The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks cruised into 3-1 series leads in the NBA playoffs on Monday.

The Lakers made it three straight wins over the Portland Trail Blazers with a 135-115 victory, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.

LeBron James produced a huge performance with a double-double of 30 points and 10 assists for the Lakers.

Anthony Davis posted 18 points before exiting due to back spasms, while Kyle Kuzma contributed 18 off the bench.

While Jusuf Nurkic had a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds, the Trail Blazers lost star Damian Lillard (11 points) to a knee injury.

The Bucks grabbed a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Orlando Magic thanks to a 121-106 win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly led Milwaukee with a double-double of 31 points and 15 rebounds, plus eight assists.

Khris Middleton struggled from the field, going seven-of-19, but still finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Dynamic Dragic sees Miami through, Thunder draw level

Goran Dragic had a team-high 23 points as the Miami Heat completed a 4-0 series sweep of the Indiana Pacers courtesy of a 99-87 win.

Miami were also led by Bam Adebayo, who finished with 14 points, 19 rebounds and six assists.

The Western Conference first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets is locked at 2-2. Dennis Schroder had 30 points off the bench as the Thunder won Game 4 117-114.

Thunder forward Shai Gilgeous-Alexander managed a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds.

The Rockets were beaten despite a fine performance by James Harden, who had 32 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds.

 

Bad Brogdon

Indiana are out of the playoffs and Malcolm Brogdon struggled for the Pacers, going five-of-16 from the field in Game 4. The guard finished with 13 points in 40 minutes.

 

LeBron from range

James hit a three-pointer from just over half-court in the Lakers' win.

Monday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 121-106 Orlando Magic
Oklahoma City Thunder 117-114 Houston Rockets
Miami Heat 99-87 Indiana Pacers
Los Angeles Lakers 135-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Mavericks face Clippers

Luka Doncic inspired the Dallas Mavericks to draw level in their series with the Los Angeles Clippers. The crucial Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round series is on Tuesday.

LeBron James immediately felt "good vibes" with Anthony Davis at the start of the season and the Los Angeles Lakers continue to reap the rewards.

After James endured a disappointing first year in LA and missed out on the 2018-19 playoffs, the Lakers agreed a blockbuster trade for New Orleans Pelicans superstar Davis.

They gave up Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks, but the Lakers have so far found good value in the deal.

Led by James and Davis, the team finished as the top seed in the West and have turned around their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers to lead 2-1.

Speaking after the pair combined for 67 points, 23 rebounds and 16 assists in a Game 3 victory, James said: "We definitely work well together.

"There were all these questions going into the season about whether myself and AD can work well together - I think we've shown that over the course of this season. We just try to work off one another."

Four-time MVP James revealed their close relationship was forged immediately after the trade went through as Davis travelled to LA.

"You know I'm big in energy and people. You always hear this term like 'good vibes', but I truly can sense it," James said. "It was very organic.

"There was nothing pushed or rushed or whatever the case may be, we just let it happen, let the relationship happen organically - and it's just grown over the course of this whole year.

"We're two guys who know who we are. We know who we are as human beings. We're not trying to be nobody else but our own identity, our own selves.

"And when you know yourself and when you're confident in what you do - both on and off the floor - and you know what you represent, then there's no ego. There's no ego.

"We want both of us to succeed, both on and off the floor. We want our families to be happy. We want each other to try to be as happy as possible.

"There's no ego, so when you're able to figure that out in life - who you are and what you stand for - then nothing else matters."

Asked why the pair get on so well, Davis replied with a laugh: "I don't know. It's kind of like we have no choice, to be honest.

"We're two guys who just like to have fun. We like to work. We like to win. But off the court, we've just kind of clicked.

"We're just two guys who like to have fun, two guys who are big kids and play Xbox and have game nights back in LA. Stuff like that is kind of unique."

LeBron James says it was "surreal" to surpass Tim Duncan for playoff wins because the former San Antonio Spurs great "lived in the postseason".

