Dirk Nowitzki was a "lucky charm" for the Dallas Mavericks as he watched their Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, according to head coach Rick Carlisle.

Nowitzki, a 14-time All-Star, spent his entire NBA career in Dallas, winning a championship under Carlisle in 2011 when he was Finals MVP.

But the 2007 MVP retired in 2019 and so was restricted to the role of spectator as the Mavs looked to build on a Game 1 first-round playoff win on Tuesday.

His presence was enough to inspire his former team, too, with the German pictured with current Mavs superstar Luka Doncic following the game.

Doncic led the way with 39 points in an impressive 127-121 win, improving his postseason average to 32.0 points per game. That is the highest mark of any Dallas player regardless of games played, with the top spot previously belonging to Nowitzki as he scored 25.3 points across 145 playoff appearances.

There is a long way to go before Doncic can think about repeating Nowitzki's Finals run – a Miami Heat series in which he averaged 26.0 points – but the support of the team's greatest ever player is a boost.

"I saw him and [wife] Jessica in the hotel yesterday," said Carlisle, Mavs coach since 2008.

"It gives you a profound lift when you're in between the first two games of the playoffs and you see that playoff warrior who we've been through so many battles with.

"He said that he was going to be coming to the game, which was great news.

"And I certainly believe that him being there tonight was a lucky charm for us. It never hurts, never hurts."

Although Doncic was the obvious star once again, there was also a big performance from Tim Hardaway Jr, who contributed 28 points and made six attempts from beyond the arc. Both were career playoff highs.

Hardaway said: "[It was] 2-0 when Dirk gets in the building, I'll tell you that.

"Yeah, Dirk, we saw 'Dirky' earlier in the day, we knew he was there and we were happy we were able to pull out a victory.

"It's still a long series and the job is not done at all. It's just creeping into what we can become and we've just got to keep on focusing in and locking in."

Paul George insists the Los Angeles Clippers are not concerned despite falling 2-0 behind to the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round series.

The Clippers have had home advantage so far but now head to Dallas with a significant deficit.

Tuesday's Game 2 saw the Mavs run out 127-121 winners, again led by Luka Doncic.

The Slovenian had a 31-point triple-double on Saturday and added another 39 points this time, maintaining a remarkably high standard in the postseason.

Doncic's eight career playoff games have all come against the Clippers – this year and last – and he has tallied 32.0 points per game on average.

His total of 256 points is the sixth-most for any player across their first eight playoff games from 1963-64 onwards, trailing only Anthony Davis, Bob McAdoo, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored a league-high 287 in 1970.

The Clippers appear to have no answer for the 22-year-old, as George himself acknowledged.

But the seven-time All-Star, who has averaged 20.3 points across the same eight games against the Mavs, says his team are not worried.

Although the Clippers are now on a five-game losing run in the postseason dating back to last year's series against the Denver Nuggets, George said of their "level of concern": "I mean, there is none.

"It's a competition. We've got to rise to the occasion. The fact of the matter is if we don't, we're done for.

"But it's no level of concern. We've just got to play our game. We've got to play through this. We've got to incorporate our defense.

"Luka's going to get his touches. We've just got to do a better job defensively of just quieting everybody else."

The Clippers lost their final two games of the regular season to the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the bottom two teams in the Western Conference.

They therefore finished on the same record as Denver and slipped into the fourth seed, seemingly to ensure they would avoid the Los Angeles Lakers, the defending champions who they now cannot meet until the West Finals.

However, playing into a series with Dallas, who they defeated last year, only served to motivate the Mavs.

Doncic said: "I didn't know they were doing that. Somebody told me that in the first game.

"But if you want to win the championship, at the end of the day, you've got to win against everybody. So, I don't think that makes a big statement. You just go out there and play."

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said: "This time of year you shouldn't need extra motivation. NBA playoff basketball is a self-explanatory adjective.

"It is raw passion. It's all about the team. It's all about one thing. And that is a group of guys getting together and making a stand on every possession.

"If you can't get excited for that, you know, you should be in some other line of work, because they're not pulling people off the street to do these jobs."

However, George added of the Mavs: "That's the team that's the most dangerous, the team [where] I'm pretty sure everyone expected to us win this.

