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  • 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.

      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.

      Jazz coach Quin 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.

  • NBA roundup: Westbrook, Thunder hold off Rockets
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook's second missed free throw of the closing seconds kept the door open for James Harden heroics, but he missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Houston Rockets 115-113 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

    • The Rockets lead the series 2-1 going into Sunday's Game 4. Westbrook finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

      Harden hit a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left to lift the Rockets into a tie for the first time since early in the second half. Westbrook followed with his first 3-point attempt of the game. It bounced off the rim, but Steven Adams was there to put it back up for the lead. Then the teams traded free-throw tries until Harden's drive in the final seconds with the Rockets down two.

      Westbrook had his triple-double -- his 44th of the season -- by the end of the third quarter. He became the first player with back-to-back triple-doubles in the same playoff series since Jason Kidd in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals.

      Harden finished with 44 points and 18 free throws.

      Clippers 111, Jazz 106

      SALT LAKE CITY -- Chris Paul scored 24 of his 34 points after halftime to help Los Angeles rally in the fourth quarter in Game 3 against Utah.

      DeAndre Jordan had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Luc Mbah A Moute added 15 points for the Clippers. Los Angeles took a 2-1 lead and notched its first-ever playoff win in the state of Utah after going 0-5 in previous trips.

      Blake Griffin scored 11 points and collected six rebounds before leaving with a bruised right big toe late in the second quarter. He did not return in the second half.

      Gordon Hayward scored a career-high 40 points to lead the Jazz. George Hill added 26 points and Joe Johnson chipped in 15 off the bench for Utah.

      Celtics 104, Bulls 87

      CHICAGO -- Al Horford scored 18 points, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder added 16 apiece to help Boston beat Chicago in Game 3.

      Four Boston starters reached double figures. Avery Bradley scored 15 points and Terry Rozier finished with 11 off the bench to round out the balanced scoring attack.

      Dwyane Wade scored 18 points and Jimmy Butler added 14 for Chicago, which struggled to play with the pace it had in the first two games before Rajon Rondo injured his thumb.

  • Clippers' Griffin leaves in first half with injured toe
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    SALT LAKE CITY -- Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin bruised his big right toe during the second quarter of Game 3 against the Utah Jazz on Friday night. He did not return to the game.

    • 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.

      The Clippers forward scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and collected six rebounds in 18 minutes.

      Griffin averaged 25.0 points and 6.0 rebounds for Los Angeles during the first two games of the series.

  • Grizzlies seek to even series with Spurs
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    The Memphis Grizzlies fed off the choice words of their coach and a fired-up home crowd to get their first series win. Now things get tougher.

    • "It gets harder and harder as you go along, so, yes, Game 4 will be our toughest game we've played this year," Memphis veteran Vince Carter said after Friday's practice, as the Grizzlies prepare for Saturday's game with the San Antonio Spurs at FedEx Forum in Memphis.

      Although the Spurs had more attempts (28, to Memphis' 20) from the free throw line in Game 3 on Thursday, two days after an anti-officials tirade from Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, Memphis was able to limit San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard and beat the Spurs 105-94. San Antonio leads the series 2-1.

      Fizdale struck a different tone in Thursday's postgame press conference.

      "I ain't going down the road, man," Fizdale said when asked about the continued disparity in foul shots. "I'm begging for my players to pay fines I don't think that's a good look, to keep going down that road.

      "A lot of that was to put pressure on our team to step up."

      On Thursday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich applied his own pressure to the Spurs.

      Less than a minute into the second half, with San Antonio trailing by nine, Popovich pulled all five of his starters.

      "We turned it over twice to start the minute like we were out on a picnic someplace," Popovich said in his postgame news conference. "I don't know. Those two turnovers, and then the mistake defensively where Marc (Gasol) got the three-pointer at the top, and all of a sudden, it was a nine-point game.

      "I thought at that point, we lost a little bit of composure and a little bit of confidence, and the rest ensued."

      Leonard, who scored 69 points in the first two games, and was limited to 18 on Thursday, got his coach's message.

      "He was just disappointed in the last couple plays," Leonard said. "So, I guess he thought that we all should come out of the game at that time and see if that second unit had more energy."

      Leonard was 4-for-4 from the line after making all 19 of his free throw attempts in Game 2.

