Nuggets, Thunder have chances to move into Round 2, and Boston seeks 3-1 lead in Miami


Denver is one win from returning to Round 2. And Oklahoma City is a win away from getting there for the first time since 2016.

A pair of first-round series may end on Monday night, when defending champion Denver plays host to the Los Angeles Lakers — the Nuggets lead 3-1 in that matchup — and West No. 1 seed Oklahoma City looks to finish off what would be a four-game sweep of New Orleans.

Also Monday: Boston, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and top overall seed in the NBA playoffs, will seek a 3-1 lead when it visits Miami.

“We have a chance to go home in front of the best fans in the world and try to close the series out,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The Lakers staved off elimination and ended an 11-game losing streak to Denver with a 115-104 win in Game 4 on Saturday night. Lakers forward LeBron James has faced elimination 27 times in his career and his teams — Cleveland, Miami and now L.A. — are now 15-12 in those games.

“We’ve given ourselves another life,” James said. “We’ve given ourselves another lifeline. It’s a one-game series for us. Monday’s game is the most important game of the season for us and we understand that.”

Oklahoma City is trying for its first 4-0 sweep since Round 1 against Dallas in 2012.

There are parallels between that Thunder team and this one: both were division champions, both were a top-2 seed — No. 2 in 2012, No. 1 this year — and both teams had young starting lineups filled with promise. The 2012 team was led by a couple of kids named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; this Thunder team is seeing the Durant and Westbrook roles now filled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren.

“If we don’t win this one, we’re out, so we don’t have anything to lose,” New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram said. “We got to go out here and just give it our all and continue to push from there. Maybe we find a rhythm in this next game and we can build off that.”

The Celtics won Game 1 over the shorthanded Heat by 20, lost Game 2, then won Game 3 over the Heat by 20 again. And they seem to love playing in Miami.

Since the start of the 2021-22 season, including playoffs, Boston is 10-3 in Miami. Consider this: in that time span, 15 other teams — New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Portland, the Clippers, the Lakers, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Washington, Oklahoma City, Houston, Utah, Sacramento, Orlando and Charlotte — are a combined 10-55 in Miami.

“Everybody knows how talented we are,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “Can we be the tougher, harder-playing team? You combine that with our talent level, I think it’s going to be hard to beat us.”

That said, even after winning Game 3, Tatum said Boston has tons of respect for Miami.

“They’re a great team, great organization, very well-coached,” Tatum said. “They play hard and they’re going to compete every single night.”

Boston leads 2-1. Game 4, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics recaptured home-court advantage in the series (and for the entirety of the NBA playoffs) by winning Game 3. Just like Game 1, the Celtics never trailed on Saturday and got their 12th wire-to-wire win of the season — second-most in the NBA behind New York’s 13.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The start for Miami. It’s a 48-minute game, sure, but the Heat can’t afford another slow start. They had only 12 points after one quarter in Game 3 (and were fortunate to be down only nine at that point) and then gave up 42 in the second quarter to go down 24 at the half. Once Boston gets going, forget it. Heat have to hit first in Game 4.

— INJURY REPORT: Jimmy Butler (knee) and Terry Rozier (neck) remain out for Miami. Delon Wright (personal family matter) is expected back for Game 4 after missing Saturday.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Boston. The Celtics don’t want this series to turn into a best-of-3. Miami is a No. 8 seed, down two starters and with nothing really to lose at this point. They handled Game 3 the right way and now will try to repeat that approach Monday.

Oklahoma City leads 3-0. Game 4, 8:30 p.m. EDT, NBA TV

— NEED TO KNOW: Oklahoma City is one victory away from its first playoff series win since 2016. The Thunder are 5-1 vs. the Pelicans this season and won the last two games of this series by a combined 53 points. History is on the Thunder’s side; no NBA team with a 3-0 lead has lost a playoff series. And going back to 2004, New Orleans is 0-7 in its last seven elimination games (excluding the play-in tournament).

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jalen Williams. He’s OKC’s No. 2 scorer (20.3 ppg) behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (28.3 ppg) in the series, and he’s outscoring anyone on the New Orleans roster. Williams is a big part of the reason why all the offensive numbers in this series (108.0 to 89.7 in ppg, 50% to 40% in field goals, 42% to 28% on 3-pointers) tilt big-time toward the Thunder.

— INJURY WATCH: Zion Williamson, the Pelicans’ leading scorer during the regular season (22.9 ppg), remains out with a left hamstring injury.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Pelicans high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram. He’s struggled to get into a shooting rhythm against physical defender Lu Dort, and without Williamson, Ingram probably has to be great for the Pelicans to have a chance.

Denver leads 3-1. Game 5, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: History says a 3-0 series is over because no team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit, but the Lakers have some stats they might want to point to as reasons for confidence. They’ve led all four games by double figures (Denver hasn’t trailed by at least 10 points in more than four consecutive games since March 2023) and the Lakers have played the overwhelming majority of this series with the lead — about 72% of the series has seen L.A. in front.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Lakers’ minutes. James, Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell all logged at least 39 minutes in Game 4. That’s a big ask to do at Denver’s mile-high altitude, but may be what’s required on Monday.

— INJURY REPORT: Reggie Jackson (ankle) played in Game 4 for Denver even after leaving Game 3 early with what seemed like a nasty twist. The Lakers’ Christian Wood (knee) was available for the first time since mid-February, but didn’t get minutes.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Denver. If this series goes back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers will have a ton of life and a ton of momentum. James tends to do pretty well in those moments.

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA



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