Philadelphia, Utah and Atlanta can reach the second round. Dallas or the Los Angeles Clippers will get to the verge of it.
Yet as Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant try to save their seasons and Trae Young looks for a clinching victory, eyes will be on the action in the seats right along with the court.
The games Wednesday are the first for all three of those players in the arenas where they were the subjects of ugly fan actions in Game 2 of these first-round series.
The unruly fan behavior continued Monday when a spectator was tackled after running onto the court in Washington, and Young noticed.
“They doing it for attention now,” he wrote on Twitter.
Young was cursed at in both games and spit on in the second one at Madison Square Garden, the only game the Knicks won in the series. The Hawks went home and easily took Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta. Now they can silence the New York fans for the summer.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan said he feels safe as the team returns to New York, adding that the actions he has witnessed go beyond NBA buildings that are being filled again during the playoffs.
“We’ve seen this over the last few years. People just right now are out of control,” McMillan said. “We say, we do pretty much anything. It’s just a country right now just that’s out of control with the respect that we show one another. It’s something we’ve been going through really, I think, the last few years and you’re now starting to see it in the NBA arenas because we haven’t had fans in the last year.”
Westbrook had popcorn dumped on him as he walked to the locker room after getting injured in the last game at Philadelphia. He ensured the series would return there by getting a triple-double in Washington’s 122-114 victory in Game 4.
The Knicks and 76ers banned those two fans from their arenas and the Jazz banned three who harassed Morant’s family in Game 2.
He scored 47 in that game but wasn’t as sharp in the two games back in Memphis, where the top-seeded Jazz won twice to set up the clinching opportunity back home.
“Every game for us is a do-or-die game. That’s just the mentality we have,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “Obviously, there is a little bit more intensity during these games late, especially when the series is like this. You just have to be locked in.”
WIZARDS AT 76ERS
Philadelphia leads, 3-1. Game 5, 7 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
—NEED TO KNOW: Philadelphia was poised for its first sweep since 1985 before Joel Embiid was injured in Game 4 and the Wizards rallied to win behind 27 points from Bradley Beal.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Tobias Harris. If Embiid doesn’t play or is limited, the 76ers will count on the forward to pick up his production.
—INJURY WATCH: The 76ers are listing Embiid as doubtful with a sore right knee.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Ben Simmons. The Wizards fouled him intentionally down the stretch in Game 4, and the only way to make sure they can’t use the strategy again is for Philadelphia’s star guard to make the free throws.
HAWKS AT KNICKS
Atlanta leads, 3-1. Game 5, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
—NEED TO KNOW: The Hawks need one win to reach the second round for the first time since 2016. Except for the second half of Game 2, they have largely controlled a series that appeared an even match of teams who finished with the same record, and sound confident they can handle whatever the Knicks try.
“They’re trying to play tough, push our guys around, talk (trash). But we can do that, too,” center Clint Capela said. “We showed them as soon as they came back here (to Atlanta) that we can push guys around, too. We can talk (trash) as well. What are you going to do about it? We can do it and get the win, too.”
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Danilo Gallinari. The former Knicks forward was a dismal 5 for 21 in the two games in his old arena but 10 for 17 and in double figures in the last two games.
—INJURY WATCH: Knicks center Nerlens Noel appeared slowed in Atlanta by the ankle injury he sustained earlier in the series.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Julius Randle. The best season of his career is threatening to end on a disappointing note as the winner of the Most Improved Player award has continued to misfire throughout this series.
GRIZZLIES AT JAZZ
Utah leads, 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
—NEED TO KNOW: The Jazz have won three straight after dropping Game 1 and find themselves back in the same situation as last year, before they blew a 3-1 lead in the first round against Denver.
“Having that be so fresh, having it be last year, I think that really helps us understanding that … Game 5 is that there’s no guarantee just because we’re going home, we won (three) in a row,” Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said. “This team’s going to try to compete. And I think the biggest thing is just our mental fortitude and continuing to go out there and play like we’re down 10.”
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Jordan Clarkson. The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year has played well in this series, but he had his best game yet in Game 3 with 24 points.
—INJURY WATCH: Mitchell. After two 50-point games last year, he continues to show he is a superb postseason player. Mitchell missed Game 1 with an ankle injury but has followed with 25, 29 and 30 points in Utah’s three victories.
—PRESSURE IS ON: The Grizzlies’ perimeter defense. Memphis doesn’t make a ton of 3-pointers, so it needs to do a better job of limiting a Jazz team that does, hitting 55 over the last three games.
MAVERICKS AT CLIPPERS
Tied, 2-2. Game 5, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.
—NEED TO KNOW: The most unpredictable of the first-round series has seen the road team win each of the first four games, the first time that has happened since Boston beat Chicago in 2017.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: The Clippers’ intensity. They’ve picked it up in a big way after dropping the first two games and falling into a big early hole in Game 3. But they proved in last year’s playoffs and at times in this season that they are prone to lapses.
—INJURY WATCH: Mavericks star Luka Doncic was listed as questionable going into Game 4 with a cervical strain and he had by far his worst game of the series. The All-Star was 9 for 24 for 19 points after averaging 38 the first three games.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Tim Hardaway Jr. The Clippers are prioritizing taking away his 3-point shooting and they held him without one in their Game 4 romp. He made 11 in the two games in Los Angeles.
AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry in Atlanta and Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.
Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press
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