The Los Angeles Lakers star contributed 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to Saturday's 116-108 Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, claiming a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

In the process, James claimed his 158th career postseason victory, moving clear of five-time champion Duncan and closing on 161-win all-time leader Derek Fisher.

The latest achievement of a glittering career was a source of great pride for James.

He said: "It's just always surreal for me when my name is associated with any of the greats. Obviously, you know how great Tim Duncan was in this league with that franchise.

"I had my battles with him and was a team-mate with him in the Olympics. Just seeing what he was able to accomplish, not only in the regular season but, more importantly, in the postseason...

"Basically, he lived in the postseason. That was his address.

"So, for me to be linked with a great in the Big Fundamental, it means a lot - not only to myself but to my home town and whoever has been following my career."

The Lakers have now enjoyed back-to-back wins after dropping the first game of the series to the eighth-seeded Blazers, but James is still determined to keep improving.

"At the end of the day, we want to get better every game throughout the series," he explained.

"We played extremely well in Game 2, we played really well tonight, but there's still some things we can get better at. We know that Portland's going to be better in Game 4.

"We have to have the same mindset going into Game 4, knowing that we're desperate and they're desperate as well. Who plays and who finds their keys and makes the least amount of mistakes will become victorious.

"Every game has its own challenges. We begin to prepare for them tomorrow, watch a lot of film and see the ways we can get better."

Portland were hampered by Damian Lillard's dislocated finger, suffered in Game 2, although he still top-scored for the Blazers on Saturday with 34 points.

"Obviously, I dislocated it, so it's going to have some effect in terms of ball-handling," Lillard said. "Tonight the biggest thing I felt was going up to shoot, gathering the ball.

"Sometimes I would subconsciously try to ease up on it, so I would lose the ball a little bit.

"When I'm making moves, in the middle of my dribble, sometimes I would ease up on it because I would feel the pain and lose the ball a little bit. It would stop me in my tracks.

"But I did as much treatment as I could. I tried to just ignore it. Once you decide to step out there, it is what it is. You've got to go out there and do what you've got to do. That's what I tried to do."

LeBron James inspired the Los Angeles Lakers to a 116-108 win and 2-1 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs.

James erupted for 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as the top-seeded Lakers trumped the Trail Blazers in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series on Saturday.

At age 35, James became the oldest player to reach both 38 points and eight assists in a playoff game, surpassing Michael Jordan (34 in 1997), per STATS.

James moved second on the all-time list for playoff wins with 158, leapfrogging Tim Duncan and closing in on Derek Fisher (161), while the three-time NBA champion climbed up to third on the all-time list for three-points made in the playoffs (375).

Anthony Davis contributed his own double-double of 29 points and 11 rebounds as the Lakers benefited from a 40-point third quarter to see off eighth seeds the Trail Blazers in Orlando, Florida.

Damian Lillard's 34 points were not enough for the Trail Blazers, while CJ McCollum (28) and Carmelo Anthony (20) also impressed at Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Giannis fuels Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Milwaukee Bucks, who earned a 2-1 series lead against the Orlando Magic in their Eastern Conference opening-round matchup. The reigning MVP had 35 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a 121-107 triumph. Antetokounmpo was 12 of 14 from the field.

Dennis Schroder (29 points), Chris Paul (26), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (23) and Danilo Gallinari (20) all impressed as the Oklahoma City Thunder outlasted the Houston Rockets 119-107 in overtime. Oklahoma City avoided falling 3-0 behind in the Western Conference series. The Thunder outscored the Rockets 15-3 in OT.

James Harden scored a game-high 38 points, but the Rockets still lost. He fouled out 53 seconds into overtime.

Malcolm Brogdon starred with playoff highs of 34 points and 14 assists. However, the Indiana Pacers were beaten 124-115 by the Miami Heat, who lead the Eastern Conference series 3-0.

Jimmy Butler's 27 points and a Bam Adebayo double-double (22 points and 11 rebounds) put the Heat on the cusp of a series sweep.

