MIAMI (AP) — There’s been the unexpected, like Golden State’s Stephen Curry going down with a knee injury. Then came a double whammy for the Clippers, with Chris Paul out with a broken hand and Blake Griffin’s season ending because of a nagging leg injury.
Then there’s been the expected, like Charlotte and Miami giving each other problems in a series that’s been wildly back and forth.
So what awaits in a trio of Game 5’s on Wednesday night — when Charlotte goes to Miami, Portland visits the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston treks to Golden State — is anyone’s guess. The Hornets-Heat and Blazers-Clippers series are tied at two games apiece, while the Warriors enter with a 3-1 series lead over the Rockets and will try for the clincher.
“To a man, you have to be able to dig down deep and rise to the occasion,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “And there’s no bigger occasion, no bigger opportunity, than this one.”
The Rockets are fighting for their season. The Heat and Clippers surely feel the pressure of defending home court, for the last thing they’ll want to do is face raucous road crowds in Charlotte and Portland later this week while on the brink of elimination. And all this comes with Curry and Paul able to only watch, an All-Star backcourt shut down by freak injuries.
“It continues to show you that everyone is just one moment from not playing,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s tough. The way that Steph got hurt, it’s a freak thing. And obviously Chris Paul is one of my best friends. It was tough for me to see that.”
Curry’s absence overshadows the Rockets-Warriors matchup. So will the absences of Paul and Griffin for the Clippers, who suddenly look vulnerable against Portland. The Clippers made the decision Tuesday to sit Griffin for the remainder of the postseason.
And in Wednesday night’s opening game, Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker will try to keep hurting Miami.
Walker is looking for the first road victory of his playoff postseason career.
“Miami’s a pretty tough place to play,” Walker said. “But we’ve got to go in there and do what we’re capable of doing.”
Hornets at Heat, series tied 2-2. 8 p.m., TNT
They were tied after 82 regular-season games, so it should be little surprise that Charlotte and Miami are tied after four more in the playoffs.
Home has been where the wins are for the Heat, especially since the All-Star break. Miami is 14-2 in its last 16 games at home, one of those losses coming to Golden State. The other was against these same Hornets on March 17, the Heat blowing a 15-point lead in that one.
They’re 8-0 at home since, winning by an average of 17 points per game.
The Heat averaged 119 points and shot 58 percent in each of the two home wins to begin the series; they averaged 82.5 points and shot under 40 percent in each of the two losses at Charlotte.
“There’s urgency at both ends,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Two competitive teams. Neither team’s giving it up. You’re going to see teams go on runs, teams come back, it’s highly competitive.”
Trail Blazers at Clippers, series tied 2-2. 10 p.m., NBA TV.
This was a Portland team that was completely written off last summer, when most of its rotation moved on to new teams.
Now the Clippers have lost two straight, plus two starters.
“My job as a coach is to figure out a way of getting us up and ready for Game 5,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
Portland is shooting only 39 percent in the series, but the Blazers seem to be keeping the Clippers guessing. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu have all had at least one 27-point-or-better game in the series.
And they know the Clippers facing adversity won’t automatically mean this becomes a Portland upset.
“They still have a squad,” Portland’s Mason Plumlee said. “They have a lot of talent.”
Rockets at Warriors, Golden State leads 3-1. 10:30 p.m., TNT.
If there’s any sense that the Rockets have a better chance now that Curry is out, take note of this score: 65-38.
That was the Warriors’ advantage over Houston in the second half Sunday, all without the league’s MVP, on the road no less. And now they go home, with a chance to be off until at least Sunday if they finish Houston off in Game 5.
“It’s a win-or-go-home situation,” Houston’s Michael Beasley said. “It’s definitely critical. We don’t want to start the game off slow, don’t want to dig ourselves a hole early. We’re going to come out and give it all we’ve got.”
Being without Curry — who only played the equivalent of about three quarters in the series anyway — has forced Golden State to become very balanced. Klay Thompson is averaging 22.5 points in the series, and four other Warriors are averaging between 12 and 13 points per game apiece.
And the Warriors may get a boost going into this one, with coach Steve Kerr being announced Tuesday as the league’s coach of the year for 2015-16.