Saturday’s four-game slate features the first elimination game of the 2018 NBA playoffs.
It’s win-or-go-fishing for the Portland Trail Blazers, who have yet to find an answer for Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. The single-browed superstar has been predictably dominant, and his clicking-on-most-cylinders supporting cast has positioned the Pellies for perhaps their first sweep—and only second series win—in franchise history.
Elsewhere, the Houston Rockets could put the Minnesota Timberwolves on the brink of elimination with a third straight victory. The Miami Heat hope to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole against the process-trusting Philadelphia 76ers. And the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz will unknot their 1-1 tie as their series heads to Salt Lake City for the first time.
That’s a full day’s worth of hoops, all of it deserving of your attention. So, let’s lay out Saturday’s full schedule and then zero in on the pair of Game 4 collisions.
Saturday’s NBA Playoff Schedule
Game 4—Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat, 2:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 4—Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans, 5 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3—Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves, 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3—Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz, 10 p.m. ET on TNT
Simmons, Embiid Have Sixers Rolling
It’s hard not be the center of attention when you’re 7’0″ tall and balling in a black mask that looks like it belongs to a supervillain. Throw in the fact Joel Embiid was making his playoff debut—finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks—after returning from a three-week absence (orbital bone fracture), and it was hard not to make him the focal point of all Game 3 coverage.
But Embiid arguably wasn’t Philly’s best player Thursday night. He wasn’t the most important statistically, at least.
That honor went to fellow postseason newbie Ben Simmons, who has been harassing the Heat all series. His plus-24 pushed his on-court ledger to plus-30 for the series, while his per-game averages went to 20 points, 10 rebounds and 9.7 assists.
That’s more points, rebounds and assists than any Heat player is averaging. They’re also a giant reason why he’s having perhaps the best postseason for a rookie in more than two decades, as Basketball-Reference.com noted:
“He’s not just a rookie-of-the-year candidate,” Dwyane Wade said, per Philly.com’s Keith Pompey. “He’s a very good basketball player. We have our work cut out for us every night because of what he brings to the table.”
This experienced, well-coached Miami team has been a good first postseason test for Philly. The Heat have held second-half leads in all three games, and they’ve relied on their balance to offset inconsistent performances from most of their players.
But there’s a sizable talent advantage for the Sixers, and it’s surfaced throughout this series.
During Philly’s lone loss, the 36-year-old Wade managed to reverse time—28 points in Game 2, 19 in the other two combined—and the Sixers’ shooters missed a ton of clean looks (16-of-53 on uncontested shots).
In the other contests, Philly has breathed fire from three and enjoyed victory margins of 27 and 20 points. The Sixers drilled 18 triples in each, shooting a mind-numbing 58.1 percent outside.
iami will have desperation and a feisty home-court crowd on its side. But the combination of Simmons, Embiid, Dario Saric (21.3 points per game) and Philly’s role players might be too much to overcome.
Pelicans Are Peaking
As much as you might think content is the key to obituary writing, nothing is more critical than timing. The deeper New Orleans travels into the postseason, the more absurd it seems this squad was written off for dead when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles in late January.