"They were the underdogs, and when you're a lower seed, you really don't have high expectations, so they're playing free, they're playing with confidence.

"I think we were giving them a little too much confidence, so that's on us to shut that down.

"But they're playing with it. They're playing their game. They're playing with confidence. They're making shots.

"The supporting cast for Luka is being aggressive and they're doing their job."

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis said he wanted to "make a statement" in his side's 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday after a "terrible" Game 1 performance.

Davis led the way for the Lakers with a brilliant display at both ends of the court, contributing 34 points and seven assists, along with 10 rebounds and three blocks.

The performance came after an underwhelming return in the opening game when the Lakers were beaten 99-90, with Davis scoring 13 points and providing just two assists.

"Locked in. I know my performance the other day was terrible," Davis told ESPN. "To win a series or to win games, I can't have that performance.

"I put it on myself, as all leaders do. I wanted to make a statement this game. Come out with more energy and effort at both ends on the floor… it paid off today."

LeBron James landed a crucial three-pointer which stretched the Lakers' lead to nine points inside the final minute. He would finish with 23 points, four rebounds and nine assists as LA levelled the first round series.

Davis insisted James did not need to tell him anything about how to respond from his underwhelming display.

"We've been together for a while now," Davis said. "He don’t have to be in my ear. He saw it on my face.

"We didn’t talk much at all today. [The] first time we talked when was when we got to the arena. He just knows.

"I knew I can't have my team in that position with my performance. Since last year he's always been on me about perfection. Playing hard, playing through environments like this, it's paying off.

"It's getting to the point where I don’t need ‘Bron to tell me what I need to do. I know now. I put it on myself to be better for my team."

James added: "He responds to games like Game 1. He's not a guy who talks about it. He goes out and does it."

Game 3 will take place at the Staples Center in LA on Thursday and Davis said he expects the crowd to be "crazy exciting and loud".

Suns guard Chris Paul will hope to feature more heavily in that game after struggling with a shoulder complaint throughout Tuesday's meeting, including sitting out most of the final quarter.

"I took him out," Suns coach Monty Williams said in the post-game video conference. "It was all me looking at him holding his arm the way he was holding it.

"I couldn’t watch him run like that. He was trying to make plays, he battled, he's a warrior. I just made a decision to take him out."

He added: "He's not able to make the passes he wants. He was labouring tonight… We're hopeful it'll get better over the next 48 hours, but I don’t want to say too much."

Anthony Davis responded after his poor Game 1 by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-102 win over the Phoenix Suns to square their NBA playoffs first round series on Tuesday.

Davis was self-critical after their Game 1 loss, stating "this is on me", and responded with a double-double with 34 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and seven assists.

LeBron James was brilliant with 23 points, including a final quarter threein the final minute which was the nail in the coffin. James also had nine assists and four rebounds.

The Lakers led by seven at the final change but Phoenix came hard at them, albeit largely without Chris Paul who played limited minutes in the last quarter due to a shoulder issue which hampered him all game.

But the reigning champions rallied, with a Davis block followed by a three-pointer pressing them ahead in the final minutes.

For the Lakers, Dennis Schroder had 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul only managed six points from 23 minutes in a major worry for the Suns moving forward, while Devin Booker impressed with 31 points.

 

KD gets it done, Mavs down Clippers

Kevin Durant got it done at both ends as the Brooklyn Nets claimed a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics with a 130-108 win.

Durant was dominant with a game-high 26 points as well as five assists, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Nets who led by 24 points at half-time.

Joe Harris shot a playoffs career-high seven three-pointers among his 25 points, including 22 in the first half, while James Harden added an impressive 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.

Blake Griffin made two big dunks for the Nets, having not attempted one in his final 25 games for the Detroit Pistons before his move.

Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard traded blows with massive individual performances but the Dallas Mavericks claimed a 2-0 lead in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 127-121 win on the road.

Doncic scored 39 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, with able assistance from Tim Hardaway Jr who made six three-pointers among his 28 points, with Dallas moving ahead in a 30-19 third quarter.

Leonard had 41 points, six rebounds, two steals and four assists, while Paul George scored 28 points with 12 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers, who face an uphill task to turn around the series in Texas.

