MIAMI: The Indiana Pacers beat Miami 109-92 on Friday in a preview of their upcoming NBA playoff clash that took a frightening turn when Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. was stretchered off the court. With top players from both teams sitting out in anticipation of their already-booked first-round playoff series next week, Doug McDermott led the Pacers with 23 points in a victory that officially gave Indiana the Eastern Conference fourth seed to Miami’s No. 5.
With all games being played in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, the higher seed and its “home court” advantage was of little import, making the injury to Jones much more of a concern for Miami. “It just takes the air out of the building,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of seeing Jones go down hard in the third quarter after he crashed into Indiana’s 2.11m, 113kg Georgian center Goga Bitadze as he tried to round a screen.
Jones was on the floor for several minutes before he was placed on a stretcher with a neck brace, the Heat saying later Friday that MRI and CT scans showed he had a neck strain. “He got jarred in the shoulder-neck area,” Spoelstra said. “Obviously a little bit more than a stinger.”
It was precisely the scenario all the teams wrapping up regular season action on Friday were trying to avoid, with the first-round playoff series matchups virtually set. The only thing left to be decided by this weekend’s play-in series is whether Memphis or Portland will claim the final Western Conference berth and take on the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers. “Even as competitors, you don’t want it on either side,” Spoelstra said. “You just want to be able to have everybody available for the playoffs.”
Spoelstra had held out Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. The Pacers, who were without T.J. Warren, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, led much of the game, buoyed by 23 points from Doug McDermott. Six Pacers players scored in double-figures. That included Malcolm Brogdon, the only regular Pacers starter in the lineup, who scored 16. Second-year forward Alize Johnson got his first career start and produced a double-double of 11 points and 17 rebounds.
RAPTORS BEAT NUGGETS
Reigning champions Toronto, the second seeds in the East, closed out the regular season with a 117-109 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Norman Powell led the Raptors with 15 points and Spanish big man Marc Gasol added two points for Toronto, who opted to rest stars Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby also missed the game, with Raptors coach Nick Nurse saying both were still battling knee injuries. Nuggets stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray played just 10 minutes apiece, Jokic scoring two points and Murray 11 with reserve point guard Monte Morris scoring 16.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George the night off, but rookie Terance Mann drained a go-ahead three-pointer with 2:30 left in overtime in a 25-point performance that propelled LA to a 107-103 victory. Mann added 14 rebounds and nine assists for the Clippers, who clinched the second seed in the West on Wednesday and will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round starting on Monday.
SIXERS CRUISE PAST ROCKETS
Oklahoma City entered the game already knowing they’ll open the playoffs against the Houston Rockets — who fell 134-96 to the Philadelphia 76ers in their final regular-season game. Tobias Harris scored 18 points and reserve Alec Burks added 16 for the 76ers, who will open the playoffs against the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers and Rockets opted to play most of their usual starters into the third quarter, although Houston were without star guard Russell Westbrook — who is expected to miss the start of the post-season with a quadriceps strain. James Harden led the Rockets with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists. — AFP