Top-seeded Suns, Heat playing like the favorites in playoffs

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Top-seeded Suns, Heat playing like the favorites in playoffs

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat are top seeds in the NBA playoffs and at the moment they look like it, coming off impressive performances.

Both have a chance to take 2-0 leads in their respective series on Wednesday and are strong favorites to get it done, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

In the Western Conference, the Suns have a 10-game winning streak against the Dallas Mavericks, counting regular season games, going into Game 2. Deandre Ayton scored 25 points, Devin Booker added 23 and Chris Paul had 19 in Game 1 in a balanced and mostly dominant performance.

The Suns were up 21 points in the fourth quarter before a Mavs rally made it a two-possession game in the final minutes. Phoenix held on for a 121-114 win and said the game taught them a valuable lesson.

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“Just break the dang gas pedal, that’s it, just break it,” Ayton said, referring to whether Phoenix lost its focus with the big lead.

As for the Mavericks, they need someone to help Luka Doncic, who scored 45 points, had 12 rebounds and eight assists in Game 1. Coach Jason Kidd said others need “to join the party” if Dallas is going to make this a competitive series.

“We have been here before,” Dallas forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “Don’t overreact. We have to go back to the drawing board. We know how they are playing us now so we have to make our adjustment.”

In the Eastern Conference, the 76ers used plenty of lineups against the Heat in Game 1, and will continue to seek the right mix without league scoring champion and NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid — who will miss Game 2 with an orbital fracture and concussion.

Miami won Game 1 106-92.

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Going small worked at times for Philadelphia. When Miami figured out the counter, the game got away from the 76ers. But there were some elements that worked.

“The biggest adjustment for us is taking care of the darn ball,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday. “That’s being organized, being in the right spots, running your offense correctly. … To get in the game and let that pressure take us out of that, it’s not disheartening but really troubling.”

And a Game 1 loss certainly didn’t hurt Philadelphia’s confidence. Backup center Paul Reed made that clear after the game.

“Honestly, I think we can definitely beat this team,” Reed said. “I think we go out there, be more physical than them and play more aggressive and keep them on their heels, they’re going to fold.”

76ERS AT HEAT

Miami leads 1-0. Game 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.

— NEED TO KNOW: Miami’s Bam Adebayo was 8 for 10 from the floor in Game 1, Tyler Herro got his shooting stroke back and the Heat won without a big night from Jimmy Butler (15 points). But the 76ers found things that they liked; zone defense worked to a certain extent, though exposed Philadelphia a bit on the offensive glass. Tobias Harris — who was great against the Heat in the regular season — had a game-high 27 points. “He killed us. We didn’t handle him well,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

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— KEEP AN EYE ON: Philadelphia G James Harden. Only four shots and four points in the second half (granted, he didn’t play much of the fourth quarter) isn’t enough right now for a 76ers team without Joel Embiid. Harden doesn’t have to take 35 shots, but he and the 76ers need to find ways for him to try and score more.

— INJURY WATCH: Embiid (orbital fracture, concussion) remains out, though has taken the first steps toward escaping the concussion protocols. “He’s feeling a lot better. I don’t want to give false hope, either, so I’ll just stop there,” Rivers said. Miami PG Kyle Lowry (hamstring) has not played since Game 3 of the first-round series against Atlanta and will not play Wednesday. Butler had an excused absence on Tuesday, but is no longer on the Heat injury report.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Miami. All the Heat have done is win a home game. If Philadelphia steals Game 2, it gets the home-court advantage for the series. That, combined with the possibility of Embiid returning at some point, would be a huge boost to the 76ers.

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MAVERICKS AT SUNS

Phoenix leads 1-0. Game 2, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.

— NEED TO KNOW: The Suns were dominant for most of Game 1, looking much more like the team that led the NBA with 64 regular season wins. Deandre Ayton scored 25 points, Devin Booker had 23 and Chris Paul added 19. The Mavs hope they can take some confidence from a late-game run that made the score fairly close in the final few possessions. Mavs guard Luka Doncic was phenomenal with 45 points but needs help for the Dallas to get a road win.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Dallas G Jalen Brunson. Arguably the biggest reason the Mavs are still playing in this postseason is Brunson, who was had some big games when Doncic missed the first three contests of the Jazz series with a strained calf. Brunson struggled in Game 1, scoring just 13 points on 6 of 16 shooting. He’ll need to be play better.

— INJURY WATCH: Dallas forward Maxi Kleber took a hard fall in the fourth quarter, landing on his upper back and neck after finishing a dunk. He stayed in the game to take his free throw but looked shaken. Kleber was a signficant contributor in Game 1, scoring 19 points and making five 3-pointers. Suns guard Devin Booker appeared to be at full strength in his second game back from a strained right hamstring, but he’ll still be closely monitored.

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— PRESSURE IS ON: Dallas. The Mavericks have lost 10 straight games against the Suns, counting regular season games. Doncic — as usual — has been fabulous but if the Mavs can’t find him some help this could be a short series.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story.

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More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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