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Both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat were missing a key element in their respective path to the NBA final last season.
There weren’t any fans.
That changes for last year’s finalists on Thursday night when the Lakers host Phoenix and the Heat return home to play Milwaukee in two matchups in Round 1, Game 3. That’s two of the three games on Thursday, the other is Denver heading to Portland for a Game 3 competition.
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Portland and the Lakers go home after taking home advantage from higher seeded opponents in their respective series by splitting in the first two games, third-placed Denver and second-placed Phoenix. Miami limps home, the number 6 in the Eastern Conference lost 2-0 to the third-placed Bucks and was simply blown out in Game 2.
Warmth fans can get a shot in the arm – literally. The Moderna vaccine will be available if any of the expected 17,000 fans want to start vaccinating against the coronavirus. But Heat striker Jimmy Butler didn’t say a noisy home crowd, which when capacity would be the biggest in the NBA this virus-ridden season, would automatically increase Miami’s chances.
“I don’t think so,” said Butler. “We love to play in front of our home crowd, at our home level, but we still have to go out and play basketball the right way – compete and do what we say before the game, eh? We say we do after the Will make the game. “
The Lakers, who won the NBA championship in the Walt Disney World reboot bubble last season, have not won a playoff game at their home arena since May 18, 2012.
That’s how long ago it was: Lakers striker LeBron James was a month away from his first NBA title in Miami, Suns security guard Chris Paul was with the Clippers in the first year of his six-year run (and he’s been with three teams since then). , and Phoenix Center Deandre Ayton was only about a year away from taking up basketball for the first time.
“We’re just getting home, 1-1, celebrating this series and actually playing a real playoff game… for the first time in what, eight years? It will be very special for our fans, ”said James. “To have our fans in the building, we want to keep them proud. That’s why I came here to play a playoff game in front of the Laker believers.”
Portland won Game 1 of its matchup in Denver before the Nuggets rallied to win Game 2. In the past three months, no team has been better on the road than Denver. The Nuggets are 14-6 in their last 20 street games, including a loss in the Portland regular season finale where they didn’t exactly give their regular rotation big minutes.
Nikola Jokic made 15 of his 20 shots for Denver in Game 2 and the Nuggets had six players in double digits.
“We have to be even better on the road to make it to Game 3,” said Nuggets manager Michael Malone.
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Games on Thursday:
BUCK IN THE HEAT
Milwaukee leads 2-0. Game 3, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Miami haven’t been 3-0 behind in a series since 2010 and the Heat are returning home to see if they can escape that fate and get back into this matchup. Milwaukee is the first team to beat Miami twice with 30 or more points by 30 or more points in the same season since Toronto 2007/08. (Oddly enough, the Bucks were one point down in 2018/19, winning by 38 and 29 that season.)
– KEEP AN EYE: Miami’s Bam Adebayo (9 for 26) and Jimmy Butler (8 for 32) together shoot 29% on this series. That has to change, quickly, otherwise.
– INJURY WATCH: All rotation players on both sides are expected to be available on Thursday.
– PRINT IS ON: Miami. It’s not technically an elimination game, but it sure does seem to be one.
SUN AT LAKERS
Series 1-1 tied. Game 3, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Sun’s Center Deandre Ayton is 21 for 24 in this series, the best two-game shot percentage for anyone (nine or more shots per game) for 18 through his first two games of the 1975 playoffs. McNeill was for the remainder of his playoff career 11 for 26 off the field.
– KEEP AN EYE: Lakers guard Dennis Schroder had 24 points in Game 2. Taking some off work for LeBron James and Anthony Davis is a big boost for the Lakers.
– INJURY WATCH: Guarding the sun Chris Paul’s shoulder problem remains an important question. Paul sat out most of the second half of Game 2, playing just under 7 minutes – and his only appearance in the fourth quarter was a 2 1/2 minute break to give Booker a short break.
– PRINT IS ON: Phoenix. When James leads a streak after three games, it’s usually the curtain on the other side; His teams won 32 out of 35 series while holding the lead in Game 4.
NUGGETS ON TRAIL BLAZERS
Series 1-1 tied. Game 3, 10:30 p.m. EDT, NBATV.
– YOU HAVE TO KNOW: Denver has left behind three games in each of its last 10 playoff series and can finally resist this trend. Portland has led three games three times in Damian Lillard’s career; the Blazers are 3-0 in this series.
– KEEP AN EYE: Nuggets keeper Facundo Campazzo has four turnovers in 62 minutes in his first two NBA playoff games. He’s played a ton of big international games and his annoying, energetic style is a huge plus for Denver.
– CLOCK INJURY: All eyes are on Denver’s Will Barton and whether he can return from his right hamstring strain. He hasn’t played since April 23.
– PRINT IS ON: Portland. The Blazers split up in Denver. Giving the nuggets their home advantage back would be far from ideal.