 

Lakers struggle from the line

While the Lakers won, they were far from convincing at the free-throw line. The Lakers were just 65.1 per cent from the line, compared to Portland's 94.7 per cent. Davis – who missed four of his first five attempts – was seven of 14 and James 12 of 17.

 

Harden with the euro step

The Rockets guard weaved his way past two opponents en route to the rim.

 

Saturday's results

Los Angeles Lakers 116-108 Portland Trail Blazers
Oklahoma City Thunder 119-107 Houston Rockets (OT)
Miami Heat 124-115 Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks 121-107 Orlando Magic

 

Raptors face Nets

Defending champions the Toronto Raptors can seal a series sweep against the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference on Sunday. The Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile, will look to avoid a 4-0 whitewash in their matchup with the Boston Celtics.

LeBron James hailed Anthony Davis as a "unicorn" who can do things his other team-mates cannot as the Los Angeles Lakers tied up their playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Superstar James put up just 10 points on a rare off-night as the Lakers made it 1-1 in their first-round meeting at the NBA's bubble in Orlando.

Davis was in inspired form, though, contributing 31 points and 11 rebounds in the 111-88 victory, leading to big praise from James.

"I've had some great team-mates in my career," James said.

"AD is one of those unicorns [a term in basketball to describe a player who is versatile and dynamic] and he does things what some of my other great team-mates are not capable of doing.

"Tonight, AD was magnificent."

Davis scored 28 points in the opening-game defeat but said he did not feel as though he performed to his best level.

A few choice words from James, a three-time NBA champion, encouraged Davis to see the bigger picture, though.

"I was really down on myself after Game 1," Davis said. "I didn't feel like I performed to the level I needed to. And he let me have my moment and kind of get on myself, and then he talked to me and said I was fine.

"He said it's one game, and as a guy who's won multiple championships and been in these situations before, he knows what to expect. He knew what to expect from his team-mates and he kind of just was there for me to kind of encourage me and keep me level-headed. Because it was just one game.

"Our relationship has been great the entire season. I've kind of just been leaning on him this entire season, just trying to figure out the tricks [of the] trade of playing with a guy like him and a team like this.

"He kind of has been there for me and supporting me and kind of guiding me through this entire process."

The win was the Lakers' first in a playoff game since May 18, 2012, and James says a tough season off the court has proven the mettle of the team.

James said: "I mean, it started from training camp, to preseason, traveling abroad, to entering the New Year, the tragic death obviously of Kobe [Bryant] and those victims on that helicopter, to the stop of the season, to players getting injured, [Rajon] Rondo going down for a big piece of the year, to the restart, not having our brother Avery Bradley here.

"And so on and so on. I don't even know, it just feels like it's been three or four different seasons [in one], so I know what we're capable of, I know how we're built."

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard insisted he would continue playing despite dislocating his finger.

Lillard dislocated his finger as the Trail Blazers fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 111-88 on Thursday, leaving their Western Conference first-round series at 1-1.

The star guard had 18 points on six-of-14 shooting and admitted to some discomfort with the finger.

However, Lillard said: "I'm playing."

He earlier said: "It's just sore, a little bit tender to the touch and dislocated it so it's just sore, a little bit swollen and uncomfortable."

Anthony Davis' double-double of 31 points and 11 rebounds led the Lakers, with Game 3 to be played on Saturday.

Lillard felt Portland were simply below their best offensively in Game 2.

"I wouldn't say we were due, but I do think that the game balances itself out," he said.

"Some guys come out and have a huge night and then the next night they can be cooled off. Some teams play really well for stretches and then they have that game where they cool off.

"I think we've played really well offensively since we've been here so I wouldn't say we were due, but it happens."

The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks drew level in their respective NBA playoff series on Thursday.

Coming off surprise Game 1 losses, the Lakers and Bucks responded against the Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic respectively.

The Lakers drew level at 1-1 in their Western Conference first-round meeting with the Trail Blazers courtesy of a 111-88 win.

Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 31 points and 11 rebounds as the Lakers won their first playoff game since 2012.

While Davis went 13-of-21 from the field, LeBron James was below his best, but still managed 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Red-hot Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard had 18 points, but the guard was one-of-seven from three-point range.

