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NBA Playoff Recap - Monday, April 27


Atlanta drew even. The Lakers finished off Utah. The Denver Nuggets? They made history. A non-competitive game oddly stole the show on the latest night of NBA playoff action.
More on Denver's dominance in a moment. The night's first contest came in Miami, where the Hawks won their first road playoff game since 1997, and not a moment too soon. An Atlanta club that desperately needed to avoid a 3-1 deficit managed to fly back to Georgia with a 2-2 series tie, thanks to an 81-71 win over the Heat. Mike Woodson's team didn't exactly excel on offense, but the Hawks got a split in south Florida by giving up 36 fewer points than they did in Saturday's Game 3.
Atlanta simply didn't allow Dwyane Wade to roam free on offense and set up 3-point shooters for wide-open looks. By switching more consistently and extending their perimeter defense, the Hawks contested more shots and ultimately rattled the Heat, who seemed to allow the pressure of the moment to get to them. Only James Jones (19 points) and Jermaine O'Neal (20 points) played well for Erik Spoelstra's club, which blew a chance to take full control of the series. Perimeter shooters Daequan Cook (0 points) and Mario Chalmers (4 points), who went wild in previous games, were suddenly silenced--that factor helped Atlanta win more than anything else. The Hawks also helped themselves by winning the battle of the boards and playing with more aggressiveness near the rim. Center Zaza Pachulia set an example for his teammates by pulling down a game-high 18 rebounds. That kind of tenacity marked a night in which Atlanta regained a winning persona. With home-court advantage back in their hands, the Hawks will try to take a series lead in Wednesday's Game 5 at Philips Arena.

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In Los Angeles, the Lakers closed out a 4-1 series win by topping Utah, 107-96. As was the case in Game 2, the Jazz made a bold second-half charge to get within six points of the lead, but Jerry Sloan's team couldn't climb the whole mountain. Phil Jackson's roster was simply deeper, healthier, and appreciably better. This Game 5 triumph was made possible by Laker forward Lamar Odom, who went 10-of-15 from the field and owned the glass. When the night was over at Staples Center, Odom had 26 points and 15 rebounds to show for his 38 minutes of court time. Kobe Bryant threw down 31 for the West's top seed, which will enjoy a few days off and await the winner of the Houston-Portland series.
In New Orleans, well, let's just say something remarkable occurred. This wasn't the final game of the night (L.A.-Utah naturally acquired that distinction), but it certainly left a lasting imprint on the NBA record books. The Denver Nuggets' 121-63 Game 4 win over the New Orleans Hornets tied the largest margin of victory in an NBA playoff game. The 58-point plateau was first established in 1956, when the Minneapolis Lakers clocked the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75. The Nuggets--who took a 22-6 lead in the early minutes of Saturday's Game 3--chose to build on a great start this time around, instead of easing up on the gas. Carmelo Anthony tallied 26 points for George Karl's crew, which outscored the Hornets 36-15 in the first quarter and didn't look back. Denver walloped the Hornets 27-11 in the third stanza take an 88-50 lead and allow its entire starting lineup to enjoy the fourth quarter from a courtside seat on the bench. Reserves padded the margin in the fourth quarter to create the final 58-point spread. Chris Paul had a career playoff-low 4 points for the turnover-plagued Hornets (26 giveaways in Game 4), who will be hard pressed to stay alive when the series returns to Denver for Wednesday's Game 5, with the Nuggets leading the series 3-1.

By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer

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