Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is questionable for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat due to a right ankle sprain.

The top-seeded Bucks trail 3-0 and are facing a stunning series sweep at the hands of the Heat in the NBA playoffs heading into Sunday's crucial clash at Walt Disney World Resort.

Antetokounmpo rolled his ankle in the first half of Milwaukee's 115-100 Game 3 loss to Miami in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

The reigning MVP still posted 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists for the struggling Bucks.

No NBA team have overturned a 3-0 series deficit as the Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – fight to stay alive in the postseason.

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the verge of exiting the NBA playoffs, while the Los Angeles Lakers fell in Game 1 against the Houston Rockets.

The top seeds in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are 3-0 down to the Miami Heat in the semi-finals after Friday's 115-100 loss.

Miami incredibly outscored the Bucks 40-13 in the fourth quarter at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Bucks led for most of the contest, including by 14 late in the third, but fell apart late.

Jimmy Butler (30 points, seven rebounds and six assists) put Miami on the verge of a shock series win, with 17 of his points coming in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers were beaten 112-97 by the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

Rockets star James Harden went 12-of-20 from the field for a game-high 36 points.

 

Awesome Adebayo, Westbrook in fine form

Bam Adebayo had a double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds in Miami's win. He was seven-of-eight from the field.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo managed 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, but he went seven-of-21 from the field.

Russell Westbrook also struggled with his shot, going 10-of-24, but he had 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a Rockets win.

Eric Gordon also contributed 23 points for Houston.

For the Lakers, Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds, while LeBron James had 20 points.

 

Bledsoe struggles

Eric Bledsoe battled badly for Milwaukee. He was two-of-nine from the field for just eight points in nearly 30 minutes.

 

Hot Harden

Harden was in spectacular form for the Rockets.

Raptors face Celtics

Following their incredible Game 3 win, the Toronto Raptors will look to level their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Boston Celtics at 2-2 on Saturday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mike Budenholzer stressed the need to move on quickly after a contentious ending to the Milwaukee Bucks' defeat to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

A breathless finish had seen Khris Middleton sink three free throws after Goran Dragic was judged to have stepped in his landing area to tie up a game in which 51 personal fouls were whistled for in Orlando.

But more drama followed when it was ruled Antetokounmpo fouled Jimmy Butler at the buzzer, with Bucks head coach Budenholzer having already used up his challenge.

Butler kept his nerve to sink the two free throws and seal a 116-114 win that sees the Heat move 2-0 in front, while it was just the third time in playoff history a game ended on free throws after time expired.

"I tried to make it tough for Jimmy," Antetokounmpo, who finished with a game-high 29 points, reflected on the decision. "The refs said there was contact there. Maybe there was, I've got to watch the play. 

"It is what it is. I tried to contest the shot, but they said there was contact there, so I've got to watch [the] play." 

The Bucks now face an uphill battle as the previous 11 teams to trail 2-0 in a best-of-seven series having recorded the best regular-season record went on to be eliminated, and Antetokounmpo issued a rallying cry to his team-mates.

"It's about us. It's always going to be about us. That's why we practice. That's why we go through our game plan. That's why we've got to come out and play harder," added Antetokounmpo, whose team also lost twice to the Heat in the regular season. 

"That's why we've got to make more shots. It's always going to be about us. It's not about what the other team is going to do. 

"It might be the Miami Heat now, next round might be a different team, next year might be a different team. It's always going to be about us.

"How can we get better? How can we not repeat the same mistakes? How can we not down the stretch make turnovers? How can we create easier shots?

"It's always going to be about us. It's never going to be about the other team that we're playing."

Budenholzer was not happy with the decisive call but followed a similar line to his star man.

"I would say we're disappointed with the judgment, with the decision, the timing," he said.

"It's a tough job. I have a lot of respect for the officials and the crew tonight. It's not an easy job, and of course we have our way of seeing things and we're going to disagree, but we need to shift our attention to Game 3 and get prepared for that. Understand that that's the most important thing right now."

Conversely, Butler had no doubt the right decision was made, saying: "It was an iso [isolated one-v-one], Goran [Dragic] made a hell of a pass on the inbound, then just wait for the clock to go out," Butler said. 

"A step-back jumper and I got fouled, [he] pushed me in the back. Can't deny that, and then I knew I had to make one out of two so I ended up, I think I made both of them and we win."

The Miami Heat moved into a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in controversial fashion, while the Houston Rockets advanced.

Miami posted a 116-114 victory over the Bucks to go 2-0 up in the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Wednesday.

But it came after a controversial finish in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort.

With Miami leading 114-111 with less than five seconds to play, Goran Dragic was called for a foul on Khris Middleton, who hit three free-throws.

But, more drama was to follow, Giannis Antetokounmpo ruled to have fouled Jimmy Butler, who hit two free-throws with no time left to lift the Heat to a 2-0 lead against the top seeds.

The Rockets finally advanced from the Western Conference first round thanks to a 104-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7.