In the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are back to 1-1 against Orlando after a 111-96 victory.

Giannis Antetokounmpo lifted Milwaukee with 28 points and 20 rebounds, while Brook Lopez had 20 points.

Harden guides Rockets as Robinson shines for Heat

James Harden had 21 points and nine assists as the Houston Rockets took a 2-0 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder courtesy of a 111-98 win.

Danuel House Jr. contributed 19 points, nine rebounds and three assists for the Rockets.

Duncan Robinson was in impressive form as the Miami Heat went 2-0 up against the Indiana Pacers thanks to a 109-100 win. Robinson was seven-of-eight from three-point range for 24 points in 25 minutes.

Heat star Goran Dragic posted 20 points.

 

Miserable Melo

Carmelo Anthony struggled badly for Portland. He was one-of-six for just two points in 26 minutes.

 

Davis delights

Davis showed his class during the Lakers' series-levelling win.

Thursday's results

Miami Heat 109-100 Indiana Pacers
Houston Rockets 111-98 Oklahoma City Thunder
Milwaukee Bucks 111-96 Orlando Magic
Los Angeles Lakers 111-88 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Clippers face Mavericks

With their Western Conference first-round series locked at 1-1, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks do battle in Game 3 on Friday.

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are not getting carried away with their win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series.

Lillard starred as the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers upstaged top seeds the Lakers 100-93 in the NBA playoffs at Walt Disney World Resort on Tuesday.

Featuring in the postseason after topping the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game, the Trail Blazers drew first blood against the Lakers thanks to Lillard's game-high 34 points in Orlando, Florida.

The teams were locked at 89-89 before the Trail Blazers – led by Lillard – powered past LeBron James and the Lakers, who made their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Lillard, however, refused to dwell on the victory as the Trail Blazers look ahead to Game 2 on Thursday.

"I thought it was just a great effort by the team," Lillard, who nailed six three-pointers, told reporters. "From the start of the game, we came out with the focus and energy we needed against the best team in the league.

"We played together. We shared the ball. We didn't have any major lulls. Obviously they made some runs, but when it got down the stretch, we kept our heads down and kept working. We made the plays on both ends to pull out the win.

"But we know it's only going to get harder from here. It's only one game. The job is far away from being done. But I'm proud of our effort in getting the first one."

The Trail Blazers have been red hot since the 2019-20 NBA season resumed in July after the league was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to a question suggesting Portland could afford to lose a game and still be in a healthy position against the Lakers, Lillard replied: "That doesn't make sense, coming into a game thinking you can lose a game. You come into every game trying to win it.

"The key to the playoffs is the first team to win four games. I don't think it makes any sense to ever come into a game saying we can lose. You always want to try to extend your lead in a series. That's what our mentality is.

"We know it's only going to get harder from here. They're a great team, the number one seed. I'm not concerned with our mentality going forward. The leaders of the team… the team is going to go as we go as far as the mentality."

Lillard also heaped praise on Trail Blazers team-mate Hassan Whiteside, who finished with five blocks to help stifle James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers.

"He was big time," Lillard said. "We knew coming into this series, once we got there, they have a lot of guys who are accurate in the paint.

"They're big in there, so we need our big guys to have a presence in the paint at both ends of the floor.

"I thought tonight now he protected the paint, blocked shots, changed shots, rebounded. He had a positive impact on the game. Without him out there, we don't win. We need that type of effort."

LeBron James lamented missed chances after the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Damian Lillard inspired the Trail Blazers to a surprise 100-93 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series with a game-high 34 points on Tuesday.

Lillard, Carmelo Anthony (11 points) and Gary Trent Jr. (five) hit three-pointers in the final three and a half minutes after the teams were locked at 89-89.

James, who became the first player to record 20-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and 15-plus assists in a playoff game, rued the Lakers' squandered opportunities.

"We had some great opportunities, we had some great looks, just didn't knock them down. Nothing you can say about it," he told reporters.

