Kyrie Irving is limping. Pau Gasol is aching. Chris Paul is limited. Kevin Love is gone. And the injury list around the NBA just keeps growing.
Welcome to the survival phase of the playoffs.
Health will surely factor into the Game 4s today’s schedule, when Cleveland visits Chicago and Houston visits the Los Angeles Clippers — with the Cavaliers and Rockets trying to avoid 3-1 deficits.
The Cavs revealed after Chicago’s win Game 3 that Irving has been playing through a sore foot since the first-round series against Boston. With Love already gone with the shoulder injury he got against Boston and with Irving ailing, even more pressure now gets heaped on LeBron James to keep the dream of a Cleveland title in 2015 alive.
“They need my leadership more than ever,” James said Saturday. “More than anybody on the team and I will not show any weakness.”
The Bulls lead the series but still have big concerns, with Gasol iffy with a strained hamstring that rendered him unable to play in much of the second half of the Game 3 win on Friday night. He was examined and didn’t practice on Saturday, leaving his status for Sunday unknown.
Meanwhile, the Clippers can take command over the Rockets, and coach Doc Rivers said he knows Sunday will be “the most intense game of the series.”
“We don’t have home-court yet. You don’t get home-court until you win both of your games,” Rivers said. “We have to get that.”
Here’s a breakdown of the games, all times EDT:
Cavaliers at Bulls, Chicago leads 2-1, 3:30 p.m. , ABC
The list of Cleveland successfully overcoming a 2-1 deficit in a series: The 2007 East finals against Detroit, and the 1992 East semifinals against Boston.
The list of Chicago blowing a 2-1 series lead: The 2005 first round against Washington, the 1989 East finals against Detroit and the 1975 West finals against Golden State.
So in short, history says the Cavs are in trouble.
That being said, a win on Sunday makes a whole lot of trouble vanish. And it’s not like the Cavs didn’t have chances in Game 3; they lost by all of three points, on a miracle buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Derrick Rose, on a night where James and Irving combined to miss 27 of their 38 shots.
Make no mistake, though: Cavs coach David Blatt said Saturday that Irving will play in Game 4, pain or no pain.
“He’ll be out there,” Blatt said.
Said Irving: “We just move on and continue to grow as a team.”
James made reference after Game 3 about his unhappiness with his 3-point shooting, with him at 5 for 32 from beyond the arc so far in these playoffs. Among players with 12 or more tries from long range in the postseason, no one has been worse than James.
As for the Bulls, the question becomes whether they can make momentum last. Chicago is now 10-3 in its last 13 games over the past month, and Rose is coming off his best game since before the All-Star break.
Bottom line, the Bulls probably don’t have much margin for error even with a 2-1 lead, and they expect Irving to be fine.
“Every time he has the ball, we’re concerned,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The guy’s a great player, as is LeBron.”
Rockets at Clippers, Los Angeles leads 2-1, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Houston still hasn’t had to deal with a healthy Chris Paul, and the Rockets have given up 117, 109 and 124 points to the Clippers in the first three games of this series.
That’s not going to work.
Had it not been for the Clippers wasting a 13-point second-half lead in Game 2, this series could be just about over.
“Been here 35 years,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said about his NBA life, “and momentum comes and momentum goes.”
It could be argued no team in the playoffs so far has played as well as the Clippers, who ousted reigning champion San Antonio in a seven-game classic in the first round and now have the upper hand on a Houston team that won 56 games in the regular season.
They’re getting elite-level numbers from Blake Griffin — 10 games, 10 double-doubles — and the surprise efforts like the 31-point outburst from J.J. Redick and the 10-for-13, 25-point, 23-minute, out-of-nowhere explosion from Austin Rivers in Game 3.
Not only that, they sound like a seasoned playoff team now as well.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Griffin said. “We’ve done what we needed to do in two games, but Sunday is a huge game and we need to respond the right way.”
AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman in Chicago and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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