17-for-40, including 4-for-15 from 3-point range. As a team, the Warriors shot 38 percent for the game and were 9-for-31 (29 percent) from beyond the arc. Only Draymond Green shot better than 33 percent on 3-pointers, knocking down two of his four open looks since New Orleans has intentionally played off of him all series. Although he fell one assist shy of a triple-double, Green contributed a game-high seven turnovers.

Golden State’s lopsided loss was indeed a collective effort, which makes this an easy game for them to rebound in. Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who was one Steve Kerr’s top assistants in his first season with the Warriors, made no secret of the fact that he feels this will be his team’s toughest game yet.

After losing to the Spurs in Game 4 on the road, Golden State rebounded with a 99-91 win in Game 5 at home and Curry didn’t play in that contest. Going back to the 2014 postseason, the Warriors are 10-5 after a loss in the playoffs and that includes the three straight losses to Cleveland in the ‘16 Finals.

Although he’s not LeBron James, Davis is the most talented, dominant player that Golden State has run across since Zaza Pachulia took out Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of last year’s Western Conference finals. He finished with 33 points and 18 rebounds in dominating on Friday night, taking Rondo’s advice to drive hard to the paint and aggressively impose his will. Even Kerr’s strategy to start JaVale McGee with the idea of presenting different looks and absorbing a few early foul calls couldn’t foil the “Brow.” Jrue Holiday added 21 points, ex-Warriors reserve Ian Clark scored 18 and Nikola Mirotic finished with 16 points and 13 boards to aid the cause. New Orleans shot 50 percent from the field and made five more 3-pointers than Golden State on the same amount of attempts (31).

Is this sustainable? The Pelicans are 3-0 at Smoothie King Center this postseason, taking full advantage of the energy provided by a building that was nowhere near as full during the regular-season as it has been during his playoff run. With all the seats full and the buzz surrounding the team at an all-time high, New Orleans’ homecourt edge has been a weapon. The Pels have averaged 123 points and own a margin of victory of 14.7 points.

The total opened at 230.5 in Game 3 and was bet up into the 232 range, the highest total of the postseason by a substantial margin. Despite the under coming in due to Golden State’s unexpected lack of efficiency, the Game 4 number has held steady at 231.5. The Pelicans want to push the pace at all costs and didn’t deviate from that strategy on Friday night.

The two regular-season meetings between these two at Smoothie King produced 248 and 240 points, respectively, although those featured DeMarcus Cousins. With Curry back, the Dubs no longer look bogged down like they did down the stretch and at times against San Antonio, averaging 122 points over the first two games of the series.

This series returns to Oakland for Game 5 on Tuesday night.

Western Conference First Round – Game 4 – Rockets lead 2-1
Houston (-5/208.5) at Utah, TNT, 10:35 p.m. ET

Since it’s unlikely the Jazz would survive a pair of elimination games in Houston if they fall behind 3-1, this Game 4 is undeniably a must-win. Utah’s intense fans helped drive their team to three victories in the first-round upset of Oklahoma City but they were taken out of Friday’s Game 3 early, rendering any homecourt edge in Salt Lake City a non-factor.

The Rockets scored 39 first-quarter points and led 70-40 at the break, sending the message that Utah’s Game 2 upset, a shocker that paid out +650 on the money line, was more fluke than anything else. After coasting in the series opener, Houston’s lack of intensity on Wednesday can be explained away as an aberration given how dominant it looked when it had to in order to restore order in this series.

Houston shooting guards James Harden and Eric Gordon each scored 25 points. Forward Trevor Ariza finished a ridiculous plus-40 in his time on the floor. Utah fired away again after beating the Rockets at their own game by making 15-for-32 from 3-point range in Game 2, finishing 11-for-29. Houston actually shot just 11-for-36 from beyond the arc but feasted on 16 turnovers and controlled the paint.

Rockets center Clint Capela outperformed Rudy Gobert and produced four blocks, while Gordon bounced back from shooting 5-for-22 at home in the first few games to really make a huge impact early by making eight of 13 shots.

The Rockets withstood a raucous atmosphere in Salt Lake City by snuffing out the Jazz after allowing Joe Ingles to pick up right where he left off by making his first 3-point attempt, helping Utah take a 3-0 lead. He would make only one of his final nine attempts.

Houston had to improve its defensive effort in the series, which put a priority on making sure Ingles and Jae Crowder didn’t get in a rhythm. Utah’s primary glue guys shot a combined 16-for-25 from 3-point range through the first two games, shooting 64 percent from beyond the arc.

Ingles shot 13-for-27 from beyond the arc at home in the Thunder series, but Crowder was just 2-for-12. He hasn’t adapted well on the offensive end at home since coming over from Cleveland, shooting a brutal 26 percent in the building. That could be a factor that favors the Rockets given how confident he looked letting it fly in Houston. He shot just 1-for-6 in Game 3.

Although Royce O’Neale picked up his level of play to key a few spurts, finishing with a team-high 17 points, the Jazz aren’t beating the Rockets if he’s the offensive catalyst. Ingles, Crowder and star rookie guard Donovan Mitchell shot a combined 7-for-32 on Friday night, making 5-for-17 3-pointers. That trio must get it going for Utah to have any chance at evening the series.

Houston was the NBA’s best road team during the regular season and is now 2-1 away from home in these playoffs. Like many pundits, VI’s David thought this series would be over in five and he doesn’t expect the remaining games to be competitive unless Utah shoots over it head.

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