Bucks on the ropes, Heat look to finish historic sweep
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Teams as good as the Milwaukee Bucks never get swept in the NBA playoffs.
That may change Sunday.
Milwaukee is on the brink of elimination, trailing the Miami Heat 3-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Heat can close it out — and make a little history — when they look to finish off a second consecutive sweep in these playoffs.
“The job ain’t done yet,” Miami’s Jimmy Butler said.
The Bucks are the No. 1 seed in the East; the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers, also is in a bit of trouble — though facing a situation that is nowhere near as dire as the mess Milwaukee is in right now.
The Lakers dropped Game 1 of their West semifinal series to Houston 112-97 on Friday, with Game 2 set for Sunday night.
“It’s only one game. … Got to get ready for Game 2,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “We’ll have to be even better in Game 2.”
The Bucks have to be better in Game 4, or else.
They had Game 3 in their hands Friday, leading by 14 in the third quarter and by 12 at the start of the fourth quarter.
And then Butler happened: He had 17 points in the fourth, the Heat outscored the Bucks 40-13 in the period and Miami won 115-100 to take the 3-0 lead.
Before Friday, teams down by exactly 12 points going into the fourth quarter of a game this season had lost 39 out of 43 times, or 91%. In the playoffs, teams leading by 12 or more points after three quarters had been 131-1 since April 2016.
But the Bucks couldn’t finish and now are in the 0-3 hole, out of which no NBA team has successfully climbed.
“Might as well make history while you’re doing it, cap off a great season here,” Bucks guard George Hill said. “It’s the first time in the history of the NBA we’re playing in a bubble. First time that a team can come back down from 3-0. We’ve got to trust each other, continue to believe. The season’s not over.”
The Bucks were 56-17 in the regular season, which translates to a .767 winning percentage — the 37th best for a single season in NBA history. Some of the 36 teams ahead of them on that list lost in the first round of the playoffs, but none got swept.
The team with the best record that saw its playoff run end in a sweep was the 1948-49 Rochester Royals, back before the shot clock and even before the NBA was a thing — it was called the BAA then. They lost 2-0 to the Minneapolis Lakers in the division finals.
The Royals were 45-15 (.750) that year. The teams with the best records that got swept in a best-of-seven series were the 1997-98 Los Angeles Lakers and 2016-17 San Antonio Spurs — both 61-21 (.744). Each got swept in the West finals, the Lakers by Utah, the Spurs by Golden State.
If the Bucks don’t win Sunday, they’ll get a title they didn’t want — the best team, record-wise anyway, to be swept.
“You’ve got to dig deep,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You’ve got to lean on your character, lean on your competitiveness, just get focused on getting one game, get Game 4. That’s where our mindset’s got to be.”
A look at Sunday’s games:
BUCKS VS. HEAT
Miami leads 3-0. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.
— NEED TO KNOW: The Heat are trying to become the 11th team to start a postseason 8-0 and the first No. 5 seed to sweep a No. 1 seed. They could also become the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference finals since eighth-seeded New York got there in 1999.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Miami’s Duncan Robinson is 7 for his last 29 from 3-point range. The Heat are winning and their best shooter this season is in far from his best form. If he gets going again, look out.
— INJURY WATCH: Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo insisted his right ankle (tweaked in the first quarter Friday) didn’t bother him, though he grimaced multiple times in the game. Miami’s Kelly Olynyk missed Game 3 with a bruised knee.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Every member of the Bucks other than Antetokounmpo. A sweep could be catastrophic to Milwaukee’s long-term hopes of keeping the MVP around for years to come.
ROCKETS VS. LAKERS
Houston leads 1-0. Game 2, 8:30 p.m., ABC.
— NEED TO KNOW: LeBron James had been part of 15 consecutive conference semifinal game wins before Friday night, but he’s certainly not going to get thrown by a Game 1 loss. This is the 47th postseason series of his career; his teams are only 27-20 in Game 1s — but 33-13 in Game 2s. Put simply, he’s used to this spot.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 60 points for Houston, while the Lakers’ top three scorers — James, Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso — combined for 59. Davis gave the Lakers 25 points and 14 rebounds and James will aim for more than his Game 1 output of 20 points, but the Lakers must ask who else will step up.
— INJURY WATCH: Westbrook played 32 minutes, a strong indicator that his quad injury is a thing of the past.
— PRESSURE IS ON: James. He needs one of his statement games and almost always rises to that challenge when necessary.
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