The NBA returns on Friday night after a one-day absence, as the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers both take it to the road in attempt to go up 2-1 in their second round series. Houston dropped game one to the Los Angeles Clippers before winning game two, and will have to wait to see if they will face Chris Paul for the first time in L.A. tonight. Cleveland followed a similar formula, as they lost game one and won game two easily, and will finally get suspended shooting guard J.R. Smith back for game three.

The stage is set, but which teams gain the advantage by going up, 2-1? We’ve done a solid job so far in the playoffs (33-13) and aim for a sweep as Friday’s action sets off. Join us as we break down and pick tonight’s NBA action:

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) @ Chicago Bulls (3)

In game one the Bulls showed how they can dominate an under-manned Cavs squad at both ends of the court. In game two, Cleveland showed it’s resolve. Game three will be key due to offering up a winner with an obvious 2-1 edge when it’s all said and done, but it really should set the tone for the series. J.R. Smith’s return might be huge, as the Cavs head into a hostile environment to try to show that game two is going to be the norm in this heated series.

There is a real, raw rivalry here, and these teams seem to truly hate each other. After seeing the Cavs rise up without both Kevin Love and Smith in their last game, getting Smith back could be a huge asset going forward. Cleveland’s switch to slide Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup was also key, and that figures to help their overall defense the rest of the way, provided it sticks. Iman Shumpert might sit this one out with a groin issue, but I like Cleveland’s momentum and the extra offensive spark Smith provides. This is starting to look like a series that can go the distance, but for the moment the Cavs may hold the power. It will be up to Derrick Rose and co. to take it away from them. However, given how weak Rose is off of one day’s rest, I can’t buy him over-powering LeBron James and co. in game three.

Pick: Cavs 106, Bulls 102

Houston Rockets (2) @ Los Angeles Clippers (3)

Game three in this series likely comes down to the health of Chris Paul. First, is he going to play? Secondly, is he going to be himself? Even a Paul at 75% is worth starting, but if Paul can’t defend or has to hold himself back offensively, it could present problems. The good news is that he won’t have to force the issue too much, as Blake Griffin is playing out of his mind and L.A. actually has been getting solid play out of their role players and bench lately. The Clippers are also at home and after winning a game in Houston, have the upper hand at the moment.

That being said, I can’t see the Clippers winning a second game without Paul. He absolutely has to play to help slow down Houston’s momentum. The Rockets did an insanely good job at getting to the line in game two (64 free throws!) and while you can blame the refs to a degree, that type of aggressiveness usually wins out in post-season play. They won’t get all the same calls on the road, but if you combine Houston’s ability to get to the line with another no-show from Paul, and the Clippers could be looking at a loss. If Paul suits up, he’ll need to be magical yet again to get L.A. the win. I’m pulling for the Clips, but Paul’s status is too shaky and the Rockets are too good to bet against with uncertainties of this magnitude.

Pick: Rockets 111, Clippers 107

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