By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and Game 1 between the Nuggets and Jazz was an encore of arguably the best showdown from the bubble. Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell did his best to single-handedly lift Utah to an overtime victory. However, Denver’s duo of Nikola Jokic (29 points, 10 boards) and Jamal Murray (36 points, 20 in the fourth quarter and OT). The Jazz remain hindered by a lack of reliable scoring alongside Mitchell. It’ll take another superstar-level showing from him for Utah to have any chance in today’s Game 2.
Milwaukee’s effort during seeding games within the NBA bubble was far from enthusiastic. The top-seeded Bucks proved unable to find a groove in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic. In an ugly, disappointing series-opening loss, the Bucks lost by double-digits to a Magic team without two of its best players (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac). Center Nikola Vucevic was a superstar in leading Orlando, scoring 35 points, including multiple big-time three-pointers. Milwaukee remains the favorite to win the series, but the Bucks cannot expect to cruise to the NBA Finals. Or even out of the first round.
Joining the Bucks as a top seed unable to notch a Game 1 win, the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. Despite Portland’s lack of rest due to playing must-win games for the past three weeks, the Blazers made a statement with its victory. Most impressive for Portland was the win came despite ho-hum games from bubble MVP Damian Lillard, who shot 9-of-21 from the field, and Jusuf Nurkic (4-of-11). The Lakers received a massive triple-double from LeBron James, but overall, the team was ice-cold shooting. Los Angeles hasn’t played well since the resumption of the season, and the team needs a much better showing in Game 2 to avoid an outright disaster.
Boston notched a Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, but the Celtics suffered a severe loss during the victory. Wing Gordon Hayward suffered a severe ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for the next month of action. Hayward’s versatility is incredibly crucial to Boston’s success, and the Celtics will be tested without his services. Marcus Smart is expected to assume his starting role beginning with this evening’s Game 2.
In the Mavericks versus Clippers match-up, big man Kristaps Porzingis was hit with a pair of controversial technical fouls, contributing to Dallas’s eventual loss on Monday night. Losing Porzingis proved to be pivotal for Dallas as his absence forced the entire offensive burden on Luka Doncic. The MVP candidate fared well (42 points on 21 shots), but his supporting cast failed to do their part. The Clippers managed the victory, but L.A. has to be disappointed with their collective showing against the Porzingis-less Mavericks. L.A. will likely look to send a message in tonight’s tilt.
Indiana mounted an impressive comeback against the Heat in Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon, but Miami ultimately persevered and notched a series-opening win. Jimmy Butler led the team with 28 points, while veteran guard Goran Dragic scored 24, many of which came courtesy of some clutch baskets during the fourth quarter. It’s worth noting that the Pacers were without Victor Oladipo for all but eight minutes of the game due to an eye injury. Nothing is indicating Oladipo will be unable to return to the court for Game 2 on Thursday.
No Russell Westbrook proved to be no problem for the Houston Rockets as James Harden erupted for 37 points and 11 boards to lead his team to a Game 1 win over the Thunder. Houston’s small-ball lineup was tested, and Thunder center Steven Adams finished the game with a nice stat line. Still, OKC had enough of its shooters post off nights that Harden’s massive effort proved to be enough. The Thunder can still make this a series with better efforts from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2-of-8 shooting) and Dennis Schroder (3-of-12). As for Westbrook’s status for Game 2, it remains up in the air.