 

CP3 and Tatum injuries

Injuries to both Paul and Celtics forward Jason Tatum denied spectators the best contest possible, with the former barely entering the court in the last with his shoulder issue which remains an issue for the rest of the series. Tatum left the game in the third quarter after a poke to the eye from Durant. He only managed nine points from 21 minutes, shooting at 25 per cent from the field.

 

Harden's three-point playoffs feat

Harden went past Reggie Miller into sixth on the all-time NBA playoffs three-pointers made list, scoring four-from-eight beyond the arc in the Nets' win over the Celtics. The 31-year-old has 321 playoffs three-pointers, behind Stephen Curry (470), LeBron James (417), Ray Allen (385), Klay Thompson (374) and Manu Ginobili (324).

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 130-108 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 109-102 Phoenix Suns
Dallas Mavericks 127-121 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Grizzlies at Jazz

Western Conference top seed Utah Jazz will look to square their series against the Memphis Grizzlies after their upset defeat in Game 1.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash is happy with the continued progress of their 'big three' after Tuesday's 130-108 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their NBA playoffs first round series.

The Nets opened up a 2-0 lead with the comfortable victory, which comes after the 'big three' contributed 82 points in their 104-93 Game 1 win.

Kevin Durant starred with 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks on Tuesday.

James Harden had 20 points, including four three-pointers along with five rebounds and seven assists, while Kyrie Irving added 15 points, six rebounds and six assists.

"It's about that time together on the floor, time together to understand, to gel, to make those connections that will afford us more down the line," Nash said post-game.

"It's the time and mindset we need to improve. I keep saying, we're not a team that's running this back three-four-five. We're trying to figure it out as we go.

"Each night is important, not only on the scoreboard but our development."

The Nets are 8-2 with the 'big three' in their line-up this season, but the contribution of Joe Harris, who had 22 points by half-time, to finish with 25 including seven three-pointers, cannot be underestimated.

"It's a nice luxury to have when he’s banging three balls like that and getting the crowd going," Nash said.

Boston lost star forward Jayson Tatum in the third quarter after copping a poke to the eye.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said they needed to be much better all over the court.

"We've got to be way better. We've go to get down the floor quicker, we've got to execute faster, we have to be more detailed and better in our defense," he said.

"I was disappointed in how we played versus the other night."

Julius Randle's breakout season has been recognized after winning the NBA's 2020-21 Most Improved Player which was announced on Tuesday.

The 26-year-old power forward has played a key role in lifting the New York Knicks into the playoffs, with few expecting the franchise to reach the postseason, let alone claim fourth seed in the East.

Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and six assists across 71 games this NBA season, ranking in the top 20 in all three categories. He set career highs in points and assists, equalling his career high for rebounds too.

In his second season with the Knicks, after earlier stints with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers, he made a career-high 160 three-pointers, shooting at 40.1 per cent. He'd previously only made 168 three-pointers at 29.5 per cent across six seasons.

Randle, who was selected for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game for the first time, received 98 first-place votes and 493 total points from the panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Damian Lillard expects to see Aaron Gordon again in the remainder of their first-round playoff series after an improved defensive showing denied the Portland Trail Blazers superstar a postseason record.

Lillard had 34 points in Game 1 as the Blazers upset third seed the Denver Nuggets.

And the six-time All-Star was in sensational form to start Game 2 with 32 points by half-time, including eight three-pointers from 11 attempts.

That tied Vince Carter's mark for the most threes in a half in the playoffs and Lillard appeared certain to reach Klay Thompson's 2016 game record of 11 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lillard himself made 10 against the same team in 2019.

But the Nuggets switched Gordon onto Lillard and Portland's main man made only a single further shot from beyond the arc as he was limited to five attempts.

It meant Lillard, who led the league with 173 clutch points this season, had only 10 points in the second half and two in the fourth quarter – both from the free-throw line.

Asked about Gordon's defense after Denver levelled the series, Lillard said: "I expect it to continue. [I need to be] just moving around more off the ball, getting more off-ball sets.

"Usually bigger guys can use their length and athleticism on the ball, but when you start to move around on flares and pindowns and things like that, typically you can get a little bit of space."

The Blazers point guard was perhaps surprised the Nuggets did not start by getting Gordon out to him.

"It's just a bigger defender, taller guy, more athletic, just a big body," he said.

