LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks all began their first-round playoff series at a home-court disadvantage.
After moving ahead of their higher-seeded opponents with early-series road wins, all three are up 2-1 and in position to move to the brink of the second round Sunday.
The stakes are similar in all four NBA playoff games on a tantalizing slate: Atlanta, Dallas and the defending NBA champions will attempt to seize firm control of their series at home, while the heavily favored Brooklyn Nets can do the same in Boston.
Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas are probably aware of the massive statistical edge for NBA teams with a 3-1 series lead — only 13 of 260 teams in that situation have ever blown it. They also realize Phoenix, New York and the Clippers will play for a split with appropriate intensity.
“It’s going to be probably the biggest game in this series unless, it goes to a Game 7,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said Saturday.
“We’re going in wanting to protect home court,” he added. “They’re wanting to take home court again, so we know they’re going to come out and play desperate. You never want to lose back-to-back games in a series. We have to know this team is going to come out with a lot of desperation. Guys are probably going to play a lot of minutes.”
Davis has been the Lakers’ key player in both of their victories over Phoenix, dropping 34 points in back-to-back matchups while the Lakers’ vaunted defense limited the Suns.
Trae Young and Luka Doncic have played similarly pivotal roles in their respective series, and the stages are set for series-defining games in Atlanta and Dallas. Davis (sprained knee) and Doncic (cervical strain) are both questionable for Game 4.
KNICKS AT HAWKS
Atlanta leads 2-1. Game 4, 1 p.m. EDT, ABC.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Hawks haven’t had a 3-1 lead in a playoff series since 1987, when they defeated Indiana 3-1 in what was then a best-of-five opening round.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Young. Determined to shine in the first playoff series of his career — especially after he was passed over for a spot in this year’s All-Star Game in his home city — Young is turning the series into a personal showcase. He hit the game-winning shot in the opener at Madison Square Garden and either scored or assisted on 18 points in a decisive 22-5 run that closed out the first half in Game 3. Young is adjusting to whatever the Knicks throw at him defensively, shooting when there’s an open look or dishing to an open teammate. He is the sixth player in NBA history to get 30 assists in their first three playoff games, joining Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
— INJURY WATCH: New York C Nerlens Noel was able to play nearly 22 minutes in Game 3 despite a sore right ankle. He had 12 points and eight rebounds.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Knicks All-Star Julius Randle. He has struggled the entire series and was especially woeful in Game 3, hitting just 2 of 15 shots from the field to finish with 14 points. After averaging 37.3 points in three regular-season meetings against the Hawks, he’s managed just 44 total points in the first three games of the playoffs. Randle’s shooting percentage (24.1) is the worst by anybody in the first three games of an NBA postseason with at least 50 shots since the advent of the shot clock.
SUNS AT LAKERS
Los Angeles leads 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Lakers haven’t won back-to-back playoff games at Staples Center since May 18, 2012, when Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol beat the loaded Durant-Westbrook-Harden edition of the Oklahoma City Thunder before eventually losing the second-round series.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Dennis Schröder. The German point guard dropped 20 points on Phoenix in Game 3, outscoring Devin Booker and getting under Phoenix’s collective skin. Schröder is playing for his next contract in this postseason, and his ball-handling and dribble penetration create a dimension lacked by last season’s Lakers.
— INJURY WATCH: Chris Paul (bruised right shoulder) didn’t practice Saturday. His availability is uncertain, coach Monty Williams said. … Lakers starters Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are hoping to play with leg injuries. Davis is obviously vital to LA’s hopes, while the cold-shooting Caldwell-Pope (bruised quad) could be capably replaced by Wesley Matthews or Markieff Morris.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Booker. The Suns’ shooting star burned out in Game 3, getting ejected in the final minute for a dangerous, frustrated shove to an airborne Schröder. Although Booker escaped suspension for the flagrant foul, the Suns desperately need a big game after he went 6 for 19 in Game 3.
NETS AT CELTICS
Brooklyn leads 2-1. Game 4, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: What can Jayson Tatum do for an encore? He scored 50 points in the Celtics’ victory in Game 3, looking more comfortable than he did while scoring 31 points combined in Boston’s two losses in Brooklyn. Tatum overcame 80 combined points from Durant and Harden, while Kyrie Irving managed only 16 on 6-of-17 shooting.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: TD Garden will be near full capacity for Game 4, according to the Celtics. Boston won Game 3 in front of 25% of its its home fans, whose frenzied presence is an obvious advantage.
— INJURY WATCH: Kemba Walker managed only six points for Boston in 34 minutes in Game 3 while dealing with a bone bruise in his left knee. His availability for Game 4 is likely to be a game-time decision.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Irving. His former Boston fans reveled in his relatively poor performance in Game 3, and a full arena will be waiting for his answer against the underdog Celtics.
CLIPPERS AT MAVERICKS
Dallas leads 2-1. Game 4, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: Doncic is averaging a cool 38 points per game in the series after dropping 44 in Game 3. The Slovenian superstar has scored 300 points in his first nine career playoff games, a number surpassed in NBA history only by Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (325 each).
— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Clippers can be a tenacious defensive team when properly motivated, and they won Game 3 because they ratcheted up their pressure on everybody except Doncic: Kristaps Porzingis managed only nine points and three rebounds, while Tim Hardaway Jr. missed all eight shots he took inside the 3-point line. The Mavs’ adjustments could determine Game 4.
— INJURY WATCH: Doncic had pain in his neck and down his left arm after Game 3. … Clippers C Serge Ibaka (back pain) wasn’t in Dallas on Saturday, and coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t know if he’ll be available after missing Game 3.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Clippers. Although they’re up off the mat, teams that fell behind 0-2 in a series still only win it about 6.3% of the time. Billionaire owner Steve Ballmer did not sign Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to win exactly one playoff round together in their first two years — and possibly their only two years, if the peripatetic Leonard leaves this summer. The Mavs are playing with house money until they’re facing elimination.
AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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