      Prior to Thursday, Fizdale had wondered if Leonard was even human.

      "He was standing next to me the other night and, he wasn't breathing. He wasn't breathing," Fizdale told The Sporting News prior to Game 3. "So, I'm going to check the rulebook and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA 'cause somehow Pop and them have figured (it) out. They know something I don't know. I think he bleeds antifreeze or something."

      In the first three games, Leonard is shooting 67 percent from the field and 32 of 32 from the line.

      To even the series at 2-2, Memphis will need big contributions again from the trio of point guard Mike Conley, center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, who accounted for 66 of the Grizzlies points on Thursday.

      The series returns to San Antonio on Tuesday for Game 5.

  • Trail Blazers face must-win vs. Warriors
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    PORTLAND, Ore. -- Kevin Durant is "questionable." Jusuf Nurkic is "doubtful."

    • But the Golden State-Portland series rolls into Saturday's Game 3 at Moda Center with this certainty: The Warriors have a distinct advantage over the Trail Blazers, who are trying to dig out of an 0-2 hole.

      "We have to get a win," Portland point guard Damian Lillard said. "You don't want to go into Game 4 down 3-0. That's dangerous territory. We'll feel a lot better if we go into Game 4 down 2-1, looking to tie up the series."

      Durant said after Friday's practice session the condition of his strained calf, which kept him out of Wednesday night's Game 2, is improving.

      "Felt good today," Durant said. "It's getting better. We'll see how it feels (Saturday) morning."

      "We didn't do much at practice," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, "but he went through all the stuff we did."

      Durant had 32 points and 10 rebounds in a 121-109 victory in Sunday's opener, "and I played the whole fourth quarter on (the calf)," he said.

      He said Kerr and the Warriors have had experience with other players nursing calf injuries.

      "They don't want to risk reinjuring it or I might be out for a long time," Durant said. "I understand. I'm trying to look at the big picture. But I definitely want to be out there."

      Durant had missed 19 games late in the regular season because of a knee injury.

      "It's unfortunate," he said. "You work so hard to get back. I played well the first game (of the series). But it's part of sports. I just have to push through it."

      Kerr said Durant was scheduled to go through an individual workout later Friday and then shootaround on Saturday.

      "We'll see how he does," Kerr said. "Until he is 100 percent, we have to be cautious and make the right decision. If it were Game 7 of the finals, he'd play. We're not talking about anything that could damage his career. But it's something that could potentially get worse and knock him out for two weeks. Then it's not worth it.

      "Kevin is frustrated, especially coming off the six weeks of inactivity. He's dying to be out on the floor. It's driving him nuts, but he knows this is the right approach."

      The Warriors also listed reserves Shaun Livingston (finger) and Matt Barnes (ankle) as questionable for Game 3.

      Nurkic hasn't practiced with Portland in the postseason and hasn't played a game since March 28, having missed nine games with a non-displaced fracture of his right leg. The 7-foot center, acquired in a February trade with Denver, shot around with his teammates during Friday's practice session but is listed as doubtful for Saturday.

      The Blazers, manhandled 110-81 in Game 2 at Oracle Arena, were 25-16 at home during the regular season, finishing by winning 11 of their last 14.

      "We have a special home-court advantage because of the way our fans operate, but (players from) any team will say they have an advantage at home," Lillard said. "You sleep in your own bed. You're in your comfort zone. You're on your home floor. Your crowd will be behind us.

      "On the road, when a team hits a few big shots, you have to call a timeout. Now, that's going to be on our side. It creates a certain level of confidence and puts a certain amount of stress on the visiting team."

  • NBA notebook: Bulls' Rondo out with fractured thumb
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a fractured right thumb in Game 2 on Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics and will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday.

    • The Bulls said Rondo underwent a subsequent exam, and X-rays confirmed the thumb fracture. His injury will not require surgery.

      Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday that Rondo will be re-evaluated in seven to 10 days and is wearing a cast. Rondo also has been dealing with a wrist injury that caused him to miss three games in the final week of the regular season.

      Second-year point guard Jerian Grant will start in Rondo's place for Game 3 on Friday night in Chicago. The Bulls lead the series 2-0.

      --Kevin Durant participated in the Golden State Warriors' practice and accompanied the team on its flight to Portland for Saturday's Game 3 against the Trail Blazers. However, Durant is still listed as questionable for the game because of a calf injury suffered in Game 1.