"But I'm used to that; usually throughout the regular season, whoever their defensive wing or taller wing is, that's who guards me.

"Like the Phoenix game, Mikal Bridges guarded me; Golden State, Kelly Oubre guards me. I'm always against a bigger wing.

"That's an adjustment they went to in the second half. But I think they just gave me more attention, more so than it was just one guy. I'm never going against one guy."

Even before that change, though, the Nuggets were 12 points up, and they ran out 128-109 winners after 38 points from leading MVP candidate Nikola Jokic.

Denver coach Michael Malone said: "That right there was a playoff game.

"The intensity, you had two high-level players in Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic playing at their respective levels, the crowd was great.

"But it was chippy. And that's the way it should be. We're both fighting for something. That's the way the playoffs should be. I loved it. That's my kind of game right there."

Giannis Antetokounmpo revealed his love for football after leading the Milwaukee Bucks past the Miami Heat in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference matchup in the NBA playoffs.

Antetokounmpo led the way as the Bucks routed the Heat 132-98 on Monday for a commanding 2-0 lead in the first-round series.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo posted 31 points in 31 minutes, while also tallying 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals on home court in Milwaukee.

A superstar with the basketball, Antetokounmpo also demonstrated his football skills after juggling the ball during a break in play against the Heat.

Afterwards, Greece international Antetokounmpo told reporters: "I can do probably like 300 of those.

"I used to play soccer when I was young. My dad used to be a soccer player. I love soccer.

"I wanted to play soccer. I didn't want to play basketball growing up."

Milwaukee – seeded third in the east – used a 46-20 opening quarter to crush Miami in Game 2 of their NBA playoff clash.

Jrue Holiday (11 points and 15 assists) added a double-double of his own, while Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes made six three-pointers to contribute 22 points off the bench.

The Bucks set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game after nailing 22 from beyond the arc.

Forbes, who joined the Bucks in November following four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, said: "That was a huge part in me coming here. You know that there would be these opportunities and we would be in the playoffs. ... It's just great to be in this position, be in the playoffs again and have an opportunity and stage."

"It's just how the game goes," Forbes added. "It's ebbs and flows. Some games you're open a lot more. Some games you aren't. Tonight I think we moved the ball great and had a lot of open shots."

Bucks star Holiday hailed Forbes, saying: "If my man got the hot hand, I'm going to him. And he wasn't missing, so at that point we were running everything to him just to -- really just to see what happens."

It was an impressive shooting display from the Bucks as head coach Mike Budenholzer added: "Guys have got to shoot it with confidence. They've got to let it fly. They've got to know they’re going to get threes.

"I think the activity offensively, the attack, can create good looks for us. We've just got to continue to let it fly when you're open."

"Lots of times, there's just so much talent in the league and so many good teams, sometimes you get the early lead and things just happen and it becomes a close game," Budenholzer said. "Today we were able to keep the focus."

The Milwaukee Bucks earned a commanding 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series after Giannis Antetokounmpo and his team-mates blew away the Miami Heat 132-98.

Only two points separated the Bucks and Heat in overtime on Saturday as the third seeds edged Jimmy Butler's Miami 109-107.

But the Heat were no match for the Bucks on Monday after Milwaukee used a 46-20 opening quarter to rout Miami in Game 2 of their NBA playoff clash.

Antetokounmpo – the two-time reigning MVP – fuelled the Bucks with a game-high 31 points in 31 minutes, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals on home court in Milwaukee.

Jrue Holiday added a double-double of his own, while Bucks team-mate Bryn Forbes made six three-pointers to contribute 22 points off the bench.

The Bucks set a franchise record for threes made in a playoff game after nailing 22 from beyond the arc.

Entering the second matchup, the Bucks and Heat had the NBA's two best records when making more three-pointers than their opponents this season – Milwaukee were 25-3 (89.3 per cent) in those games and Miami were 18-3 (85.7 per cent). But the Bucks won Game 1 while making only five of 31 three-point attempts, 16.1 percent, a season low.

The Heat had no answer on the road, where reserve Dewayne Dedmon was Miami's best performer with a team-high 19 points as Butler (10 points on four-for-10 shooting), Bam Adebayo (16 points), Duncan Robinson (10 points) and Kendrick Nunn (nine points) struggled to get going, while Trevor Ariza (0-for-three shooting) was scoreless.

