x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

NBA: Miami Heat power to playoffs win over Milwaukee as Lakers slump to defeat against Spurs

LeBron James fell just short of a triple-double against the Bucks as the reigning NBA champions got their playoff campaign off to an impressive start.

Miami Heat's LeBron James dunks against Ekpe Udoh of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Miami Heat's LeBron James dunks against Ekpe Udoh of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Reigning NBA champion the Miami Heat opened their playoff campaign in style with a wire-to-wire 110-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

LeBron James fell two assists short of a triple-double, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds with eight assists as the Heat drew first blood in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.

Ray Allen scored 20 points, Dwyane Wade added 16 and Chris Bosh chipped in 15 for the Heat, who carried their strong form of the second half of the regular season seamlessly into the playoffs.

Since the All-Star break the Heat had gone 30-2 - the best second-half winning percentage in NBA history.

Their league-leading regular season record of 66-16 included a 27-game winning streak and assured them of home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Against Milwaukee, a team that limped into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East, the Heat showed they intended to put the advantages they've earned to good use.

They held the Bucks to 42 per cent shooting and out-rebounded them 46-31.

"We know we can play a better game," James said afterwards "We didn't play our best game. We didn't shoot the ball like we're capable of doing from the outside. But the one thing that we did do was we shared the ball once again. We had 22 assists and we rebounded the ball, too."

The Heat jumped to an early nine-point lead and led by as many as 25 points in the second half.

"They came out in the second half on a mission," said the Bucks' Larry Sanders. "They picked their intensity up and we fell short a little bit.

"They played with a lot of intensity tonight on both ends. They attack on the defensive end and offensive end. We just have to attack and keep our composure."

Brandon Jennings scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half for Milwaukee. Monta Ellis added 22 for the Bucks, which remained without a win in an opening game of a playoff series since May of 2001. They'll try to bounce back in game two on Tuesday.

The Indiana Pacers saw off the visiting Atlanta Hawks 107-90 in their Eastern Conference play-off opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Paul George was the star of the show for the hosts with 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds

Meanwhile the San Antonio Spurs made home advantage count in the first match of their NBA play-off series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The star trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 53 points Sunday to lead the Spurs to a 91-79 victory.

With Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon, the result was exactly what many expected in the first game of the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series.

Duncan posted the 139th playoff double-double of his career with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Parker added 18 points and eight assists and also made three steals, while Ginobili, showing no sign of the hamstring strain that sidelined him late in the regular season, contributed 18 points.

Spurs point guard Parker noted that without Bryant, the Lakers were "a totally different team."

"It's not an excuse," Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers coach, said of Bryant's absence.

"I thought we had good shots, we've got to knock them down."

Recuperating from tendon surgery, Bryant still made his presence felt with a few pointers for his teammates on Twitter.

"Nothing worse than watching your brothers struggle and u can't do anything about it," he tweeted after the game ended.

"It's great to have that commentary," D'Antoni remarked afterwards, drawing a laugh when asked about Bryant's mid-game critiques on the social networking site.

Even with point guard Steve Nash back from an extended injury absence, the Lakers — the last team to clinch a playoff berth — clearly have a tough task ahead of them when the series resumes on Wednesday.

Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol did what they could. Howard scored 20 points with 15 rebounds and Gasol delivered 16 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.

Nash scored 16 points in 29 minutes on the floor, but the Lakers couldn't overcome 18 turnovers and lacklustre 3-of-15 shooting from three-point range.

"We can't get discouraged that we lost the first game," Howard said.

"We saw a couple of things that we could have done a lot better, and we'll do a better job in the second game."

In Oklahoma City, the top-seeded Thunder ran out 120-91 winners over the Houston Rockets.

Kevin Durant scored 24 points with six rebounds and four assists in the Thunder's rout of the Rockets.

Russell Westbrook delivered 19 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds while Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds for the victors.

James Harden, traded by the Thunder to the Rockets before the season, connected on just 6-of-19 from the floor but led Houston with 20 points. He got little help from fellow starters Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith, who combined for just 28 points as the Rockets made their first appearance in the playoffs since 2009.

After what coach Kevin McHale called a "nervy" start, Houston settled down, but never got their potent offence firing.

"We just didn't play well, that was the bottom line," said McHale, whose team will try to bounce back in game two on Wednesday.

"We had some good looks early and didn't make them, and then we started to press a little bit."

Durant said the Thunder, aiming to get back to the NBA finals after falling to Miami in last year's championship series, weren't trying to make a statement.

"We just wanted to take care of our home court," he said.


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