      "Look, if it was Game 7 of the Finals, (Durant) could play," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We're not talking about something that could damage his career. What we're talking about is something that if it potentially gets worse and knocks him out for a few weeks, it's not worth it."

      Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, who has a right index finger sprain and hand contusion, and swingman Matt Barnes, who has a sprained right ankle, both practiced, and both are listed as questionable for Saturday's game.

      --Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was fined $15,000 by the NBA for using inappropriate language during a postgame media interview.

      Westbrook made his comments after the Thunder's 115-111 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night to go down 2-0 in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.

      Westbrook scored 51 points in that game and added 13 assists and 10 rebounds.

      "I don't give a (expletive) about the line," Westbrook told reporters. "We lost."

      Game 3 will be played in Oklahoma City on Friday night.

      --Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. was fined $25,000 by the NBA for kicking the ball into the stands.

      The incident occurred at the conclusion of the 109-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night that gave the Wizards a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference series.

      Oubre had one point and one rebound in 13 minutes.

      --The Sacramento Kings hired Scott Perry as executive vice president of basketball operations, the team announced.

      Perry will report directly to general manager Vlade Divac and assist in all aspects of the day-to-day operation of the Kings' front office, including roster management and development, player personnel matters, scouting strategy and free agency negotiations.

      Perry joins the Kings after serving the last five seasons in a similar capacity with the Orlando Magic.

  • Warriors F Durant questionable for Game 3
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Kevin Durant participated in the Golden State Warriors' practice on Friday afternoon and accompanied the team on its flight to Portland for Saturday's Game 3 against the Trail Blazers. However, Durant is still listed as questionable for the game because of a calf injury.

    • With a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Warriors are likely to take a cautious approach and make sure Durant is 100 percent before putting him back on the court.

      "Look, if it was Game 7 of the Finals, (Durant) could play," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. "We're not talking about something that could damage his career. What we're talking about is something that if it potentially gets worse and knocks him out for a few weeks, it's not worth it."

      Durant, who injured his calf in the second half of Game 1, did extra shooting after practice.

      "I'm good laterally," Durant told the San Jose Mercury-News. "I think just stopping and going (is the problem), but it's getting better.

      "I played the whole fourth quarter on it and I just felt like getting off of it and waiting until the (next) game, I'd be fine. But they've had some experience with it. They didn't want to risk it and I'd be out for a long time. I understand, trying to look at the bigger picture.

      "I want to play, want to be out there every step of the way with the team. But I understand health is important. I want to feel great for a long run at this postseason. I understand the big picture, but I still want to play."

      Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, who has a right index finger sprain and hand contusion, and swingman Matt Barnes, who has a sprained right ankle, both practiced Friday, and both are listed as questionable for Saturday's game.

  • Kings tab Perry as VP of basketball operations
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    The Sacramento Kings hired Scott Perry as executive vice president of basketball operations, the team announced Friday

    • Perry will report directly to general manager Vlade Divac and assist in all aspects of the day-to-day operation of the Kings' front office, including roster management and development, player personnel matters, scouting strategy and free agency negotiations.

      Perry joins the Kings after serving the last five seasons in a similar capacity with the Orlando Magic, who fired general manager Rob Hennigan and assistant GM Perry last week as part of the front office overhaul.

      "I'm thrilled that Scott will be joining our front office team," Divac said in a statement. "His extensive experience in the league and management talents will help build on our progress as we work to develop a winning franchise."

      Prior to his time in central Florida, Perry spent parts of 12 seasons with the Detroit Pistons as a collegiate scout, director of player personnel and later as vice president of basketball operations. The Pistons won the NBA title in 2004 during Perry's tenure. He also served as the then-Seattle Supersonics assistant general manager in the 2007-08 season, during which the franchise drafted Kevin Durant No. 2 overall.

      Before entering the NBA executive ranks, Perry spent three seasons as head coach at Eastern Kentucky (1997-2000) and nine years as an assistant coach at Michigan, California and Detroit Mercy.

  • Hawks strive to rebound from hole against Wizards
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks hope a return to their homecourt will provide the boost they need to overcome the odds and get back in their first-round playoff series. But the Washington Wizards have other ideas.

    • The two teams play Game 3 on Saturday at Philips Arena, with Washington holding a 2-0 lead.