In the day's only other game, the Denver Nuggets levelled their Western Conference matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to a 128-109 victory.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic inspired the third-seeded Nuggets in Game 2, scoring 38 points on 15-for-20 shooting, while also tallying eight rebounds and five assists in Denver.

Not even Damian Lillard's monster performance was enough for the sixth-ranked Trail Blazers to take down the Nuggets for back-to-back wins.

Lillard finished with 42 points and 10 assists – the All-Star made eight three-pointers by half-time, tying Vince Carter's all-time playoff record in a half.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash insisted his star-studded team must remain humble in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

The second-seeded Nets drew first blood in the NBA playoff series, winning Game 1 104-93 on Saturday.

Boasting Kevin Durant (32 points and 12 rebounds), James Harden (21 points) and Kyrie Irving (29 points), the Nets starred offensively, but they were particularly impressive on defense against the Celtics.

The Celtics carried a six-point lead into half-time but the Nets – behind a strong defensive display – powered past the seventh-ranked Celtics in the second half in Brooklyn.

As the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – prepare for Tuesday's Game 2, Nash warned against overconfidence on the defensive side.

"If we think that we're the greatest defensive team of all time we're probably asking for a butt-kicking in Game 2," said Nash following Monday's practice.

"If we're humble and hungry and try to stick to our details and our game plan maybe we have a chance to make it difficult for them."

Durant, Harden and Irving combined for 82 of Brooklyn's total points against Boston in Game 1 – 78.8 per cent of the scoring, including 28 of 31 in the third quarter and 48 of 57 in the second half.

"I think that's something that we have the luxury of having those guys that are so difficult to defend in iso situations," Nash added. "But that's not necessarily the way we want to go.

"We were probably more iso heavy the first game because it's all so new, and in default, and Boston switched a lot of stuff. I think that pushed us towards more isos. But it will be interesting to see, it's just all so new that we, like I don't know, if that's going to be something that we dominate the direction we go in or if we're going to be able to get away from that more so and run more action.

"We've got to figure this out as we go so it's hard to answer that question relative to small experience. The luxury is they all are incredible isolation players and it's not the worst thing in the world, but I would like us to get more to where we’re playing off one another."

Donovan Mitchell expressed his frustration and unhappiness with the Utah Jazz's decision to hold him out of Sunday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, though the All-Star has been cleared to return for Game 2 of the Western Conference first-round series.

Mitchell was surprisingly absent as the top-seeded Jazz were upstaged 112-109 by the Grizzlies in Utah, where the guard had expected to play.

Utah's Mitchell has been sidelined since spraining his right ankle on April 16 and he addressed the decision ahead of Tuesday's game, which the 24-year-old is listed as available.

"For me, for my team, I was definitely frustrated and upset that I wasn't able to play," said Mitchell on Monday.

"I'm a competitor. I felt I was ready to go. I felt ready to go, and unfortunately, that wasn't the case. That was not how it happened. I was ready to go when I spoke [to media after Sunday's shootaround], and they came to the decision that that's what it was.

"The biggest thing for us is moving forward. We lost Game 1, and we've got s*** to handle. Excuse my language, we've got s*** to handle moving forward."

Mitchell has been averaging career highs in points (26.4), assists (5.2) and three-point percentage (38.6) this season.

"The biggest thing is I felt like I should have played," said Mitchell. "To be honest with you, it's no secret. We all know that. At the end of the day, the experts said no. We can disagree on those things, but that was the frustration.

"It was unfair to my team. I felt like, man, I let them down in the sense that you're not there for them in a playoff game. That probably hurts me more than anything else. It eats me. I barely slept because you think about that stuff. So that was really where it hit me, where it hurt."

 

 

After being eliminated with a pair of losses in the play-in tournament, the Golden State Warriors know they still have work to do if they want to get back to contending for NBA titles.

Arguably the most important step is to sign league scoring champion Stephen Curry to a contract extension – something Golden State general manager Bob Myers believes will happen this offseason.

Curry, 33, is not scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent until after next season having signed a then-record $201million, five-year contract in July 2017.

