Welcome to Layup Lines, our daily NBA newsletter where we’ll prep you for a tip-off of tonight’s action, from what to watch to bets to make.
What’s up, family! It’s Sykes, once again, here to usher you into tonight’s playoff action. But first, a word on life without LeBron James.
LeBron has been a postseason fixture for literally two decades now. He’d made the postseason for 15 seasons and reached the NBA Finals in 10 of those. Each was basically a guaranteed success for him — the only question was always how far he could take it.
But he’s out now. The Lakers missed the playoffs. And I have a confession to make:
The playoffs have been much more interesting without the spectacle that is LeBron James hovering over them.
That’s not a knock on Bron. He’s incredible and has earned our undivided attention when he’s on the court. But, for the first time in what feels like forever, the NBA’s other stars are finally getting some breathing room. We’re able to talk about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s quest to become an all-time great or Luka Doncic’s incredible early career playoff dominance that mirrors Michael Jordan’s. We can focus on the old guard vs. the new with Steph Curry and Ja Morant and talk about players like Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum fighting to finally get over the hump.
These stories, these players. They’re all so interesting. And we’ve had so much room to explore them. It’s been a joy to watch in my opinion.
Everyone also seems to agree. Just look at the ratings from Game 1 of the Grizzlies-Warriors series — it was the most-watched conference semifinals game in years, per Front Office Sports.
That’s because nothing feels like a forgone conclusion. We’re free to breathe and wonder about outcomes again in the NBA. The playoffs aren’t just a measuring stick for one great player anymore — instead, it’s an entire playground with endless possibilities.
And, clearly, we’re all here for it. Let’s enjoy this while we have it.
Some NBA goodness from around the USA TODAY Sports network.
Speaking of Ja Morant, this dude is not afraid of the spotlight. At all. In fact, he seems to be inviting it.
He’s talking trash to one of the best point guards in NBA history. Do you know how confident in yourself you have to be to get this off? My colleague, Charles Curtis, detailed exactly what was said here.
“That includes Ja Morant saying something to Steph Curry at the end of Game 2. Lip-readers thought the Memphis guard said something like, “We’re gonna have some fun” as the two passed by each other.”
Now, look. Trash talking and trolling Curry almost never works out well — just ask Kevin Porter Jr. how it worked out for him.
But if you’re going to do it? You’ve got to back it up. And Ja Morant definitely has in every single game so far. Game 3 is going to be so fun.
One to Watch
(All odds via Tipico.)
Suns (-6.5, -260) vs. Nuggets (+205), O/U 215.5, 10 PM ET
Luka Doncic is incredible and his monster 45-point effort in Game 1 to try and eke out a comeback win against the Suns was certainly impressive. But that’s the thing: The Mavericks had to come back. And in the end, it still wasn’t that close.
The Suns are just deeper. They’re better and they have an answer for pretty much everything the Mavs are throwing at them. I’m taking them -6.5 tonight.
Who’s in and out?
—Joel Embiid (Orbital fracture) is still out for Game 2 against the Miami Heat.
—Kyle Lowry (Hamstring) is also out against the Philadelphia 76ers as he deals with his hamstring injury.
—PJ Tucker (calf strain) is questionable for the Game 2 against the 76ers.
—Tyler Herro (ankle) is also questionable for Game 2 against the 76ers.
— Max Strus (Hamstring) is questionable for Game 2 against the 76ers
— JJ Redick completely shut down Chris Russo’s “shut up and dribble” vibes when it came to Draymond Green on Wednesday’s episode of First Take.
— Juicy J is all in for his hometown Memphis Grizzlies. Our Prince Grimes got to chat with the superstar about the series and a new strip club hoop anthem. Yes, you read that right.
— Gary Payton II has an elbow fracture because of this cheap foul from Dillon Brooks and fans were not happy about it.
—Jaylen Brown did NOT have to do this to Grayson Allen. Well, maybe he did. But regardless, SHEESH.
That’s all, folks. Catch you next time. Enjoy the basketball tonight.
Gannett may earn revenue from Tipico for audience referrals to betting services. Tipico has no influence over nor are any such revenues in any way dependent on or linked to the newsrooms or news coverage. See Tipico.com for Terms and Conditions. 21+ only. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ), 1-800-522-4700 (CO), 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA).