New Orleans and Milwaukee were facing long odds before the postseason even began, and now the task of advancing in the NBA playoffs seems considerably more daunting.
That’s not to say there’s no hope.
The Pelicans and Bucks will try to even their respective first-round series on Monday night, with eighth-seeded New Orleans visiting top-seeded Golden State in Game 2 of a Western Conference matchup and sixth-seeded Milwaukee going into Chicago for Game 2 of an East series against the third-seeded Bulls.
And given the way the openers finished in both of those series, there seems to have been some lessons that the underdogs can glean from their Game 1 defeats.
“The next game after the first one is always a lot more intense,” Chicago forward Taj Gibson said.
Once the Pelicans started going to Anthony Davis on just about every possession — 10 of his 23 field-goal attempts came in the final 10:30 — what looked like a certain blowout win for the Warriors got interesting in a hurry.
When the Bucks got into a defensive rhythm, plenty of things that were working for Chicago stopped abruptly. Chicago was 16 for 22 from 2-point range in the first half (scoring 60 points in all), then made just 8 of 29 shots inside the arc after halftime (scoring only 43 points in the final two quarters).
So now, the Pelicans and Bucks have a better idea of what will work. Turning those ideas into wins, that’s a much different story.
Four series opened Sunday. Cleveland beat Boston 113-100, Atlanta topped Brooklyn 99-92, Memphis routed Portland 100-86, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat San Antonio 107-92.
Here’s a look at the two NBA playoff games Monday (all times EDT):
Bucks at Bulls, Chicago leads 1-0, Game 2, 8 p.m., TNT
Derrick Rose will be in a Game 2 for the first time since the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, and the former MVP looked great in his 23-point, seven-assist playoff opener.
But that was hardly the only reason why the Bulls have the series lead.
Chicago converted 19 turnovers into 25 points, outscored Milwaukee 36-12 from 3-point range and controlled the rebounding battle. And Rose and Jimmy Butler, for just the third time all season (in part because they just haven’t shared the court together much), both had at least 23 in the same game.
Butler led the Bulls with 25 in the opener.
“The more they play together, the better it will be,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Sunday. “Jimmy’s become a primary scorer as well, so he also has a responsibility to make the right play.”
The Bucks weren’t pleased with their defense, predictably. They gave up 60 first-half points for just the sixth time in 83 games this season.
“A lot of things for us defensively, which we hang our hat on, we didn’t do,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “That was out of character for us.”
INJURY REPORT: Gibson said the knee he tweaked in Game 1 was fine. The Bulls are listing guard Kirk Hinrich (sore left knee) as questionable.
Pelicans at Warriors, Golden State leads 1-0, 10:30 p.m., TNT
Golden State set a tone from the outset of Game 1, getting 11 shots for likely MVP Stephen Curry in the opening quarter.
Take note, New Orleans.
If the Pelicans are going to pull off this upset, it doesn’t take a doctorate in coaching philosophy to realize that Davis needs the ball often.
“We know they’re going to prepare for it in Game 2,” Davis said. “So we’ve got to try to figure out how to still try to get the ball and be effective.”
Quincy Pondexter had six assists for New Orleans in the fourth quarter of Game 1, to go along with his 20-point game. And with Tyreke Evans’ status uncertain because of a left knee bruise, the Pelicans figure to need more from Eric Gordon — who missed six of his seven tries from 2-point range.
“Our corporate equity was depleted a bit yesterday,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Warriors keep rolling. The NBA’s best team in the regular season looked anything but overwhelmed in Game 1.
Golden State is 40-2 at home this season. That currently ranks fourth-best in NBA history, and the three teams ahead of the Warriors right now on that list — the 1985-86 Celtics, 1995-96 Bulls and 1970-71 Bucks — all won a championship.
“We know it’s going to be a long journey,” Curry said. We’re doing a lot of great things this season, but the expectation we had in October is the same we had right now.”
INJURY REPORT: Evans (bone bruise, left knee) is questionable for the Pelicans. Golden State F David Lee (back) is out.
AP Basketball Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Oakland, California, and AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.
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