"I don't see any reason not to be optimistic," Myers said on Monday to the media. "He seems like he's motivated, we're motivated. I would say pretty confident we'll get something done."

Golden State can sign the two-time league MVP and three-time NBA champion to a four-year, $215.4m extension during the offseason. 

Curry would be 38 at the end of such a deal, but he has shown no signs of slowing down after averaging a career-high 32.0 points during the regular season to become the oldest NBA scoring champion since a 35-year-old Michael Jordan accomplished the feat in 1997-98.

Curry carried the Warriors in 2020-21 with Klay Thompson missing his second straight season due to an injury and No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman going down with a season-ending knee injury on April 10.

Myers admitted he is not sure if Thompson will be healthy by the start of next season. The five-time All-Star tore his right Achilles before training camp.

That came after Thompson missed the 2019-20 season with a torn ACL suffered in a Game 6 NBA Finals loss to Toronto in June 2019 that gave the Raptors their first NBA title.

"I don't know that it'll be the start of the year," Myers said. "We'll see more as camp gets closer. When I say start of the year, I mean Game 1. I don't know if that's realistic or not.

"What we're focused on is when do we expect Klay to be Klay, and I don't know if that'll be January, February, March. It's too early to say."

Myers did say Wiseman should be good to go for training camp following surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee.

He also said the center will be part of the team in 2021-22 despite having an up-and-down rookie season in which he averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while appearing in just 39 games.

"We don't want to trade James Wiseman," Myers added. "I think he's a tremendous talent and he was put in a position where, again, the guy is taking hopefully all of his lumps early in his career, but I think he can be very helpful to us in the future. I think he can be helpful in the present."

The NBA playoffs got off to a thoroughly entertaining start over the weekend, with road wins for the lower seed in four of the eight series.

Game 1 followed hot on the heels of the similarly dramatic play-in tournament, in which Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors agonisingly lost twice to miss out on qualifying for the postseason.

Curry is a proven performer in both the regular season and the playoffs, but the same does not apply to every elite player.

Some stars seem to go missing when the season is on the line, while others thrive under pressure, as we discover in our latest NBA Heat Check – now comparing the performances of the past week to the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season.

RUNNING HOT...

Luka Doncic

For the second straight season, the Dallas Mavericks are playing the Los Angeles Clippers in round one. And for the second straight season, the series is providing Doncic with a platform to show off his extraordinary talents.

Dallas are too often a one-man show, but the Clippers struggled to contain Doncic last year as he averaged 31.0 points across a debut series that his Game 4 overtime buzzer-beating three-pointer memorably levelled.

The Mavs were beaten in Game 5 and Game 6 in 2020 to depart the tournament, yet this time they have a lead after Doncic's 31-point, triple-double effort on Saturday. Only Michael Jordan has played seven or more playoff games and averaged greater than his 31.0 points per game (33.4).

And it was again the Slovenian's accuracy from beyond the arc that hurt the Clippers, as he made five threes for the first time in the playoffs – up on his season average of 2.9.

Goran Dragic

The Miami Heat made the NBA Finals last season but were hamstrung by an injury to Dragic in Game 1 of the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

That proved a telling blow, but Dragic is back at the fore in this year's playoffs despite a middling regular season in which he averaged 13.4 points per game.

An opening effort of 25 points helped keep Miami in contention against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. Duncan Robinson chipped in with 24, too, shooting 53.8 per cent from three.

Dragic ranked fourth in the league last week in terms of scoring improvement (up 11.6 points on the regular season), with Robinson fifth (up 10.9). Robinson topped the list when it came to an upturn in three-point shooting, while Dragic was just behind. The pair could not be blamed for the Bucks' win.

GOING COLD...

Bam Adebayo

Adebayo certainly could be held responsible for Miami's early deficit, contributing a measly nine points on four-for-15 shooting.

The fourth-year center contributed 17.8 points per game in last year's playoffs, including 17.2 in the Milwaukee series, but he never got going on Saturday.

The decrease from Adebayo's regular season 18.7 average was the sixth-worst in the NBA and, to make matters worse for the Heat, superstar team-mate Jimmy Butler also turned in a concerning performance.

Butler finished with 17 points, yet he made only four of 22 field goal attempts while using 30.0 per cent of Miami's plays.

