One thing the NBA playoffs has always shown us, especially this season, is that momentum can quickly shift from one team to another.
The #5 seeded Blazers defeated the #4 seeded Clippers 96-88 to take their first game of the series, now standing at 2-1. Damian Lillard lead his team in scoring with 32 points, and Mason Plumlee recorded his playoff career-high in rebounds with 21.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have it. The Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers hope to steal it.
OKC leads the Dallas Mavericks 3-1, and will try to advance with a win at home Monday night. The series has included plenty of pushing and jawing, technical fouls and even a rare ejection for Kevin Durant. The teams are about a dead heat in non-basketball activity, but Oklahoma City has dominated most of the action that relates to the scoreboard.
But with the Mavericks facing elimination, the Thunder expect a battle.
“We can’t be cocky,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “We can’t just rely on the fans even though we’re home. Just got to come out with the right mindset and right energy, and lock in on the game plan and not get distracted by all the antics because it’s probably going to happen again, all the weird stuff.”
Portland got back into its series with the Clippers with a 96-88 victory in Game 3 after getting blown out the first two games. The Trail Blazers will need to slow Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul, who is averaging 26.3 points and 8.3 assists in the series.
Charlotte clinched its first playoff win in 14 years with a 96-80 victory over the Heat on Saturday night.
Here’s a look at the three games Monday:
Heat at Hornets, Heat lead series 2-1 (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN).
The Hornets have been outstanding at home all season with a 32-10 record.
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford altered the team’s starting lineup, electing to go bigger with Marvin Williams at small forward, rookie Frank Kaminsky at power forward and Al Jefferson at center. Kaminsky responded with 15 points, including nine during an 18-0 run in the third quarter in Game 3.
That lineup could change again in Game 4 if Nicolas Batum is able to play. He missed Saturday night with a strained foot but said the foot is getting better and hasn’t ruled out playing. He said it could come down to a game-time decision.
Miami will look for ways to break down Charlotte’s defense.
After shooting 58 percent from the field in its first two games, the Heat dropped to 34 percent in Game 3.
“They really protected the paint,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of Charlotte’s Game 3 effort. “They were getting after us, being physical, closing out to open shooters, making us put the ball on the floor. They did a good job of corralling our drives. That’s the playoffs, particularly on the road. You’ll have to find sometimes different ways to win.”
Mavericks at Thunder, Thunder lead 3-1. (8 p.m. EDT, TNT).
While Durant and Russell Westbrook are putting up big scoring numbers as usual, their shooting percentages are down. Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka have led the way in picking up the slack.
Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 73 percent from the field. Ibaka is averaging 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent and Waiters is averaging 11 points on 45.5 percent shooting.
Kanter said it all goes back to Durant and Westbrook.
“When I’m out there with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, I say it every time, that I’m so much more comfortable out there because they do an amazing job,” Kanter said. “They make themselves better, and they make everyone else better.”
Dirk Nowitzki has been carrying the Mavericks. He is averaging 19.5 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting. But an already outmanned Mavericks squad has had J.J. Barea, Deron Williams and David Lee miss time in the series due to injury, putting the load on the shoulders of the 37-year-old Nowitzki.
“We all got to enjoy it while we can,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re seeing one of the most special athletes in sports history. And doing it an amazingly high level at really an advanced stage of his career.”
Clippers at Trail Blazers, Clippers lead series 2-1 (10:30 p.m. EDT, TNT)
Portland knew exactly what was at stake late in Game 3. It’s not much different in Game 4.
“Everybody’s season is on the line right now,” Damian Lillard said. “Guys just aren’t ready to go home. With about two minutes left it was a dead ball, and I huddled the guys up and said, ‘Are you guys ready to go home? If we don’t finish, that’s where we’re going to be headed.'”
Portland could even the series, especially if Lillard and CJ McCollum can continue to put up big numbers. Lillard scored 32 points, and McCollum added 27.
But despite the fireworks, the Clippers still lead the series and could take a commanding 3-1 advantage with a road win.
“Game 4 is a big game for us,” Chris Paul said after Game 3. “This was big too, but we have to let this go. We really need to get Game 4.”