There were some big NBA games on Tuesday night as the Bucks, playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, went fishing, the Lakers took a 2-1 lead over the Rockets behind the brilliance of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo, and Robert Covington went down with a nasty looking injury. There was also some big news not related to the playoffs, including Billy Donovan’s exit from Oklahoma City and the next NBA season likely being pushed back even further. Here’s what we know.
Miami 103, Bucks 94 – Heat win series 4-1 – The Heat are now 8-1 in the playoffs and hitting on all cylinders, getting contributions across the board without any one player dominating, although Jimmy Butler has taken over a few games. Butler attempted just six shots and hit four of them, made his only 3-pointer and was 8-of-8 from the free throw line for 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, a steal and five turnovers in the win. Goran Dragic joined him with 17 points, four rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers, Jae Crowder was outstanding with 16 points, six rebounds, a steal, a block and four 3-pointers, and Bam Adebayo was quiet, yet effective with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists, but also had five turnovers, zero steals, zero blocks and zero 3-pointers. Bam has been great and the Heat won, but he was outplayed by Brook Lopez in this one. Tyler Herro was the hero off the bench with 14 points, eight boards, six dimes, a steal, a block and three 3-pointers, while Kelly Olynyk played through his knee injury for 12 points and a full stat line in just 17 minutes. The Heat will await the winner of the Celtics-Raptors series and try to keep it going as a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference Finals, their first trip there since 2014. It’s also the deepest into the playoffs Butler’s ever been and I suspect Adebayo will be better in his next game, as he’s been outstanding throughout the playoffs until last night. Lastly, the last time the Bucks played a playoff game without Giannis was in 2013 against the Heat, and Miami eliminated them in that one, too.
The Bucks were already trying to become the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series and then lost Giannis to an apparently severely sprained right ankle he suffered on Sunday. It’s a tough break for a team that cruised through the regular season without issue in each of the last two seasons and then folded up shop in the playoffs. You have to wonder if Giannis will sign a max deal to stay in Milwaukee or if he’ll look to join a super team and start over. As for the game, Khris Middleton struggled, hitting just 8-of-25 shots and 2-of-9 3-pointers for 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, a steal, six turnovers and six fouls on a massive stage as the team’s best player without Giannis. His counting stats were fine, and I suppose he was a decent DFS play, but he could have been much better. Brook Lopez had a solid double-double with 14 points, 15 rebounds and a block, and Donte DiVincenzo, starting for Giannis, hit 5-of-9 shots and three 3-pointers for 17 points. But Eric Bledsoe joined Middleton in the shooting woes department and hit just 2-of-12 shots in the loss, finishing with nine points, nine assists, two steals, a block and a 3-pointer. The Bucks are going fishing and what Giannis decides to do after next season is going to be a big story until he makes a decision. He’s set to become a free agent after the 2020-21 season.
Lakers 112, Rockets 102 – Lakers lead series 2-1 – LeBron James had 36 points, including 29 points in the first half on lights-out shooting, Anthony Davis had 26 points, 15 rebounds and six assists on 9-of-13 shooting, and Rajon Rondo hit 8-of-11 shots and 3-of-5 3-pointers for 21 points and nine assists, including 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter. As Kenny Smith said last night, LeBron was the best Laker last night, but Rondo was the key to the win. This was just Rondo’s third game in the bubble and he’s getting more comfortable with each game. He looked really patient and composed running the offense, and his three 3-pointers were keys to the win. Additionally, LeBron’s four blocks, all in the second half, were also huge factors in the Lakers ability to keep the Rockets at arms-length for the fourth quarter. They started Markieff Morris over JaVale McGee in the second half, which made a ton of sense since McGee was wandering around out there aimlessly with every Rocket at least a foot shorter than he is. Morris didn’t play well, hitting just 1-of-6 shots, but I think he’ll start in the next one and have a better outing. Kyle Kuzma had 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while the rest of the Lakers’ lineup was pretty disappointing. LeBron tweaked his right thumb on the rim while trying to get his fifth block and AD injured his hip when Robert Covington plowed his face into AD’s elbow. But other than giving the Lakers a great excuse to put both of them on the injury report as probable, like they always do, the two stars will be out there for Game 4 on Thursday. Rondo could easily emerge as the Lakers’ on-court catalyst in winning (or losing) a championship, while the ‘Do it for Mamba’ mantra is going to also carry a ton of weight the rest of the way.
James Harden had 33 points, nine boards, nine assists and four 3-pointers and Russell Westbrook bounced back from an awful game with 30 points, eight boards, six assists, two steals, a block and two 3-pointers on 13-of-24 shooting, but it wasn’t enough. The Lakers double-teamed Harden throughout the second half and made it tough for him to get anything going, which should be the blueprint going forward. He only shot seven free throws (and made them all), which was his lowest number of attempts since Aug. 29 against OKC. Mike D’Antoni is going to be up late figuring out how to beat that strategy the rest of the way. Robert Covington fell awkwardly into Davis and smashed his nose on AD’s elbow, while also putting his own elbow into AD’s ribs or hip. Davis is fine, but Covington went to the locker room with about five minutes left, bleeding profusely, and never returned. Mike D’Antoni said as much after the game and that he didn’t know about his status for Game 4, while Ernie Johnson and TNT indicated at the end of Inside the NBA that Covington’s injury may not keep him out of Game 4. We’ll know more on Wednesday, but my guess is Covington will find a way to play. He hit 4-of-7 shots and two 3-pointers for 10 points, five boards, three assists and four steals in the loss. Covington has been a monster and I really hope he’s cleared for Thursday’s game. P.J. Tucker was very quiet and will have to better going forward, while Jeff Green came through with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting but didn’t do much more. Danuel House was out of this one for personal reason and we still don’t know if he’ll be available for Game 4, making Covington’s status even more important. And hopefully everything is OK with whatever House is going through. If Covington and House are out Thursday, Green is going to be nearly a must-start in DFS for Game 4.
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Billy Donovan out in OKC – Billy Donovan and the Thunder will not pursue a new contract, meaning Donovan is out in OKC. The Thunder are going to be rebuilding and it’s possible Donovan didn’t want to be a part of it. Either way, he’s going to be a highly attractive coaching free agent heading into the new season, both in the NBA and college. He took a team that many didn’t think would make the playoffs and then pushed the Rockets to seven games in a job well done.
NBA to push back draft, free agency and next season – And lastly, the NBA and the NBPA have agreed to push back the NBA Draft, which was originally set for Oct. 16, free agency and the start of the 2020-21 season. It sounds like the draft will still happen sometime in October, but we’ll have to wait and see what dates the two sides come to an agreement on down the line. It’s very intriguing that the NFL is pushing forward with all systems go and the season starting on Thursday, while the NBA is now talking about pushing everything back. It’s going to be an interesting finish to 2020, as if the first nine months haven’t already been interesting enough. I still think the NBA should push for a Christmas Day start and make it a permanent move. The NFL has Thanksgiving and the NBA owns Christmas. Why not make it the start of the season?
Wednesday Night – Wednesday night gives us the Raptors @ Celtics at 6:40 with Boston holding a 3-2 lead, and the Clippers @ Nuggets, with L.A. holding a 2-1 lead. Let’s go!