Chris Paul

Paul's poor game this weekend was the most understandable but also the most concerning. The veteran point guard took a blow to his shoulder in the Phoenix Suns' win over the Lakers and clearly moved uneasily thereafter.

"I heard like a crack or whatever," said Paul, whose ball handling was uncharacteristically clumsy as he was limited to seven points, down from a season average of 16.4 per outing.

It did not cost the Suns, but they will surely need Paul back fit and firing to beat the defending champions over a seven-game series.

Julius Randle

The New York Knicks would not be back in the playoffs if not for Randle's outstanding season in which he played the most minutes in the entire league (2,667) and recorded 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

But his belated playoff debut at Madison Square Garden saw a significant step back as Randle's six-for-23 shooting from the field – or 26.1 per cent – allowed the Atlanta Hawks to steal a road game.

The Knicks are built on hard graft rather than superstar talent, but they cannot afford for their All-Star to misfire so drastically.

Rudy Gobert admits he was 'thrown off' by the Utah Jazz's decision not to play Donovan Mitchell in Sunday's 112-109 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their NBA playoffs first round series.

Following Utah's morning shootaround on Sunday, Mitchell had declared himself ready to return from an ankle injury which had kept him out since April 17.

However, the Jazz confirmed in their official injury report pre-game that he would miss out again with a "right ankle sprain", much to the surprise of Gobert and team-mate Bojan Bogdanovic.

!It was a big surprise," Gobert said post-game. "I try to stay out of all this because it's just going to give me a headache.

"When you wake up, you get ready for a game and you find out that your star player is not going to play, it throws you off a little bit."

Bogdanovic, who top-scored with 29 points for the Jazz including a series of last quarter three-pointers, added: "Of course we miss him, especially in the playoffs. We all know how good he is.

"I mean, I don't know what happened, honestly, with the decision for him and the medical staff to keep him out. You should ask him."

Jazz coach Quin Snyder admitted pre-game that Mitchell did not agree with the medical staff's decision.

"It's reflective of what a competitor he is and how bad he wants to be out there and is looking forward to being out there," Snyder said.

Speaking about the defeat, Snyder added: "I thought we competed, I didn't think we executed on the level that we need to in this moment in the playoffs. I think our guys know that. We know the things we need to do better."

Dillon Brooks had a game-high 31 points for the Grizzlies, while Ja Morant added 26 in the pair's playoffs debuts.

"For us to be able to come out and get a win on the road in the first game in that environment is big time for us," Morant said. "We can't wait to go back to Memphis to return the favour with our fans."

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis shouldered the blame for the NBA champions' Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference first round.

Davis was far from his best as LeBron James and the Lakers went down 99-90 to the second-seeded Suns in Phoenix on Sunday.

Lakers big man Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as he recorded just 13 points against the Suns, while missing both of his attempts from three-point range.

As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from beyond the arc after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

Afterwards, Davis scrutinised his performance as the Lakers – ranked seventh in the west – look to bounce back on Tuesday.

"There's no way we're winning a game, let alone the series, with me playing the way I played," Davis said.

"This is on me. I take whatever responsibility, for sure. I'll be ready for Game 2."

"I kind of got lost in the offense. But I still have to be assertive to get the ball," Davis added. "That's on me. I still have to find ways to make plays on that end of the floor offensively.

"It's on me. I'm not too worried about my performance. I know I'll be better. I know we'll be better in Game 2."

Superstar Lakers team-mate James, who finished with 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, added: "It's always AD being AD.

"Any time he comes to the press room and tells you we can't win without him or with him playing the way he played, he always responds. I'm looking forward to that."

"I love when AD puts that pressure on himself," James said. "We're a better team when he's aggressive and we're a better team when he demands the ball."

Davis had posted 42 points against the Suns in the absence of James on May 9, but Phoenix nullified his impact on Sunday.

"Phoenix brought a lot more attention obviously because of that game," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. "They did a great job. Give them credit.

"They did a good job limiting his touches and bringing double teams when he did get it and making things difficult for him. But there are ways we can be better to take advantage of that."

Vogel continued: "There's plenty we can do. I'm not going to get into details on what our adjustments are going to look like. But certainly we can do a better job in taking advantage of the attention that he's drawn."

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