Holiday, Pelicans have Portland on the brink in NBA playoffs
By BRETT MARTEL
Holiday's 54 points, 16 assists and slew of defensive successes in the first two games are big reasons why the sixth-seeded Pelicans hold a surprising 2-0 series lead over the third-seeded Trail Blazers as they prepare for Game 3 Thursday night in New Orleans.
"Playoff Jrue, I guess," Davis quipped after Holiday scored 33 - including a late, deep 3-pointer - in the Pelicans' Game 2 triumph in Portland on Tuesday night. "He's in a different mode."
Philadelphia visits Miami in one of two other Game 3s on Thursday night, while the Spurs' return to San Antonio after a pair of double-digit losses at defending champion Golden State.
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps bet big on Holiday on the first day of free agency last summer, giving the 27-year-old guard a five-year contract worth about $126 million. But if the postseason is where players really earn their money, then the Pelicans' Holiday spending could very well be worth it.
Holiday helped preserve New Orleans' Game 1 victory with a leaping steal in transition during the final minutes, followed by a block in the final seconds. Those plays were prime examples of why Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has asserted Holiday is one of the best two-way players in the NBA.
"We ask him to guard the best perimeter player and we ask him to do it while we're also wanting him to get 20 points," Gentry said, noting that Holiday has had to take turns guarding both members of Portland's prolific starting backcourt, guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
"He can get to the basket against just about anybody that there is. His outside shot has really improved," Gentry added. "He's very confident in what he's doing and the way he's playing."
TRAIL BLAZERS AT PELICANS
New Orleans leads 2-0. Game 3, 9 P.M., NBA TV.
NEED TO KNOW: The Pelicans were no better at home (24-17) during the regular season than on the road (24-17), which gives Portland hope. "We've won on their floor before and we feel like we're capable of doing the same thing they did to us," Portland's Lillard said. However, the atmosphere could be different for New Orleans' first home playoff game since 2015.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo , who had 17 assists in Game 1 and was one assist shy of a triple-double in Game 2.
INJURY UPDATE: Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic was limited to only 15 minutes in Game 2 because of a left leg contusion, while forward Evan Turner is questionable with a right toe contusion. Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic twisted his right ankle late in Game 2. He has not been scratched, but his effectiveness remains to be seen.
PRESSURE IS ON: Portland guards Lillard and McCollum, who have been inconsistent in the series and will be desperate to prevent the Blazers from falling into a 0-3 hole. "We don't want to be in this position ... but it should be fun and we should accept that challenge," Lillard said. "If not, it could be a quick series."
76ERS AT HEAT
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 7 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: The 76ers say All-Star center Joel Embiid, who has missed 10 games with a broken orbital bone, is doubtful. The Heat ended Philadelphia's franchise-record 17-game winning streak Monday, winning with physical defense. To further ratchet up tension, some 76ers were miffed by Miami's Goran Dragic's late layup to pad the Heat's 113-103 victory.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The 76ers' shooting and the Heat's Dwyane Wade. Philadelphia shot 18 for 28 from 3-point range in Game 1, but just 7 for 36 in Game 2. Wade had 28 points in 26 minutes in Game 2 , but at age 36, there's no guarantee he'll consistently summon that sort of performance. "I'm not worried about encores," Wade said. "Right now it's just about being a leader and giving this team what they need on different nights."
INJURY UPDATE: Embiid practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, but regaining his rhythm on offense could take longer, coach Brett Brown said. After Monday's loss, Embiid lobbied to get back in the lineup, writing on Instagram that he was "sick and tired of being babied." The return of the 76ers' leading scorer and rebounder would mark a renewal of his rivalry with Miami's Hassan Whiteside. They've feuded on social media this season.
PRESSURE IS ON: Heat president Pat Riley always says a playoff series doesn't really begin until the road team wins a game. As of Monday, this series has begun, with Miami putting the heat on the Sixers, who are in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
WARRIORS AT SPURS
Golden State leads 2-0. Game 3, 9:30 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: San Antonio is 30-8 at home this season, but coach Gregg Popovich stressed playing on the road isn't why the Spurs dropped the first two games. San Antonio is shooting 26 percent on 3-pointers in the series after averaging 35 percent during the regular season. San Antonio was 4 for 28 on 3s in Game 2. "We know it's just like hitting in baseball - the ability to make shots," Popovich said. "I'm more concerned about the nuts and bolts of the game and the attitude and the fiber and the grunt and all that sort of thing."
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Warriors' Klay Thompson. The 6-foot-7 guard is leading Golden State in playoff scoring at 29 points per game. He is shooting 70 percent from the field, including 71 percent on 3-pointers.
INJURY UPDATE: Golden State center David West is listed as day-to-day after twisting his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is traveling with the team but will not play in the opening round of the playoff as he continues to rehabilitate a sprained knee. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard remains out as he continues to rehabilitate the right quadriceps tendinopathy that has sidelined him for all but nine regular-season games.
STILL HOPEFUL: Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili has maintained that Golden State is the better team, but that doesn't mean he's ready to concede the series as it shifts to San Antonio. "The realistic thing is that we are not favorites," Ginobili said. "They have three All-Stars in their prime, but we know we can beat them. We know we can do better than what we did, but I'm not going to feel embarrassed or I'm not going to go compete less if I admit they are a better team."
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine contributed to this report from Miami and Raul Dominguez contributed from San Antonio.
More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Updated April 19, 2018