      "They have home-court advantage," Atlanta forward Paul Millsap told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They played off of that. To us, it's 0-0. We are going back to Atlanta. We are still confident."

      Washington guard John Wall said, "We're supposed to protect home court. We're supposed to win. Now we have to go on the road and try to get a game there. We feel like we haven't played our best basketball yet."

      Washington won three of the four regular-season meetings. The two teams split the two games in Atlanta. Including the playoffs, Washington has won five straight against the Hawks.

      Although Atlanta does have the next two games at home -- where the Hawks are 23-18 this season -- only 18 teams have erased a 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

      "We had a chance in both games," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We gave ourselves a chance on the road in the playoffs. Nobody likes the result. Nobody feels any better. But the fact that you are there and you have an opportunity, you have to keep building on it."

      Turnovers have been a big stumbling block for Atlanta in the first two games. The Hawks turned it over 16 times in the second game, six of them in the fourth quarter. They committed three turnovers in the final five minutes, leading to a 16-4 run for Washington.

      "Turnovers killed us," Millsap said. "We didn't execute. We let them play their style of game. When we do that, they obviously hurt us getting up and down the court. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially in the fourth quarter."

      Atlanta must also find a way to slow Washington's guard tandem of Wall and Bradley Beal. They combined for 54 points in the opener and 63 points in the second game. In Game 1, Wall became the first player since 2011 to record 32 points and 14 assists in a playoff game, a feat accomplished only four times since 2000.

      The Wizards have also gotten a solid effort from center Marcin Gortat, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in both games. Gortat has gotten the best of Atlanta center Dwight Howard, who was limited to six points and seven rebounds in Game 2 and played only 20 minutes.

      The Wizards finished the season as one of the league's hottest teams and have not slowed down in the postseason. Washington was 43-21 over the final 64 games, the third-most in the league behind Golden State and San Antonio.

      The only player known to be out is Ian Mahinmi, Washington's backup center, who will miss at least Games 3 and 4 with a strained left calf. Mahinmi has yet to play in the series.

      The fourth game will be Monday in Atlanta. A fifth game, if needed, would return to Washington on April 26.

  • Wizards C Mahinmi to miss at least two more games
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Washington Wizards backup center Ian Mahinmi will miss at least Games 3 and 4 of the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, the team announced Friday.

    • Wizards coach Scott Brooks said Mahinmi's strained left calf was re-evaluated and he has "definitely improved, feeling better each day but he definitely won't play the next few games."

      The 6-foot-11, 262-pound Mahinmi has missed the start of the postseason after being injured late in the regular season. He averaged 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 31 games this season.

      "There's really no timetable, other than whenever he's ready, he's ready," Brooks said before the team traveled to Atlanta for Saturday's Game 3 at Phillips Arena. "There's no pressure from me or our staff."

      The Wizards lead the Hawks 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

  • Wizards F Oubre fined for kicking ball into stands
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Friday for kicking the ball into the stands.

    • The incident occurred at the conclusion of the 109-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night that gave the Wizards a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference series. Oubre had one point and one rebound in 13 minutes.

      Game 3 switches to Atlanta on Saturday.

  • Thunder PG Westbrook fined for salty postgame language
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was fined $15,000 by the NBA on Friday for using inappropriate language during a postgame media interview.

    • Westbrook made his comments after the Thunder's 115-111 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night to go down 2-0 in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.

      Westbrook scored 51 points in Game 2 and recorded the highest-scoring triple-double in playoff history. He set a franchise playoff scoring record and added 13 assists and 10 rebounds. It was the sixth career playoff triple-double for Westbrook, who had an NBA-record 42 in the regular season.

      At the postgame press conference after the game, Westbrook did not want to talk about his statistics.

      "I don't give a (expletive) about the line," Westbrook told reporters. "We lost."

      Game 3 will be played in Oklahoma City on Friday night.

  • Bulls' Rondo out indefinitely with fractured thumb
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a fractured right thumb in Game 2 on Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics and will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday.

    • The Bulls said Rondo underwent a subsequent exam and X-rays confirmed the thumb fracture. His injury will not require surgery.

      Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday that Rondo will be re-evaluated in seven to 10 days and is wearing a cast. Rondo also has been dealing with a wrist injury that caused him to miss three games in the final week of the regular season.

