It was only a week ago when the sky was falling on the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA’s two best teams in the regular season, the top seeds in their respective conferences, both lost their playoff openers and looked vulnerable.
Not so much now.
Order has been emphatically restored, the Bucks and Lakers are a combined 6-0 since — winning those games by an average of 15.8 points — and both teams can reach the second round of the NBA playoffs with victories on Wednesday at the Disney complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The Bucks lead the Orlando Magic 3-1; the Lakers lead the Portland Trail Blazers 3-1. The other game in Wednesday’s tripleheader is Game 5 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, that series knotted at two games apiece.
“Obviously, in Game 1, we were all disappointed in ourselves,” Milwaukee center Brook Lopez said Tuesday. “We felt we weren’t the team that we are and capable of being. Each and every game, our effort has been there since then. … The bottom line is we’ve come out and competed so much harder.”
The wake-up call helped the Lakers as well. They’ve had some of their best bubble showings since dropping Game 1, and now LeBron James has a chance to close out yet another series. James’ teams went 5-5 in his first 10 series-clinching opportunities; they’re 30-5 in those situations since.
“One thing about playing a team that’s desperate, they understand that if they lose, they go home,” James said. “So, we’ve got to be just as desperate as they are.”
A look at Wednesday’s games:
MAGIC VS. BUCKS
Milwaukee leads 3-1. Game 5, 4 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
— NEED TO KNOW: If the Bucks win, the Eastern Conference first round would be completed in just 17 games. That would be the fastest opening round, in either conference, since the league went to the best-of-seven format in 2003. The East needed 19 games to get through Round 1 in 2002 — when best-of-five first rounds were still played.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic has three 30-point games already in this series. The only other Orlando players to do that were Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. No Magic player has four 30-point nights in the same series.
— INJURY WATCH: Orlando F Aaron Gordon (strained left hamstring) is listed as questionable, after missing the first four games of the series. Magic coach Steve Clifford sounded far from certain Tuesday that Gordon would play.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Bucks. Miami is resting and waiting for the second round, where it’ll face the winner of this series. Milwaukee was great in its two series closeout opportunities last year, beating Detroit and Boston by a combined 48 points, and would benefit from a similar effort Wednesday.