NBA Playoffs: Durant, LeBron & Defense All Shine Thursday

If you’re casual fan that watches the NBA playoffs so you can see the stars shine, then Thursday night was for you. And if you’re a hard-core basketball lover who appreciates tough defense Thursday night was also for you, as Miami and Oklahoma City took firm command of their first-round series, going up 3-0 in games with road wins. TheSportsNotebook recaps both and looks ahead to three games Friday night…

Oklahoma City 95 Dallas 79: After two games that went down to the wire in Oklahoma City there was every reason to think Dallas could win and defend its home floor. But it was the Thunder who did the defending, holding last year’s champs to 34 percent shooting from the floor. The prime culprit was Shawn Marion, who shot just 1-for-8. Oklahoma City also took very good care of the basketball, only committing eight turnovers. And for star power, Kevin Durant drained four three-pointers on six attempts en route to a 31-point night. Russell Westbrook added 20, while Serge Ibaka grabbed 11 rebounds. Oklahoma City showed they could survive in the series’ first two games. Thursday showed they could step it up to a higher level when necessary.

Miami 87 New York 70: The Knicks came out gamely and battled for three periods, but in the end there was too much of the Heat on defense and too much of LeBron. Miami held the hosts to 31 percent shooting. Carmelo Anthony was only 7-of-23. That’s understandable, given that Melo needs to shoot with that kind of volume if his team is to have any chance. But what exactly was guard J.R. Smith doing taking 18 shots from the floor? Especially when he only hit five. Of course we all know by now that trying to follow this New York team with logic will only give you a headache. LeBron stepped it up with 32 points, Mario Challmes nailed five treys and Miami, with its clamp-down on defense, looks like a team ready to close out this series in short order.

Two big games in the Eastern Conference go tonight…

*Atlanta visits Boston for Game 3 in a series that’s turning into a war of attrition. While Rajon Rondo will be back from his suspension, Ray Allen is still listed as doubtful with his ankle. But Atlanta got word that power forward Josh Smith is also doubtful tonight. While Allen is a better player than Smith in the bigger picture of their careers, Smith is infinitely more valuable to the Hawks right now, as the only one who can score inside and the one who can take advantage of Boston’s rebounding deficiencies. As long as he’s out, it’s hard to see how Atlanta wins a game in Boston, and they’ll have to do it eventually, between tonight and a potential Game 6.

*Chicago goes to Philadelphia, with the Bulls needing to remind themselves that they can still be the team that went 18-9 without Derrick Rose in the regular season, rather than the one who lost by 17 at home without him in Game 2 of this series. With a loss as a wakeup call, and having had some time to digest the reality that Rose isn’t coming back, I expect Chicago to deliver a lockdown defensive effort tonight and win at least one game in Philly. I still don’t see real doubt that the Bulls will win this series, but the possibility that Philly could stretch it the distance is realistic, as Chicago would need to win twice on the road to end it without a Game 7.

*My upset pick of Denver over the LA Lakers is on the line tonight. The Nuggets failed at their first two chances to win on the road, but if they defend their home floor these next two games, steal the road Then win in Game 5, they can come back here in Game 6 to still close it out. Yeah, sounds real easy. Especially when Andrew Bynum looks like a man on a mission and Kobe is looking like a guy who wants to match Michael Jordan’s six NBA title rings. If Denver can’t man up on the interior, Los Angeles can at least win one in the Rockies and be set up to close at home in Game 5.