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Down 2-0, the 76ers, Magic & Lakers Hope for Homecourt Lift
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 25, 2024

Labron James and the Lakers hope that returning to Los Angeles will give them a lift against the Nuggets, who swept the first two games in Denver. (AP/John McDonnell)

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Joel Embiid and the 76ers had just dropped two straight playoff games in New York that left them feeling like — well, like their playoff series against the Knicks was far from over.

“We’re going to win this series,” Embiid said.

A bold statement from last season’s NBA MVP, for sure. It’s one the Sixers — and Orlando and the Lakers — have to believe is possible with all three teams facing 2-0 deficits heading into a trio of Game 3s on Thursday in the NBA playoffs.

All three teams are returning home, a needed confidence boost with their seasons pretty much at stake. No NBA team has ever won a playoff series after trailing 3-0. The Knicks, Cleveland and Denver all look to get closer to a first-round win on the road.

The Cavs led from start to finish in both games inside Cleveland’s rowdy Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where the deafening crowd noise may have had something to do with the Magic’s lack of any shooting touch.

Orlando was abysmal from the field in Games 1 and 2, shooting a combined 34.3% while making just 17 of 65 3-pointers (26.1%). Worse, the Magic, who entered the playoffs with the worst offense statistically of any team in the field, are missing open, uncontested shots.

Being back on their home floor will help, and Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff expects the Magic to up the physicality.

“They’re going to be a different team at home,” he said. “They were all year (29-12). Being a younger team, but being able to play in front of your crowd, gives you that confidence that you can.”

The Lakers haven’t played a home game since April 9, playing five straight on the road that included the play-in tournament and two playoff games in Denver.

“It feel likes it’s been forever since we played here,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “Hopefully (the fans) are excited because we’re looking forward to it.”

Knicks at 76ers

New York leads 2-0. Game 3, 4:30 p.m. PDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Knicks played like a team headed toward a sweep in the first two games in New York. The Nova Knicks — former Villanova Wildcats Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo — can expect an unhappy crowd for their Game 3 homecoming. There are 2016 and 2018 national championship banners in the Wells Fargo Center rafters. The trio have been fantastic in their efforts trying to raise a banner at Madison Square Garden. Brunson finished with 24 points despite going 8 for 29 from the field. Hart had 21 points and 15 rebounds, and DiVincenzo scored 19 points in Game 2.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The officiating. In its Last 2 Minutes report, the NBA said 76ers coach Nick Nurse twice attempted to call timeouts that were “neither recognized nor granted by the officials” during the decisive Game 2 possession. The NBA also determined Tyrese Maxey was fouled twice before his turnover that led to the go-ahead 3-pointer by DiVincenzo in the Knicks’ 104-101 victory in Game 2. Embiid used an expletive after the game in saying the officiating had been unacceptable for missing the attempted timeout and the foul.

— INJURY WATCH: Sixers guard De’Anthony Melton could make his return in Game 3 after sitting out most of the second half of the season with a spinal injury. Melton averaged 11.1 points and was a key contributor early in the year. Melton practiced Wednesday and said his body has responded well to going up and down the court.

— PRESSURE IS ON: It’s on Embiid and the 76ers. The Sixers went 25-16 at home this season, so that could help. But they folded down the stretch at home in a Game 6 loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals and then lost Game 7 on the road. The Sixers may as well start packing up their lockers if they lose Game 3.

Cavaliers at Magic

Cleveland leads 2-0. Game 3, 4 p.m. PDT, NBA TV/fubo

— NEED TO KNOW: The Cavaliers have played particularly well, which is either a good sign that they’ll improve or scary if they advance. Cleveland is 15-0 when leading a series 2-0. Last year’s painful first-round exit against New York remains a driving force. The Magic have a playoff game at their home arena for the first time since April 21, 2019 — and will be seeking their first home playoff win since April 26, 2011. Orlando made the playoffs in 2020, the year that the season was finished without fans at the Disney complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. That’s just outside of Orlando, but not the team’s true home arena.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Wagner brothers. Orlando’s toughness starts with Franz and Moritz, who play hard and often on the boundaries of what might be considered dirty. They set the tone for the Magic and will undoubtedly be looking for any way to fire up their teammates and the home crowd.

— INJURY WATCH: Magic guard Jalen Suggs returned to play the second half in Game 2 despite suffering what appeared to be a serious left knee injury. Suggs is Orlando’s best on-ball defender and the Magic can’t afford to be without him.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Orlando’s Paolo Banchero. If the Magic are going to get back in the series, Banchero, who is averaging 22.5 points but 7.5 turnovers in two games, has to take his game to another level. The Cavs’ interior size is bothering the second-year forward, who is getting his first taste of how different things are in the postseason.

Nuggets at Lakers

Denver leads 2-0. Game 3, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: Jamal Murray missed 15 of his first 20 shots and Denver behind by 20 in Game 2 to the Lakers. But there’s a reason the Nuggets are the defending champions. Murray got hot — and so did Denver. He went 6 for 8 for 14 points in the fourth quarter and swished a step-back 15-footer over Anthony Davis at the buzzer for a 101-99 win.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves. Two key members of the Lakers’ supporting cast have been completely ineffective in the series. Hachimura has scored 10 total points while inexplicably taking only 11 shots in 69 minutes of play, while Reaves has just 18 points in two quiet outings. With almost no scoring help from two starters who should be doing more, the Lakers haven’t been able to keep up with Denver’s more balanced offense.

— INJURY WATCH: Lakers swingman Jarred Vanderbilt is reportedly hoping to play in Game 3 after sitting out since Feb. 1 with a sprained right foot. Although he contributes little on offense, Vanderbilt’s defensive intensity could conceivably help the Lakers’ attempts to slow down Jamal Murray, who scored 22 points in Game 1 and hit the winning jumper at the buzzer in Game 2.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Lakers. They got their worst possible first-round matchup, and it’s been just as bad as feared, even though they were competitive in each of the first two meetings in Denver. They’ve lost 10 consecutive games to the Nuggets, including six straight in the past two playoffs. Another loss in Game 3 would all but end the series, so James and Davis will have to go all-out in Game 3 just to keep Los Angeles from losing all hope.

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