"We created a lot of great looks, just weren't able to make them fall."

James finished with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists as the Lakers fell in Game 1.

The three-time NBA champion said while it was unusual playing at the Walt Disney World Resort, James still felt at his best.

"This is different. This is different in the aspect we're in a bubble with no fans, but as far as me being locked in on the game plan, that doesn't change, not one bit," he said.

"Me going out and making plays, playing at a high level and trying to help our team win, that was the same.

"Nothing changes from there. It's the same me."

The Lakers face the Trail Blazers in Game 2 on Thursday.

It was a day of upsets in the NBA playoffs as the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic upstaged the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks respectively.

Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers powered past top seeds the Lakers 100-93 in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series on Tuesday, while the Magic stunned the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks 122-110 in their Eastern Conference opener.

It is the second time in NBA postseason history that both eighth seeds have beaten the top seeds in Game 1, per STATS. The other occasion was in 2003, when the Magic and Phoenix Suns trumped the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs.

Lillard maintained his red-hot form with 34 points to inspire the Trail Blazers at Walt Disney World Resort, where Trail Blazers team-mates CJ McCollum (21 points) and Carmelo Anthony (11 points and 10 rebounds) made solid contributions in Orlando, Florida.

LeBron James' triple-double of 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists were not enough as the Lakers superstar (12-2) lost for just the second time in the opening game of a first-round matchup.

The Magic – without a playoff series win since 2010 – did not follow the script as they took down the Bucks thanks to Nikola Vucevic's big night.

Vucevic had a playoff career-high 35 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Magic past the Bucks, who swept the season series by winning four games by an average of 17 points.

A double-double of 31 points and 17 rebounds from reigning MVP Antetokounmpo was not enough to lift the Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971.

 

Harden launches Rockets, Butler's Heat cool Pacers

No Russell Westbrook, no problem for the Houston Rockets. In the absence of the injured star, James Harden posted 37 points and 11 rebounds as the Rockets – seeded fourth in the west – soared past the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-108 in their series opener. Houston made 20 three-pointers.

Danilo Gallinari matched a playoff career-high with 29 points for the fifth-seeded Thunder. Chris Paul recorded 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against his former team. Steven Adams put up 17 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double.

Jimmy Butler fuelled the Miami Heat's 113-101 victory over the fourth-seeded Indiana Pacers in Game 1. Butler had 28 points, including two big three-pointers in the final quarter. Goran Dragic added 24 points, while Bam Adebayo (17 points and 10 rebounds) finished with a double-double.

 

Oladipo adds to Pacers' defeat

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is day-to-day after injuring his left eye against the Heat. Oladipo was inadvertently poked in the eye by Miami's Jae Crowder with just over three minutes remaining in the opening quarter. He had scored four points in nine minutes prior to exiting.

Dennis Schroder struggled to make an impact in 32 minutes for the Thunder. A threat off the bench, Schroder was three of 12 from the field while he missed all five three-point attempts for just six points.

Milwaukee made 43 per cent from the field, and were 14 of 42 from three-point land against the Magic.

 

No stopping LeBron!

James flew past the Trail Blazers en route to his swift basket.

Somehow, a diving Adebayo made this stunning shot for the Heat with his back towards the rim.

Tuesday's results

Houston Rockets 123-108 Oklahoma City Thunder
Miami Heat 113-101 Indiana Pacers
Orlando Magic 122-110 Milwaukee Bucks
Portland Trail Blazers 100-93 Los Angeles Lakers

 

76ers face Celtics

Can the Philadelphia 76ers bounce back from their Game 1 loss against old rivals the Boston Celtics? Philadelphia will meet Boston on Wednesday, with the Celtics to be without injured star Gordon Hayward (ankle).

LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for outright third-most triple-doubles in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

James posted his 22nd triple-double for the Lakers during Tuesday's 100-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series.

The three-time NBA champion moved above the late Bryant (21) and is now behind only Magic Johnson (138) and Elgin Baylor (24) in Lakers history.

