Bucks and 76ers, who had high expectations this season, face early elimination Tuesday in Game 5s


NEW YORK — Perhaps neither Milwaukee nor Philadelphia would’ve been good enough to beat a Boston team that ran away to the NBA’s best record.

The Bucks and 76ers surely never thought about going out in the first round of the playoffs, though.

Both teams will be facing that possibility Tuesday on a night of Game 5s in the Eastern Conference, with the New York Knicks able to eliminate the 76ers and the Indiana Pacers in position to knock out the Bucks.

Cleveland and Orlando are tied 2-2 in the only series that can’t end Tuesday.

With both clubs being led by a former MVP, the Bucks and 76ers expected to at least contend for a spot in the East finals. Milwaukee even added All-Star help for Giannis Antetokounmpo by acquiring Damian Lillard from Portland in last summer’s biggest trade.

But with both players hurt, the No. 3-seeded Bucks have dropped three straight games to fall into their 3-1 hole against the No. 6 Pacers.

“We have to play as hard as we can. We have to execute our game plan. We have to keep guys in check. Even though we’ve been down before, we’re down two guys now, we’ve still got all the confidence in the world that we can get back here,” Bucks veteran Khris Middleton said Sunday after a 126-113 loss at Indiana.

At least the Bucks will be playing at home. The 76ers aim to stave off elimination on the road, though they certainly didn’t have much of a home-court advantage Sunday, when a large and loud contingent of Knicks fans watched Jalen Brunson score a franchise playoff-record 47 points in New York’s 97-92 victory.

Joel Embiid played the whole second half but didn’t have a basket in the fourth quarter.

The 76ers were 29-13, just a half-game out of second place, after the reigning MVP scored a franchise-record 70 points in a victory at San Antonio on Jan. 22. But he needed left knee surgery in early February, with Philadelphia tumbling down the standings in his absence and needing to win a play-in game just to make the playoffs as a No. 7 seed.

That left the Sixers with a much more difficult first-round matchup than they would have faced had Embiid stayed healthy, but he still thinks they can solve it.

“We know we’re good enough,” he said.

Unlike the Bucks’ All-Stars, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell supposedly isn’t hurt anymore, though it’s hard to tell by his play. He was scoreless in the second half of a 23-point loss in Game 4, attempting just four shots. The Cavaliers were outscored 37-10 in the third quarter of that one, after losing by a franchise playoff-record 38 in Game 3.

But he and his teammates remain unshaken.

“We’re very confident,” Mitchell said following Monday’s practice. “We had two games that didn’t go our way. At the end of the day, they handled home court. We have things we can improve on, obviously, but it’s our job to do the same.”

New York leads 3-1. Game 5, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Knicks need one victory to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals in consecutive years. They haven’t done that since going that far nine straight times from 1992-2000.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Brunson, who only two games ago seemed to be held relatively in check after shooting 8 for 26 and 8 for 29 in the two victories in New York. He followed with 39 points and 13 assists in Game 3, and through four games was the second-leading scorer in the playoffs with 33 points per game (Embiid is averaging 35) and third with 9.0 assists.

— INJURY REPORT: Bojan Bogdanovic is out with his ankle injury sustained in Game 4 and Mitchell Robinson is questionable after he was hurt in Game 3. The 76ers got back De’Anthony Melton after he missed much of the second half of the season with back problems.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Not the 76ers, according to Embiid.

“We’re the 7 seed, down 3-1. A lot of guys are hurt. I don’t know why we would feel the pressure, so we should just go out there, play our best basketball and one at a time,” he said. “Win one, come back home, win another one, and then Game 7 over there. So I’m looking forward to it. No pressure.”

Series tied 2-2, Game 5, 8 p.m. EDT, NBA TV

— NEED TO KNOW: The series has gone as expected: physical, defensive-minded, tense and tight with both teams holding serve at home. However, Orlando’s decisive wins in Games 3 and 4 were a surprise given the team’s offensive challenges most of the season. For the Magic to win at Cleveland, they’ll have to shoot better than in Games 1 and 2, when they were a combined 17 of 72 on 3-pointers.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Cleveland’s bench. The Cavs reserves were outscored 44-15 in Game 4, and coach J.B. Bickerstaff needs more production from his second unit. Bickerstaff prefers a tight rotation, but may have to go deeper if his team needs an offensive spark (Sam Merrill) or some attitude (Tristan Thompson, Marcus Morris Sr.).

— INJURY WATCH: Mitchell keeps saying he’s 100 percent, but it’s clear that he’s still dealing with the effects of a bone bruise in his left knee that sidelined him for weeks after the All-Star break. … Orlando guard Jalen Suggs seems to have gotten past any concerns after spraining his knee in the opener.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Cavaliers. Big time. This Game 5 has added meaning since a loss would put Cleveland on the brink of a first-round exit for a second straight year. Anything short of advancing could lead to a franchise overhaul.

Indiana leads 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Pacers are one win away from advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when they reached the East finals. Milwaukee is staring at the possibility of losing 4-1 to a lower-seeded team in the opening round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Last year, the Bucks had the NBA’s top seed but lost to Miami in the opening round. The Bucks have never won a playoff series in which they trailed 3-1.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Indiana’s 3-point shooting. After shooting just 8 of 38 from beyond the arc in Game 1 — Milwaukee’s lone victory in the series — the Pacers have made 39.8% of their 3-pointers (51 of 128) over their last three games. The Pacers were 22 of 43 and set a playoff franchise record for 3-point baskets Sunday. Myles Turner has gone 14 of 25 on 3-point attempts over his last three games and was 7 of 9 in Game 4.

— INJURY WATCH: Antetokounmpo hasn’t played the entire series due to a left calf strain and Lillard missed Game 4 with an Achilles tendon injury. Bucks coach Doc Rivers said before Game 4 that he couldn’t rule out either player for the series and indicated Antetokounmpo had a promising workout on Sunday. Middleton has hurt each of his ankles during this series and Patrick Beverley got banged up in Game 4 with what Rivers said was a rib issue. Both Middleton and Beverley said after the game they were fine.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Bucks forward Bobby Portis. The Bucks needed a huge effort from Portis in Game 4 as they tried to win a road game without Antetokounmpo or Lillard. The NBA Sixth Man of the Year finalist instead got ejected seven minutes into the game.

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AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Milwaukee and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA



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