Miami went to the NBA Finals as the Eastern Conference No.5 seed a year ago. Denver became the first team in NBA history to rally with a pair of 3-1 deficits en route to the Western Conference Finals.
The roads were not easy then.
They don’t seem easy now either.
The Heat and Nuggets will be the first teams in these playoffs to speak out and try to avoid 2-0 deficits. Miami is trailing Milwaukee 1-0 in their Eastern first-round series, and Denver lost home court advantage to Portland with a Game 1 loss in their Western opener.
The rematch are Monday night, the only two games on the slate.
“It will definitely be a different game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I mean, that’s what the playoffs are about. There are trends and strengths for both teams. You are trying to maximize your strengths. You try to make it difficult for the other team. ”
Milwaukee earned a 109-107 overtime victory on Saturday, a game where neither the Bucks nor the Heat led by more than eight points. The Bucks won when they had made just five 3-pointers.
“I think the most important thing for us is that we have shown that we can have these games while retiring,” said Bucks goaltender Donte DiVincenzo.
Denver gave up 65 points in the second half in Game 1 and lost 123-109, making it the 11th straight playoff series the Nuggets have fallen behind. The last time Denver was never down in a series was the 2009 Western Semifinals, a 4-1 series victory over Dallas.
“Just to have a consistent game somehow, just to give us hope,” said Nikola Jokic, Denver MVP finalist.
Portland also took a 1-0 first-round lead last season. It was the Blazers’ only playoff win last summer; they then dropped four in a row to the eventual Los Angeles Lakers champion. And the Blazers know that a 1-0 lead doesn’t guarantee anything.
“It will only get more difficult from here,” Portland goaltender Damian Lillard said. “But I think starting with a win on the road was great for us.
HEAT IN BUCKS
Milwaukee leads 1-0. Thu 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
– NEED TO KNOW: The first game was a statistical game. Miami beat Milwaukee 60-15 on the 3-point line and lost, bringing the NBA teams down to 73-2 all-time in games where they score 15 more than their opponent. Miami’s Jimmy Butler was 4 for 22 from the field; in the 271 career games he’s taken at least 15 shots, he’s never shot worse. And Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was 6 of 13 on the line, bringing back memories of his terrible problems against Miami in last season’s playoffs.
– Keep an eye out: Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro from Miami. The first game was the 48th time they’ve combined to take 25 or more shots; their 6 for 25 performance was the worst combined shooting effort of those 48 games. I have to think that this will not happen again.
– INJURY WATCH: Butler and Antetokounmpo both had big hits in Game 1 and it will be interesting to see if either one still takes its toll on Monday night. Butler was shaken twice after going to the basket, while Antetokounmpo had to put a compression sleeve on his left arm after a collision in the second half.
– THE PRESSURE IS ON: Milwaukee. A split of the first two games wouldn’t be ideal, especially since it would give Miami all the momentum as the series moves to South Florida later this week. A win gives Milwaukee complete control, while a loss would mean the Bucks would have two full days to complain about what went wrong before Game 3 on Thursday night.
TRAIL BLAZERS AT NUGGETS
Portland leads 1-0. Thu 2, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.
– NEED TO KNOW: Damian Lillard’s 34 points in Game 1 were the highest of any Portland player against Denver all season. The Blazers have conceded points to Denver prospect MVP Nikola Jokic; he had 34, as well as 16 rebounds. But Jokic only had one assist because of the work Portland did defensively against everyone. Portland had 15 3s in Game 1 and is now 7-0 against Denver doing the same.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: The aggression of the Nuggets in attack. Denver hasn’t made more than 15 free throws in each of its last four games, which is the longest streak in team history. The 3 points are nice and clearly don’t hurt Jamal Murray, but the Nuggets can’t continue to let Lillard (nine in Game 1) make more free throws than their entire roster (eight). Portland beat Denver 18-4 from the line in Game 1; The 14-point gap corresponded to the one that was on the scoreboard at the end of the night.
– INJURY WATCH: Denver’s Will Barton (hamstring) missed Game 1, and if his injury kept him from making the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine how that will be good enough for him to contribute to the Game 2. But the Nuggets need more, and Barton could help.
– THE PRESSURE IS ON: Denver, obviously and completely. If the Nuggets lose 0-2, at home, with a roster missing their second-best player and all kinds of nagging little pains among the guys who are still around, that will be big problems.
AP Sports editor Pat Graham of Denver contributed to this report.
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