High 5: LeBron, Cavaliers set for critical game with Pacers
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 25, 2018 06:06 PM
FILE - PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 6: A general view of LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers jersey during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Tom Withers, Associated Press
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — By now, LeBron James is usually getting some rest in the NBA playoffs.
The Pacers are making him work much harder than he has in years.
After splitting the first four games, Indiana and Cleveland will meet on Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) in the critical Game 5 of a first-round series that has been unpredictable, uneven and for James, unusual.
This first round hasn’t been the norm for the three-time champion.
While he’s 12-0 in the opening round, before the Cavs dropped Game 1 to the Pacers at home, James had never lost a playoff opener. In fact, James came in with a 21-game winning streak in first-round games and this will be his first Game 5 in Round 1 since 2012 when he was with Miami.
The Cavs and Pacers aren’t the only ones in a tussle in the Eastern Conference as Washington and Toronto resume their series in Canada tied 2-2. Things aren’t quite as tight In the West as Utah holds a 3-1 lead over a fraying Oklahoma City team, and Houston, which dropped 50 points in one quarter on Monday night, can eliminate Minnesota.
Cleveland’s 104-100 win in Game 4 brought relief to Cavs fans and James, who had been getting little offensive help from his teammates. A dependable No. 2 scoring option has been issue all season, primarily because Kyle Irving is no longer around to take pressure off James.
But in Game 4, Kyle Korver stepped up in the second half and knocked down four three-pointers and the Cavs buckled down defensively in the closing minutes to avoid a 3-1 hole.
“We all know the narrative around us, it is what it is,” Korver said after practice on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “It’s Bron and we’re all trying to make it work for him.”
James has been his usual self, averaging 32.5 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists in the series. But only Kevin Love (12.0), who has been slowed by a sprained left thumb, and J.R. Smith (10.0) are averaging double-digits for Cleveland.
Some things to know for Wednesday’s (Thursday, PHL time) matchups:
WIZARDS AT RAPTORS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 7 p.m. (7am, PHL time)
NEED TO KNOW: The home team has won each game so far. The Wizards absolutely need at least one road victory, and they’ve been here before: Washington was eliminated a year ago in the second round against Boston after going 3-0 in at home and 0-4 in away games.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Toronto’s three-point shooting. The Raptors attempted a season-low 18 shots from beyond the arc, making seven, in its Game 4 loss. They never took fewer than 21 in any regular-season game, and averaged 13.7 made three's and 31 attempts in Games 1-3.
PRESSURE IS ON: DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. While Washington’s All-Star backcourt duo of John Wall (26.8 points, 13 assists and 4.8 rebounds) and Bradley Beal (29.5 ppg the past two games) led the Wizards in Games 3 and 4, Toronto’s counterparts have not been very efficient lately. Lowry is shooting 41.7 percent, and DeRozan is at 44 after going 10 for 29 in Game 4.
INJURY UPDATE: Because of an injured right shoulder, Raptors PG Fred VanVleet has played a total of only three minutes in the series.
PACERS AT CAVALIERS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 7 p.m. (7am, PHL time)
NEED TO KNOW: After scoring 32 points in the opener, Pacers guard Victor Oladipo has scored 18 and 17 in the past two games and is just 10-of-35 from the field. Cleveland has been blitzing and trapping Oladipo, forcing him to pass or rush his shot.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Lance Stephenson. Indiana’s always entertaining swingman baited James into a technical foul in Game 4, when he also wrapped up Cleveland’s Jeff Green late in the game and spun him to the floor.
PRESSURE IS ON: Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. While he’s had to sort through injuries and battled his own health issues all season, he’s been criticized for some decisions, including a reluctance to play forward Tristan Thompson in this series. If the Cavs go down 3-2 or are eliminated, look out.
INJURY UPDATE: Cavaliers starting G George Hill (back spasms ) is questionable. He received injections but couldn’t play in Game 4.
JAZZ AT THUNDER
Thunder lead 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. (9:30am, PHL time)
NEED TO KNOW: Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell is averaging 27.5 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. He’s averaging 17.3 points in the second half and shooting 46 percent.
He topped Karl Malone’s rookie playoff record with 33 points in Game 4.
“I’m not trying to think about all that now,” he said. “We have bigger things to worry about right now as a team.”
KEEP AN EYE ON: Thunder F Carmelo Anthony. He’s shooting 37 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three-point range. He was brought to the Thunder to take pressure off Thunder G Russell Westbrook, but his inability to make shots has only made things more difficult.
PRESSURE IS ON: Westbrook. While averaging 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists, he’s only shooting 37 percent, 21 on three's. Westbrook normally attacks with reckless abandon, but 7-foot-1 Jazz center Rudy Gobert is making that tougher.
INTRIGUING MATCHUP: Thunder F Paul George vs. Jazz F Joe Ingles. George has been solid, averaging 27.3 points. But his focus has drifted and he has got caught up in some of Ingles’ agitating tactics. George was the aggressor in Game 4 , at one point shoving Ingles and getting a technical.
TIMBERWOLVES AT ROCKETS
Rockets lead 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. (9:30am, PHL time)
NEED TO KNOW: Timberwolves might still be reeling from the 50-point third quarter the Rockets posted to turn a tight Game 4 into a rout . Minnesota actually outshot Houston for the third straight game, but only turned that into one victory. “Everybody will look at the 50 points that we scored in the quarter, but it was our defense,” said Chris Paul, who had 15 of his 25 points over those torrid 12 minutes.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Rockets sixth man Eric Gordon. After shooting just 11-for-39 over the first three games, he scored a series-high 18 in Game 4. He hit four three's, including a buzzer-beater at the end of the third to fulfill the 50-point quarter goal the Rockets have been trying to reach for two years under coach Mike D’Antoni.
PRESSURE IS ON: Wolves G Jimmy Butler. While the Rockets were running away in the third, Butler forced some shots in a frantic attempt to keep up. The team’s best defender must also try to figure out how to better disrupt the high ball screens the Rockets set on Harden to set up those frequent three's.
INJURY UPDATE: Wolves PG Jeff Teague dislocated his right pinky finger in Game 4 and struggled with two points on 1-for-7 shooting in 28 minutes with four fouls and three turnovers.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Cliff Brunt and Dave Campbell contributed to this report.