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#1 Posted : Wednesday, August 8, 2018 10:43:22 AM(UTC)

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PORTLAND Daniel Kilgore Color Rush Jersey , Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers must try to slow down Anthony Davis. The New Orleans Pelicans must do what they can to control Damian Lillard.

The seemingly impossible task becomes the ultimate challenge as each player leads his team into a first-round playoff series that opens Saturday night at Moda Center.

Portland (49-33) is the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and New Orleans (48-34) the No. 6 seed. Only one game separated the teams through a wild, competitive regular season, with spots going down to the final day.

The 6-foot-11 Davis and the 6-foot, 3-inch Lillard play different positions, but they’re both likely first-team All-NBA selections this season. Davis is in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player Award, too.

Davis finished second in the NBA in scoring at 28.1 points per game, was fifth in rebounds (11.1) and led the league in efficiency rating at 33.0. After fellow “Twin Tower” DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season in late January with an Achilles tendon injury, Davis carried the load for a New Orleans team that went 20-8 since Feb. 10, winning its last five games.

“Losing a player like DeMarcus changes your team, but they still have Anthony Davis out there,” Lillard said. “That’s a good problem to have. He’s one of the very best players in our league. Anybody guarding him is going to have a tough time. He can handle the ball, shoots the 3 http://www.giantsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-patrick-omameh-jersey , hit pull-ups and floaters and go coast to coast.”

Portland coach Terry Stotts is expected to use both 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic and 6-foot-9 Al-Farouq “Chief” Aminu to defend Davis, who had 36-point games in the two full contests he played against the Blazers this season. Davis and Aminu played two seasons together in New Orleans in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

“Chief has the height and length to do a good job on (Davis),” Lillard said. “Plus he has the understanding how to guard guys, and he played with him, so he’s familiar with his tendencies. But it’s going to take a team effort. We’re going to have to be ready to play physical with him.”

“There are a lot of good players in this league,” Nurkic said. “He’s one of them. I’m not worried about Anthony Davis. He’s going to make his shots. He’s probably going to get his points. We need to worry about the rest of the team. Some of the other guys, like (Nikila) Mirotic, can have an impact. I’m more worried about one of those guys getting hot, because they have a lot of shooters.”

Lillard tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring at 26.9 points a game, was 10th in assists (6.6) and 11th in efficiency rating at 25.0. He combines with CJ McCollum (21.4-point average, 19th in the NBA) to form one of the most potent backcourt combinations in the league.

“You have to work as hard as you can defensively and hope they are not having one of those great nights they’re capable of having,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Dame is one of the best clutch players in the league. I feel like he’s been an All-Star the last five http://www.redskinsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-jonathan-allen-jersey , six years. He has a way about him, a confidence about him, that he feels like when his team needs a basket the most, he can go get it.”

Davis said he holds great respect for the Blazers but isn’t just happy to be in the playoffs.

“It starts with their guards,” he said. “They are a handful. They can score at will. They’re a good defensive team. We have to make sure we don’t turn the ball over, take care of the defensive boards and play defense.

“Our goal is to not just get in the playoffs, but to make some noise. We want to try to get one, maybe both, of the games (in Portland), then go back home and take care of business.”

The bookies in this gambling city have to be getting a bit nervous.

Hockey fans, though, are nothing short of ecstatic.

They screamed Andrei Svechnikov Hurricanes Jersey , danced and cheered as the goals came one right after another in a first period blitz Thursday night as the Vegas Golden Knights remained undefeated in the playoffs by dominating the San Jose Sharks 7-0 in the opening game of the Western Conference semifinals.

The hottest show on the Las Vegas Strip got even hotter as the Knights – who were 200-1 at many sports books to win the Stanley Cup before the season began – opened their second playoff series with a rout of the Sharks that was over before the Zambonis hit the ice.

This had nothing to do with the so-called Vegas Flu that has overcome some visiting teams who might have not resisted some of the pleasures on the Las Vegas Strip. This was a simple beat down, by a group of players who had never been together on the ice before the season began.

”It’s not going to be like this every night,” Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”We’re going to enjoy this and move on.”

Once again, the Knights played like no expansion team ever before. Once again, they showed that perhaps the fantasy of bringing the Stanley Cup to the Las Vegas Strip may not be such a fantasy after all.

And once again, 18,444 fans sang ”Viva Las Vegas” and went home happy – but not before watching Fleury join them in doing the wave in the closing minutes.

”It’s a great home crowd,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”We like them a lot.”

There’s a lot to like about a team that a year ago was nothing more than an expansion project with an uncertain future. Now the Knights are tearing through the playoffs like a hot dice thrower at the craps table.

That might be a problem at the sports books, which are on the hook for possibly millions if the Knights should win it all. But it’s playing out nicely around the rest of Las Vegas, which is awash in Knights merchandise as the city that has never had a major sports team eagerly embraces one that is its very own.

If getting to the playoffs was seen as almost impossible before the season began, the Knights are 5-1 in sports books on the Strip to win it all, just behind Nashville and Tampa Bay as favorites.
With good reason. The Knights are the only remaining unbeaten team in the playoffs Authentic Martin Kaut Jersey , and have the hottest goalie around. Fleury, picked up from Pittsburgh in the expansion draft, got his third shutout of the playoffs and has allowed only three goals in five games.

He didn’t allow any against the Sharks, stopping 33 shots to record the shutout.

”I don’t go looking at my stats,” Fleury said. ”A win is a win and I’ll try my best to get my team a win. That’s what it’s all about.”

The team that proudly declares itself Vegas Born thrilled a raucous crowd at the T-Mobile arena, scoring three goals within a span of 1:31 in the first period to pretty much put the game away early.

Against a team that – like the Knights – swept their opening series, they turned the game into a rout early. Seven players scored goals, though with Fleury in net there was no way seven would be needed.

”You don’t get extra points for winning by a touchdown like they did,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. ”We just have to be better.”

Earlier, Knights general manager George McPhee talked about how good the team he put together might be. But even he had to be surprised at the ease the Knights, coming off a nine-day layoff after sweeping the Los Angeles Kings, won their second-round opener.

”We think we’re a pretty good club but we’ll keep trying to do what we do and see where it takes us Authentic Lamar Jackson Jersey ,” McPhee said. ”We haven’t really looked at the season in its totality before it started, or the playoffs in its totality.”

The formula for t
he Knights has been as
simple as it has been effective. With some top talent there for the taking in the expansion draft the Knights combined a fast, swarming attack with stellar work of Fleury to win their division.

Nothing changed in the opening game against the Sharks except the goals came early and often.

”We play fast, we play quick, we play direct hockey,” Gallant said. ”So far it’s worked for us.”

The Knights have done all of that, and more to move into the serious conversation about what teams can win the Stanley Cup.

If any more proof was needed, even the bookies are believers now.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or .

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