Despite a poor offensive outing from James Harden, the Rockets moved into a meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden produced a huge late block to deny Luguentz Dort (30 points) as the Rockets held on.

 

Even Heat enough to power past Giannis

Miami had seven players in double-digits for points in their win over the Bucks, led by Dragic (23).

Tyler Herro, 20, was one of the seven, going six-of-13 from the field for 17 points off the bench for Miami.

Antetokounmpo had a double-double of 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks.

Chris Paul had a triple-double of 19 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the Thunder were beaten.

 

Harden's woes

Harden struggled badly for Houston. The star guard was four-of-15 for just 17 points in 37 minutes, while he also had four turnovers.

 

Huge defensive moment for Harden

While he battled offensively, Harden delivered a huge defensive play with his block on Dort.

Raptors face Celtics

Trailing the Boston Celtics 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Toronto Raptors need a response on Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo did not ask to guard Jimmy Butler as the Miami Heat star caught fire in the fourth quarter and handed the Milwaukee Bucks a shock loss in Game 1.

Butler scored 40 points – 15 of which came in the final period – as the Heat took the lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals series with a 115-104 victory on Monday.

Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, was held to 18 points – just the sixth time this season he has been kept below 20 when playing over 30 minutes. In the fourth quarter, he scored just three points while shooting 1-of-4 from the field and the free throw line and contributing six turnovers.

The Bucks as a whole added just 18 points in the final 12 minutes, with Butler taking the game away from them and putting Miami in the driving seat.

Antetokounmpo, the 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, did not consider trying to take the lead in keeping Butler at bay.

Asked if he requested to be switched onto Butler late on, Antetokounmpo replied: "To guard him? No, I didn't. Why would you ask that?"

On whether it was something he would look to do going forward, he added: "No, I'll do whatever coach tells me to do."

Although Antetokounmpo had 10 rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block, he was restricted to just 12 shots across the game as the Heat tightened up defensively after giving away 40 points in the first quarter.

"I've just got to keep making the right play, keep playing good basketball, keep finding my team-mates," he said.

"They're going to try to build a wall this game, the next game, the whole series. I've got to keep making the right play.

"When the game is over and you look at the stat sheet and see 12 shots, you have to wonder why I didn't shoot more, could I have been more aggressive. But I think I just tried to make the right play. Win or lose, you've got to live with it."

Jimmy Butler led the Miami Heat to a 115-104 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday and is far from the toxic character he is made out to be, according to coach Erik Spoelstra.

Butler took over in the fourth quarter and scored an NBA playoffs career-best 40 points to put the Heat 1-0 up on the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The five-time All-Star left the Chicago Bulls in acrimonious circumstances in 2017 and was traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves the following year after falling out with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

When the Philadelphia 76ers failed to make him a priority in free agency in the past offseason, he signed with the Heat.

Spoelstra feels Butler has landed in the ideal environment and flourished in the confines of the NBA bubble near Orlando, Florida.

"These are extreme circumstances, they're not easy for anybody. And you need a level of discipline, of structure, and camaraderie," said Spoelstra, via ESPN.

"Jimmy, despite what, probably, the narrative is out there, he's a very likable guy in the locker room, and I think that helps in a setting like this.

"He just fits everything about us, our fabric and who we are. Make or miss, everybody feels comfortable when he's making those decisions. He happened to score [on Monday] but he's a very unselfish player.

"It's not just about him scoring the basketball, he makes the appropriate reads depending on what's needed for that particular game. They [the Bucks] stepped up their defence, though, and you have to give them credit for that, and we basically had to put the ball in his hands.

"He wants these kinds of moments."

Butler said team-mates Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson told him to win the game for Miami, but he hopes other members of the team get to shine in the rest of the series.

"I told my team-mates I probably wasn't gonna pass the ball," Butler said of his approach down the stretch. "I made a couple shots, and they said, 'That's fine with me.'

"I don't know if it will be like that next game. I hope Tyler [Herro] is the one that'll be in the position where he feels like the rim is so big that he can't miss, or Goran, or Bam [Adebayo].

"We've got a lot of guys that are so comfortable, so confident. We're okay."

He added: "I've learned [to be able to take over games], but I've watched so many great players. And it's great to have D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] in my corner, I'm telling you.

"He's always in my phone, telling me about the game, what to look for. He's been a huge help. He's the first person that texts me tonight whenever I get back to the locker room.

"I'm learning. I've been learning. I will continue to learn. I just want to win, though. I can't say it enough."

Jimmy Butler put on a show as the Miami Heat topped the Milwaukee Bucks 115-104 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

Butler posted a playoff career-high 40 points to lead the Heat past the top-seeded Bucks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

A five-time All-Star, Butler scored 14 of his points in the final quarter as fifth seeds the Heat upstaged Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Butler became just the third player in Miami's postseason history to have at least 40 points, following in the footsteps of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Heat team-mate Goran Dragic added 27 points for Miami, whose 5-0 start to the playoffs is tied for the best ever by a team seeded fifth or lower, per STATS. The Washington Wizards also started 5-0 as the fifth seeds in 2015.

