LeBron James and the champs are ready for their next challenger. James Harden and the Rockets are getting revved up in Texas.
With their opponents waiting, Toronto and San Antonio will try to set up a pair of second-round showdowns in the two Game 6s on the schedule Thursday night.
The Raptors can finish off the Milwaukee Bucks and move on to a rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the Spurs can knock out the Memphis Grizzlies and secure a Lone Star State tussle with the Rockets.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs value rest as much as any organization, and there won’t be much if they lose Thursday and are forced to play a Game 7 back home on Saturday night. They would then host the Rockets in Game 1 on Monday night, a short turnaround before having to chase Houston’s shooters all over the perimeter.
So the Spurs will be driven to get their elusive first victory in Memphis this season.
“They’re coming to kill us. They’re trying to put us out of our misery,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said. “If you don’t know anything about them, they’re killers. So we understand that, but we also have to come out with a mentality to impose our will on the game.”
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Cleveland also is Monday, and the Cavaliers will get plenty of rest after sweeping Indiana in the first round. The Raptors were already on fumes by the time they faced the Cavaliers in last year’s East finals after having to go seven games in the first two rounds, so would love to make things a little easier on themselves now.
“It’s something that is in our minds, going on the road and understanding how they may feel and we’ve got go out there and really treat it like a Game 7,” All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan said. “I hate to keep saying that over and over again, but that is the only way we can treat it because that’s how they are going to treat it.”
The Raptors are 0-3 in Game 6 with a chance to win a series over the last three years, with all the losses on the road. If Milwaukee wins Thursday, Game 7 in Toronto would be Saturday.
A look at the two game on Thursday:
Raptors at Bucks, Toronto leads 3-2. Game 6, 7 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Toronto has won two straight after getting blown out in Game 3, in large part because of the emergence of Norman Powell, who scored a career playoff-high 25 points in Game 5. The 6-foot-4 guard has also added athleticism since joining the starting lineup in Game 4 to help handle the transition-happy Bucks. Milwaukee is on the brink of elimination and the Raptors will be tough to beat if they get another strong night from complementary players Powell and Serge Ibaka.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The opening five minutes. The last three games have been won by the team that has set an early tone. The Bucks will get an energy boost from playing at home, though the more playoff-tested Raptors have proven that they can slow down their more athletic opponent at the Bradley Center. Coach Jason Kidd’s young team must find a way to be aggressive early without getting sloppy.
INJURY UPDATE: Khris Middleton missed practice Wednesday with a bug that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer all week. Kidd expects Middleton (14.7 points) to play in Game 6.
PRESSURE IS ON: Kidd. Dwane Casey made his series-swinging adjustment when he put Powell into the starting lineup to go small. Now it’s up to Kidd to come up with something to swing things back in Milwaukee’s favour.
Spurs at Grizzlies, San Antonio leads 3-2. Game 6, 9:30 p.m., TNT
NEED TO KNOW: Kawhi Leonard finally got lots of help from his teammates in Game 5, with four other Spurs scoring in double figures. Reserve Patty Mills came through with his best game of this series, scoring a post-season career-best 20 and hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers. If the Spurs shoot at least 50 per cent beyond the arc, they’ll be preparing for Houston on Friday. Fizdale saw something his Grizzlies did wrong on each of Mills’ made 3s: “Every one of them was on a mistake we made on him,” he said.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Manu Ginobili. The veteran guard had missed his first 15 shots before breaking out with 10 points for San Antonio. Ginobili also had two rebounds, three assists and three steals off the bench.
INJURY UPDATE: Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (right calf) remains out indefinitely.
PRESSURE IS ON: The Grizzlies. The home team has won each of the first nine games between these division rivals through the regular season and the first five playoff games. Memphis needs that trend to continue to have a chance at ending its own nine-game road skid that goes back to March 16 and a win at Atlanta.