The triple-double (23 points, 17 rebounds and a postseason-high 16 assists) was the 24th of James' playoff career.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he is embarking on his toughest championship run in the NBA.

Western Conference top seed the Lakers – back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 – will begin their postseason campaign against the Portland Trail Blazers, starting Tuesday.

The playoffs will take place inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic, eliminating any home-court advantage as the Lakers meet in-form eighth seed Portland.

Eyeing a fourth NBA title after the 2019-20 season was suspended in March due to COVID-19 before returning in July, James told reporters on Monday of his postseason prospects: "Probably the toughest one.

"It's the toughest championship run for me personally. From the circumstances of just being in here."

On the differences of playing behind closed doors in Florida, James added: "What's different for me in this environment? As far as me locking in on an opponent and individuals, that hasn't changed. What's different is this is the environment, not home.

"Not with my family, not in my own bed, I'm not in our own practice facility. I'm not preparing to be at Staples [Center] tomorrow with our fans. I'm not with a lot of things that's essential to my everyday regimen. So that's what's different."

James' streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances and eight straight trips to the NBA Finals came to an end during a difficult first season with the Lakers in 2018-19.

But the 35-year-old has led the way for the Lakers this season, silencing his doubters by averaging 25.3 points, 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game.

"I don't take anything for granted," James said. "I live life, every day I maximize that day. I don't take anything for granted. Because at the end of the day, I know where I come from, I know what I stand for, so I don't take anything for granted, especially being in my 17th season.

"I don't go into any season saying, 'OK, playoffs, playoffs, championship, championship'. I just am all about the process."

The NBA playoffs are finally here.

After the regular season extended into August with eight rounds of seeding games in the Orlando 'bubble' - followed by the Portland Trail Blazers' win in their play-in game - we have our 16 playoff teams.

The Milwaukee Bucks are the top seed in the East, while the Los Angeles Lakers led the way in the West.

But everything does not always go to script in the playoffs, with the Bucks on top last year, too, but losing out to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors - inspired by Kawhi Leonard, now of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite this unpredictable format, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes and running 10,000 simulations.

Using this model, we have taken a look at how the coming weeks could pan out...
 

BUCKS AS CHAMPS? LAKERS WIN UNLIKELY

After another outstanding regular season and with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their ranks, it may come as no surprise the Bucks are favourites to take the title for just the second time.

What might be slightly more unexpected is the distance by which Milwaukee are considered the frontrunners.

According to our model, the Bucks have a 29.6 per cent chance of triumphing, winning 2,959 of the 10,000 simulations.

The Clippers are next on the list and would win the championship in 18 per cent of cases, while the Raptors' title defence stands a 13.6 per cent chance of being successful, just ahead of the Boston Celtics on 13.4 per cent.

That means the Lakers are way down in fifth on our list of contenders, despite boasting LeBron James and Anthony Davis and enjoying a strong season to date.

Indeed, LeBron's team won the playoff tournament in just 848 of the 10,000 simulations - or a measly 8.5 per cent.
 

ORLANDO COULD YET CONJURE UP SOME MAGIC

The Bucks have a great opportunity to win the championship and they will certainly be expected to get through their first-round series against the Orlando Magic, the eighth seed in the East.

But do not count the Magic out entirely at this stage.

Orlando will have their work cut out if they are to get anyway near the Finals, let alone take home the trophy, but not every simulation saw the local side make an early exit.

Of the 10,000 simulations, six (0.06 per cent) actually saw the Magic go all the way and claim a stunning title triumph.

Steve Clifford's team are unsurprisingly least likely to win the championship, although the eighth seed in the West, the Blazers, are ranked ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, who came seventh in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Indian Pacers are each also given less than a one per cent chance of becoming champions.
 

BUCKS IN SEVEN AFTER CLIPPERS SWEEP LAKERS?!

The playoffs can often feel too random for any model to contend with, but what if we ran the simulation just once?

Well, in that scenario, the Bucks still came out on top, but they were pushed all the way to seven games by the Clippers, requiring a remarkable fightback after going 3-1 down in the Finals. They won Game 7 112-90, however.