Despite outscoring the Heat 40-29 in the opening quarter, the Bucks were unable to hold on as the Heat's defence starred.

Reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks, who were led by Khris Middleton's 28 points.

The Heat and Bucks will meet again in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced a Game 7 against the Houston Rockets after prevailing 104-100.

Facing elimination in the Western Conference opening round, veteran Chris Paul came up big for the Thunder with 28 points and seven rebounds.

Trailing 98-92 with just over four minutes remaining, former Rockets guard Paul was clutch for the Thunder, nailing a pair of three-pointers down the stretch to lift his team.

James Harden recorded 32 points and eight rebounds for the beaten Rockets, who face the Thunder in Wednesday's decider, while Russell Westbrook had seven turnovers against his former team.

 

Jazz face Nuggets

The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will go head-to-head in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round matchup on Tuesday. The Boston Celtics and defending champions the Toronto Raptors are also in action in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

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 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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

The Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers were all victorious as the NBA's regular season concluded in Orlando on Friday.

Philadelphia's final game before their Eastern Conference first-round playoff blockbuster against the Boston Celtics on Monday saw the 76ers top the Houston Rockets 134-96.

Joel Embiid (14 points) overcame a wrist problem and played for the 76ers at Walt Disney World resort, where Tobias Harris (18), Al Horford (10), Alec Burks (16), Shake Milton (11), Mike Scott (10), Raul Neto (14) and Furkan Korkmaz (12) all had double-digit points.

The Rockets, who are set to meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference on Tuesday, were led by James Harden's 27 points and 10 assists.

Defending champions the Raptors, meanwhile, defeated the Denver Nuggets 117-109 behind Stanley Johnson's season-high 23 points.

Johnson scored 19 points in the second half, while Paul Watson put up a career-high 22 points for the in-form Raptors – who have won four games in a row and seven of their eight regular-season matchups in Florida.

The Raptors – second in the east – begin their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, while the Western Conference's Nuggets open against the Utah Jazz.

 

Mann impresses for Clippers

With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams rested, rookie Terance Mann stepped up as the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted the Thunder 107-103 in overtime. Mann had 25 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double, including the go-ahead three-pointer with less than three minutes remaining in OT. Amir Coffey contributed 21 points.

Hamidou Diallo's double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds led the playoff-bound Thunder.

 

Robinson scoreless as Pacers cool Heat

Ahead of their upcoming first-round clash in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat lost 109-92 to the Indiana Pacers and Duncan Robinson struggled. Robinson was zero of three from the field, while he missed all three shots beyond the arc to go scoreless in 13 minutes. Trying to stay fit before the playoff matchup as both teams rested stars, the Heat lost Derrick Jones Jr. to a neck strain following a scary collision.

 

Harden with the behind-the-back pass

The 2018 MVP produced this assist for Rockets team-mate Jeff Green.

 

Friday's results

Toronto Raptors 117-109 Denver Nuggets
Indiana Pacers 109-92 Miami Heat
Los Angeles Clippers 107-103 Oklahoma City Thunder (OT)
Philadelphia 76ers 134-96 Houston Rockets

 

Grizzlies face Trail Blazers

The Western Conference play-in clash will see the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers go head-to-head on Saturday. A win for the Trail Blazers will secure a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Memphis have to go 2-0 in the play-in tournament.

Jimmy Butler explained his intentional charge on Chris Paul in the Miami Heat's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder by saying "You gotta deal with me" if you go for one of his team-mates.

After knocking the ball away from Duncan Robinson and out of bounds in the closing stages of the second quarter on Wednesday, Paul exchanged words with the Heat guard having seemingly hurt his hand in the process.

The 10-time All-Star intercepted the subsequent inbound pass from Butler to Robinson, ripping possession away and throwing it back at him, with the rebound going out for a Thunder ball.

When the Heat came back up the floor on their next possession, Butler got Paul on a switch and intentionally barrelled him over as he drove to the rim.

Explaining the incident after the game, Butler said: "You're not gonna throw the ball at my team-mate like that. So yeah, I'll get a turnover. I'll get an offensive foul.

"We don't do that here. You mess with one of my guys, especially one of my shooters, then you gotta deal with me and everybody else."

Robinson said: "I shot-faked in the corner and I told him [Paul] I should've shot it. We went back and forth a little bit, nothing out of the ordinary for an NBA game.

"He's a really talented player, I have a lot of respect for him, but he also competes and I'm not one to back down from a challenge in that regard.

"I have a ton of respect for him but it was just a heat-of-the-moment thing."

Mike Muscala made a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining to earn the Thunder a 116-115 victory against the Heat, who will face the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

"We gonna go about everything the same we always do. Get better come tomorrow, make sure our bodies are right," said Butler about the tie with the Pacers.

"We've still got them one more time before the playoffs start, so we gotta start by sending a message then."

The Thunder will go up against the Houston Rockets in the first round, pitting Paul against his former team and James Harden, who he reportedly fell out with prior to being traded last year.

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