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Around the NBA Playoffs: Bucks Roll, Rockets D-Up, Trail Blazers Snap Losing Streak
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15 Apr 2019 01:04 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Houston Rockets guard James Harden scores two of his 29 points in Game 1. (Image Source: Bill Baptist/NBAE)

When you think of the Houston Rockets you think James Harden, analytics, and shooting a lot of threes. A lot of threes. You don’t think defense. But they impressed with their defensive prowess in their 122-90 Game 1 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night.

"Their physicality defensively disrupted us," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "The ball stopped and got stuck on one side of the floor. We just have to be more determined in those situations."

As a team, Utah shot just 39 percent from the field, an abysmal 25.9 percent from three-point range, and turned the ball over 18 times.

You might be surprised but Houston coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t.

"It doesn't surprise me that we can defend," D'Antoni said. "At all."

Maybe we shouldn’t be either because after the All-Star break the Rockets were second in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

Bucks Win Big

The top seed in the NBA playoffs took care of business easily as the Milwaukee Bucks thumped the Detroit Pistons 121-86.

"I don't know if they were ready for us," Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "We just tried to focus on ourselves."

The Bucks jumped out to a 38-18 lead, which they extended to 70-43 by the half. Their biggest lead was 97-54 late in the third quarter.

MPV candidate Antetokounmpo finished with game highs in points (24) and rebounds (17) against the Blake Griffin-less Pistons. Not only was Detroit without their star player, Andre Drummond (12 points, 12 rebounds) was ejected. He was one of only two Pistons to score in double figures.

"If it was my decision, I would've played," Griffin said afterwards.

Without Griffin, it’s impossible for the Pistons to make this a series. They might even get swept with their best player if he’s able to return for the rest of the series.

Blazers Win a Playoff Game

The Portland Trail Blazers are the higher seed but there are many who believe the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the team that advances.

It’s in part, a respect for OKC stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It’s also partly due to a 10-game postseason-losing streak that the Blazers brought with them into the 2019 playoffs. Do people really believe in them?

Westbrook (24) and George (26) combined for 50, but Portland guard Damian Lillard led the way with 30 points, one of three Blazers who scored at least 20 points, including former Thunder center Enes Kanter. Kanter scored 20 and pulled down a game-high 18 boards.

That’s the same Kanter who was deemed by the Thunder to be too defensive deficient to contribute to a team that can make a deep playoff run.

That may prove to be correct, but not on Sunday.

"I'm not considered a great defender (either)," Lillard said, "but I think when the effort is there, when your focus is there and you care enough -- the desire is there -- you can do something for the team. I think that's shown since (Kanter) has been on our team, and it showed tonight."

In fairness to Oklahoma City, when Kanter was waived by the New York Knicks after the trade deadline there wasn’t a lot of teams knocking on his door.

"I was on the worst team in the league, and I wasn't even playing because they thought I was too old to play," Kanter said. "The situation and all the drama, it was so frustrating because all I wanted to do was go out there and just win. A couple of days ago, I looked in the mirror and said, 'Man, I'm blessed to be here with an amazing organization and amazing teammates that trust in me.' It definitely feels amazing, and it's definitely a blessing."

With Portland center Jusuf Nurkic out, Kanter will have a chance to prove himself in the playoffs.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.

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