Both teams had come into that series full of momentum after 4-0 sweeps in the Conference Finals.

Milwaukee brushed aside the Sixers, who beat the odds to come past the Celtics and then the Raptors, while the Clippers battered rivals the Lakers, winning each game by more than 10 points.

Besides Philadelphia's shock run, the biggest upset in the bracket saw the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz sensationally beat the third-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-0.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is wary of NBA playoff opponents the Portland Trail Blazers as they boast the hottest player in the league in star Damian Lillard.

The top-seeded Lakers will face eighth seed the Trail Blazers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, starting Tuesday in Orlando.

Portland secured a date against LeBron James and the Lakers thanks to Saturday's play-in victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with Lillard instrumental in the Trail Blazers' remarkable run to the postseason.

Lillard leads the NBA in scoring at Walt Disney World Resort since the restart with 37.6 points per game, including the play-in clash. He is also averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

As the Lakers prepare to make their first playoff appearance since 2013, Vogel – in his maiden season with the storied franchise – praised Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

"Definitely not your typical eighth seed," Vogel said in a videoconference call on Sunday. "They've played at an elite level during this stretch in the bubble, at least offensively.

"And we've got a ton of respect for obviously Dame and CJ [McCollum] and [Jusuf] Nurkic, but really for their whole team and their whole culture. They've got a system that's been together for a number of years.

"They have the continuity piece, [Western] Conference Finals last year, so just a ton of respect for what they're bringing to the table."

Lakers star Anthony Davis also hailed Lillard, adding: "He's balling right now. He’s hot. He's doing whatever he's doing, whatever he can do to make his team win. He's carrying the load. Playing a ton of minutes.

"And so he's the head of the snake for their team. You gotta do your best to contain him and take away some of his tendencies. But they also have other guys who make plays as well.

"So they're a tough opponent, but everybody knows what level he's on and his mindset. And he's gonna go out there and do what he can to help his team win."

Meanwhile, Vogel said Rajon Rondo will clear quarantine on Monday, though there is no timetable for the Lakers guard's return.

Rondo has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb, forced to leave the Orlando bubble prior to the season resuming amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm not sure exactly when he's going to be available to be in uniform," Vogel said. "We'll get him on the court and see where he's at. But no specific timetable yet on him."

With the regular season over, it's time for business in the Orlando bubble.

The Portland Trail Blazers completed the NBA's playoff bracket with their play-in win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks, the LeBron-James led Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams vying for supremacy at Walt Disney World Resort.

With the postseason scheduled to start on Monday, we use STATS data to preview the first-round series.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)

Eyeing their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks head into the opening-round series struggling for form.

The Bucks, who went 52-8 from their first 60 games, recorded a 4-9 win-loss ratio from their last 13 fixtures – becoming the first team in NBA history to have more losses in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire season prior to that.

Inside the bubble but in familiar surroundings, the Magic have the chance to snap a playoff drought, despite the odds being stacked against them.

Not since 2010 have the Magic won a playoff series. Orlando swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks en route to the Conference finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics. The Magic have since suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Hawks (2011), Indiana Pacers (2012) and Toronto Raptors (2019).

Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)

Defending champions the Raptors have form on their side in pursuit of back-to-back championships.

Toronto went 27-5 over their last 32 games, easily the best record in the NBA during that period – ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10), Los Angeles Clippers (20-10), Bucks (20-11) and Celtics (21-13).

Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most clutch players this season, making an NBA-high seven go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Dinwiddie's seven for 13 is better than the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (five), Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets (both four).

Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)

The Celtics renew hostilities with rivals the 76ers, having won the past four series between the two teams – Philadelphia have not claimed a series against Boston in the playoffs since 1982.

Philadelphia's hopes will rest on Joel Embiid in the absence of injured fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, who is the only player in NBA history to average 8.0-plus rebounds and 8.0-plus assists per game for his career.

The 76ers are 35-22 (.614 per cent) with Simmons in the team, while they are just 7-8 (.467 per cent) without the Australian star on the court. Philadelphia also allow more opposition points per game in his absence – 113.6 compared to 107.2.

Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)

All eyes will be on Indiana's T.J. Warren, who averaged 31.0 points per game with a .664 effective field-goal percentage this month following the restart.

Since 1985-86, the players with 30.0-plus points and a .650-plus effective field-goal percentage in a month (minimum five game played) are Charles Barkley (1990), Stephen Curry (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Antetokounmpo (2017 and 2019) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2019).

With Heat pair Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, Miami are the first NBA team to have two undrafted players averaging 13.0-plus points per game in the same season – minimum 70 per cent of team games played – since the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956-57 (Joe Graboski and Neil Johnston).

 

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)

Making their first postseason appearance since 2013, the Lakers – who have a 74.6 per cent chance of winning this series using Stats Perform's advanced simulation tool – are one of the favourites to go all the way thanks to James and Anthony Davis.

James and Davis have combined well in LA, where the former has supplied 184 assists for the All-Star recruit this season – the most to one player in 2019-20, ahead of Damian Lillard to Hassan Whiteside (132). Three-time champion and four-time MVP James is also the second-oldest player to average 10 assists or more in a season in NBA history, with Steve Nash averaging 10.0-plus assists in each of his final three campaigns.

This will be the second playoff meeting between James and Carmelo Anthony. James and the Heat eliminated Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round in 2012. Both averaged 27.8 points in the series. James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, while Anthony was the third pick. Their matchups date back to high school, when LeBron was at St. Vincent St. Mary's and Carmelo at Oak Hill Academy.

Portland's go-to man Lillard leads the NBA in scoring inside the bubble at 37.6 per game, including the play-in clash. The Trail Blazers star is averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. He has contributed to Portland averaging a league-high 126.0 points per game at Walt Disney World Resort, while the Lakers have only managed 106.4 points per game – the second worst behind the Washington Wizards.

How about most points per game by team-mate duos? Lillard and CJ McCollum (52.2) are second to James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.5) but ahead of third-placed James and Davis (51.4).

Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)

Can Leonard claim consecutive NBA titles after leading the Raptors to their first champion last season? Well it all begins against the Mavericks.

Leonard – the 2019 Finals MVP – averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game this season, while he averaged 30.5 during last year's playoffs. The four-time All-Star has also averaged 31.0 points per game in three games against the Mavericks this term, with the Clippers sweeping the season series.

Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks boast the second-highest offensive rating ever – 113.7 – behind last year's Golden State Warriors (113.9). The Clippers have a 111.1 rating, tied with the Trail Blazers for second this season.

Doncic is averaging 30.0 points, 10.1 assists and 9.7 rebounds in the bubble. The reigning Rookie of the Year also has three triple-doubles, including a 20-rebound triple-double.

Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)

A Jazz team boasting the likes of Joe Ingles and Mitchell are the best three-point shooting team at 38.0 per cent, though Utah went 2-5 in their last seven regular-season games – allowing 110-plus points per game.

Rudy Gobert is also one shy of 250 career double-doubles as the Jazz look to avenge their season sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, though each game was decided by six or fewer points.

The Nuggets made the Conference semi-finals last season, snapping a five-year playoff drought. Jovic will be key for Denver, having averaged 7.0 assists per game for a second successive season – the most by any center in the NBA.

Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)

It will be a reunion as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul face their former teams.

The Rockets have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three straight seasons and their hopes will depend on the team's starting five – their starters are averaging 89.1 points per game, the most in the league.

Former Thunder star Harden is also coming off his third consecutive season averaging 30 or more points per game (34.3 in 2019-20). He is the franchise's all-time leader in postseason assists (510) and second in points (2,061) behind Hakeem Olajuwon (3,727).

Westbrook, who arrived from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season, is second all-time for Oklahoma City in playoff points (2,489), behind Kevin Durant's 2,620, third in rebounds (686), first in assists (778) and first in steals (184).

The Thunder, boasting ex-Rockets guard Paul, have not progressed beyond the first round of the postseason since 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Conference Finals.

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