      Second-year point guard Jerian Grant will start in Rondo's place for Game 3 on Friday night in Chicago.

      The eight-seeded Bulls beat the Celtics 111-97 on Tuesday to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Rondo just missed with a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, and added five steals.

      Hoiberg said the injury occurred during the third quarter of Game 2 after Rondo was swiping for the ball and hit the elbow of Celtics 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk.

      "Rondo's obviously been unbelievable in the two wins that we had in Boston," Hoiberg said. "So to get the news that we got last night was obviously very difficult. At the same time, the guys are going to get an opportunity to play more. It's what you work for. It's why you put so much extra time in the gym is for this opportunity ... everybody's going to have to be ready to pick up for what Rondo gives us.

      "We can't change the way we're approaching things right now because one of our star players is out. We need to pick up for what he gives us and I'm confident our guys will do that."

      Rondo is averaging 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds in the Bulls' two victories over the Celtics.

      "We're going to miss him," Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said after Friday's shootaround. "The pace that he sets for the team, the leadership that he brings, and the way that he plays. We've still got to go out there. We're expected to win. We know what we're capable of. I guess we're doing this for him now."

  • Gobert-less Jazz look to shore up middle vs. Clippers
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    SALT LAKE CITY -- Getting owned in the paint by an opponent is unfamiliar territory for Utah. It's a plausible scenario that the Jazz could face again as long as center Rudy Gobert remains sidelined.

    • Gobert will not play against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 of the best-of-seven, first-round Western Conference playoff series Friday. He is still recovering from hyperextending his knee on the first possession of the series opener, and it could take a while before he is game-ready again.

      Without Gobert protecting the rim, Utah surrendered 60 points in the paint in a 99-91 Game 2 loss to the Clippers that evened the series at 1-1 on Tuesday night. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin led the way in crushing the Jazz's interior defense with a flurry of dunks and layups.

      The Clippers also dominated the glass at crucial times and forced Utah to try to beat them on offense instead of defense. Jazz coach Quin Snyder said his team needs to step up defensively in other ways to deal with Gobert's absence.

      "Rudy is not going to walk through the door right now," Snyder said. "Whatever adjustments we make, it's not going to replicate Rudy. There's things we can do a little differently but, as far as just shoring up the paint, I'm not sure that's going to happen at a level Rudy did it."

      It may come down to how effective Derrick Favors can be long term in sliding over from power forward. Favors has averaged 32.5 minutes in the playoffs after playing 17.3 minutes per contest in his final three regular-season games in April. He is averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds in the playoffs.

      Favors has struggled a bit with fatigue as he gets used to playing heavy minutes again, but he is willing to do whatever is needed while Gobert recovers.

      "It's a little different than playing the four, especially on the offensive end," Favors said. "I'm in different areas, mainly closer to the basket. Stuff like that I got to adjust to. I've been in that position before. I've talked to Quin about it. I've talked to Rudy and a couple of other guys about it. They gave me pointers on where to be on the offensive end. It's working out for me right now."

      If the Clippers can replicate the level of dominance they showed in Game 2, it could go a long way toward helping them reclaim home-court advantage on Friday night. Los Angeles started strong on offense and defense Tuesday as it shot 65 percent from the field in the first quarter while holding the Jazz to 29 percent from the floor in that same stretch.

      The Clippers' three main stars all chipped in with strong performances. Blake Griffin finished with a team-high 24 points. DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul each contributed double-doubles, with Paul scoring 21 points and dishing out 10 assists and Jordan scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds before fouling out in the final minute.

      They neutralized the Jazz's usual tough defense, in part by controlling tempo.

      "We moved the ball great, but all in all, our pace was pretty good all night," Paul said after the game. "Whether they scored, missed or whatnot, we just tried to keep the tempo and the pace up."

      Such a high-speed, all-around effort was needed. The Clippers never trailed, but they could not safely put the game out of reach until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

      Los Angeles expects a similar brand of intensity over 48 minutes from the Jazz in Utah.

      "They're a team that they keep fighting," Griffin said. "They keep executing. I've said it over and over, but they're really well-coached. They don't panic."

  • Down 0-2, Westbrook, Thunder host Houston
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Russell Westbrook's propensity for triple-doubles carried the Oklahoma City Thunder into the postseason.

    • Two games into their series with the Houston Rockets, Westbrook has one more triple-double.

      Westbrook and the Thunder are lacking in the most important number -- wins.

      The All-Star guard and Oklahoma City face a two-games-to-none deficit Friday night as they return home to face Houston in Game 3 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

      Westbrook averaged a triple-double during the Thunder's 47-win regular season to state his case for MVP. He guided Oklahoma City in as the sixth seed in the conference after averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists.

      In the first two games, Westbrook is averaging 36.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists.

      Westbrook, who set an NBA-record with 42 triple-doubles in the regular season, added his sixth career playoff-triple-double in Oklahoma City's 115-111 loss Wednesday.

      He scored 22 in the series opener on Sunday night when the Rockets rolled to a 118-87 win. On Wednesday, he totaled 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

      "I don't give a (expletive) about the line," Westbrook said. "We lost."

      Perhaps the most telling numbers about Oklahoma City being a one-man show was Westbrook shooting 17 of 43 from the field.

      "Seventeen of 43, we'll take that," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's what we try to do. We try to keep him under 50 percent."

      Nobody else took more than 14 shots for Oklahoma City, which might not have mattered if Victor Oladipo did not produce a disappointing 11-point, 4-of-14 performance. Andre Robertson was Oklahoma City's second-leading scorer at 12 points but needed 12 shots to get there.

      Those things resulted in the Thunder falling to 4-2 when Westbrook gets a triple-double in the postseason. Their other playoff loss in a Westbrook triple-double game occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 first round against the Memphis Grizzlies.

      In 2014, Westbrook had help from Kevin Durant. Now, his help is not an All-Star at any position.

      So, as the Thunder face a 2-0 deficit for the second time in the playoffs, coach Billy Donovan must figure out how to get more efficiency from Westbrook, maybe even some rest for him in the fourth quarter and a way to get others to benefit from the multiple defenders on Westbrook.

      Those factors seemed to take center stage during the fourth quarter Wednesday. Westbrook, who often encountered tight defense from Houston forward Trevor Ariza, was 4 of 18 in the fourth and still scored 15 of Oklahoma City's 22 points.

      The Thunder shot just 24 percent in the final 12 minutes while getting little from others as Westbrook's shot did not fall. Oladipo missed both of his shots, Roberson missed two of three shots, and Enes Kanter only took one shot.

      "That's what you have to do," Ariza said of defending Westbrook. "You have to find ways to get stops, find ways to win. He's going to score a lot of points. He takes the majority of shots on his team. He's going to find ways to get his, so if we can limit everybody else, we have a good chance."

      The Rockets are in their current position despite not playing well throughout all of Game 2. Houston fell behind 16-4 in the opening minutes, trailed by 15 in the first half and by 12 with 3:51 remaining in the third.

      "It didn't surprise me," D'Antoni said. "Whatever these guys do collectively as a group, it doesn't surprise me. I just told them, 'A great game, a great gut-check kind of win.' You have to have those in the playoffs. You can't play great all the time. We just hung in there, hung in there."

      The Rockets are getting plenty from James Harden, who is averaging 31 points, 8.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds but is doing it much more efficiently than Westbrook, shooting 20 of 45 from the floor.

      Unlike Westbrook, Harden is getting help.

      In Game 2, reserves Eric Gordon and Lou Williams combined for 43 points on 16-of-28 shooting, including 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. They were a combined 6 of 17 in the series opener, but Nene and Clint Capela provided efficiency inside by combining on 14-of-17 shooting.

      "We've got so many guys to choose from," D'Antoni said. "Somebody's going to come out and do something."

      Still, there are areas for Houston to clean up. On Wednesday, the Rockets were outrebounded 48-37, and Oklahoma City had a 20-9 advantage in second-chance points.

      A 3-0 lead has proven insurmountable so far in NBA playoff history, setting the mindset of both teams for Friday.

      "I think we'll play desperate, as well," Williams said. "We have an opportunity to put ourselves in a pretty solid position and try to go up in this series. We understand what's at stake here. I'm sure they understand their backs are against the wall. We have to come out and match their effort."

  • Celtics face must-win situation against Bulls
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    CHICAGO -- With his team in a 2-0 hole, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens can't rule out any possibilities.

