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Thursday's NBA playoffs: Lakers, Nuggets take 2-1 series leads; Bucks push Heat to 3-0

Associated Press

Los Angeles — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, LeBron James added 21 points and nine assist and the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated their first home playoff game in more than eight years with a 109-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night in Game 3.

Los Angeles Lakers center Andre Drummond (2) celbrates after dunking in front of Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first half.

Dennis Schröder added 20 points and the seventh-seeded defending NBA champs took a 2-1 lead with their second straight victory in the first-round series. Los Angeles pulled away from erratic Phoenix in the second half for the second straight game, and a fierce late rally by the Suns came up short.

Game 4 is Sunday in Los Angeles.

Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns, who are in an early hole in their first postseason series in 11 years. Phoenix also came unglued in the final minute when Devin Booker and Jae Crowder both were sent to the locker room early.

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Booker scored 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, but the star guard was ejected with 35.4 seconds to play after committing a flagrant foul against Schröder. Moments later, Crowder got a technical foul, following Booker off the court after apparently trying to confront Schröder.

Phoenix also got another quiet game from Chris Paul, who played just 2 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter even though coach Monty Williams said the star point guard's shoulder had healed. Paul had seven points and six assists in 27 minutes.

Roughly 7,000 masked fans watched inside Staples Center as the Lakers hosted their first playoff game in their downtown arena since April 28, 2013. Los Angeles won its 17th title in the Florida bubble last October and the legions of fans confined to watching their beloved team’s rebirth on television turned up in force for this streak-breaking win.

Davis scored 18 points in the third quarter while staking the Lakers to a 17-point lead, and Wesley Matthews hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter while Los Angeles pushed its margin to 21.

Cameron Payne hit three 3-pointers in a late rally, but the Suns couldn't get closer than eight points.

Phoenix won the series opener in impressive fashion, but the Lakers answered with much-improved play in a 109-102 victory in Game 2. The Suns were the NBA's best road team during their outstanding regular season, but the Lakers are proving to be the nightmare matchup most expected when the champs slipped to the bottom of the bracket due to injuries.

Williams said before the game that Paul was “a full go” after his bruised right shoulder that clearly limited him in both games in Phoenix. The 11-time All-Star point guard still didn't appear to be playing at his usual strengths at Staples Center, his former home with the Clippers.

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Both teams got off to solid offensive starts in Game 3, but both then fumbled through a dismal second quarter featuring just 28 points on combined 9-for-39 shooting. The Lakers also got a worry when Davis came down awkwardly and appeared to be moving gingerly both before and after halftime.

But Los Angeles made a 16-6 run out of the break led by James, who increased his aggression and broke down Phoenix's defense. The Lakers took their biggest lead of the series midway through the third quarter when Schröder's three-point play put them up 67-51, and Davis made a series of tough buckets to keep LA's lead at double digits even without a 3-pointer in the quarter.

More NBA playoffs

Bucks 113, Heat 84: Another game. Another blowout.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to sweep the Miami Heat out of the playoffs, and they're making the task of dispatching the reigning Eastern Conference champions look very simple.

Khris Middleton scored 22 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and 12 assists and the Bucks took a 3-0 lead in their East first-round series with a 113-84 victory in Miami on Thursday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee, which can finish the sweep and move into the East semifinals with a win Saturday afternoon.

Nuggets 120, Trail Blazers 115: Nikola Jokic had 36 points and 11 rebounds and the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-115 Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.

Austin Rivers hit four consecutive 3 pointers during a crucial stretch in the final quarter and finished with 21 points for third-seeded Denver, which had 20 3s overall.

The Blazers struggled from 3-point range and got poor shooting from their bench players despite cheers from the biggest home crowd allowed at the Moda Center this season. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 37 points.

Game 4 is Saturday at the Moda Center.