    • So when the Celtics' first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Chicago Bulls shifts to the United Center on Friday night, Stevens is leaving his options open -- even if that means changing how his team looked in two lopsided losses.

      Meanwhile, the Bulls will look to replicate a game plan that provided them with two road victories over the top-seeded Celtics.

      However, the Bulls will have to do it without guard Rajon Rondo, who suffered a fractured right thumb in Game 2 on Tuesday night and will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. His injury will not require surgery.

      Rondo is averaging 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds in the Bulls' two victories over the Celtics.

      "We have to continue to go out and play for each other," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Thursday before knowing the extent of Rondo's injury. "I know our guys aren't satisfied, and we have to continue to bring it, and I'm confident that our guys will."

      The Celtics find themselves scrambling to right the ship before the series gets any worse for Boston than it already is. The team and star guard Isaiah Thomas are already dealing with the emotional pain that came when Thomas' sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident last weekend.

      Thomas left to be with his family in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday and according to the Boston Herald, funeral arrangements were not yet complete. The Celtics traveled to Chicago without Thomas, who is expected to return to play in Game 3 on Friday night.

      "This is really hard, this is super hard on Isaiah, you can tell," Stevens said Wednesday. "During the games and walkthroughs, he's trying his very best to focus. (Basketball) can be a guy's sanctuary. That's what the gym is for Isaiah. It alleviates the pain for a couple of hours. We are here to support him in any which way we can. It's tough, a challenge, but it's what we're supposed to do."

      Stevens also faces the challenge of rallying his team after back-to-back losses. While he said he wouldn't take possible lineup changes off the table, Stevens added that his team needs to focus on the small things and make changes on a possession-by-possession basis rather than trying to figure out how to make up for all of the shortcomings that put the Celtics in the hole they find themselves in.

      "We need to go to Chicago and steal two from them just like they did to us," guard Avery Bradley said. "That's our mentality ... now it's our job to go out there and prove it."

      For his part, Hoiberg will continue to stress the little things that gave the Bulls the advantage as they head back to Chicago.

      The Chicago bench also played a major role in the first two games. On Thursday, Hoiberg praised reserves Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser for their parts in Chicago's success.

      Hoiberg also likes the pace and unselfishness the Bulls played with in Boston. Given the resiliency and road poise he expects to see from the Celtics starting Friday night, he wants to keep things as status quo as possible moving forward.

      "It's about everybody on your roster playing a part," Hoiberg said. "That's what it's all about this time of year is going out and playing your role to the best of your abilities and doing your job."

  • NBA roundup: Cavs stage huge rally for 3-0 series lead
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James recorded 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a 26-point deficit to stun the Indiana Pacers 119-114 on Thursday night in Game 3 of their opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

    • Cleveland grabbed a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

      James, who has won 20 consecutive first-round playoff games, scored 28 second-half points and completely dominated the fourth quarter. Channing Frye's clutch 3-pointer with 54.8 seconds to play gave the Cavaliers a 114-107 lead.

      Cleveland outscored Indiana 70-40 in the second half. Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving and Frye each scored 13 points for the Cavs, and Kyle Korver added 12. Paul George scored 36 points, including 21 during a dominating second quarter, but Indiana could not stop James and Cleveland after halftime.

      Grizzlies 105, Spurs 94

      MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Mike Conley scored 24 points and added eight assists as Memphis defeated San Antonio to climb back in their first-round Western Conference playoff series. The Spurs, who still lead two games to one, saw their streak of 10 consecutive postseason wins over the Grizzlies end.

      Conley got most of his help from Zach Randolph (21 points, eight rebounds) and Marc Gasol (21 points, six rebounds and three assists).

      Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 18 points. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

      Bucks 104, Raptors 77

      MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton scored 20 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19, and Milwaukee's defense shut down DeMar DeRozan in a blowout of Toronto that gave the Bucks a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

      DeRozan missed all eight of his shots and finished with eight points, while the Raptors shot just 33 percent from the floor and went 6-for-22 from beyond the arc. Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright led Toronto with 13 points apiece.

      The Bucks shot 52.7 percent from the floor (39 of 74) and 52.2 percent from long range (12 of 23). Greg Monroe (16 points), Michael Beasley (13 points), Thon Maker (11 points) and Matthew Dellavedova (10 points) joined Middleton and Antetokounmpo in double figures.