The 2015-16 NBA playoffs rage on tonight, as three series hit the hardwood when the action gets started for Wednesday evening. One series could end, while we’ll know the direction the other two are headed before the night is through. Two are also impacted heavily by injuries, so it will be very interesting to see how the absence of stars like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will shake things up.
Can the Warriors close out the Rockets? Are the Clippers toast? And who emerges with a 3-2 advantage in a tight series between the Heat and Hornets? Let’s see if we can’t find some answers as we break down each contest and get closer to predicting a winner:
Rockets (8) @ Warriors (1)
Line: Warriors -9 Total: 212.5
No Stephen Curry, no problem? Possibly not, as the Dubs return home with a 3-1 series lead and know they can advance tonight and get themselves (and Curry) some much-needed rest. They also know they can make it happen, as they beat the Rockets in game two without Curry, lost by one without him in game three and finished another blowout win without him in game four. Curry is obviously huge for Golden State’s title hopes or even round two, but the lead is great and they’re on their home floor.
Of course, there is also the reality that Houston could now smell blood in the water. Not only have the Rockets stolen one game in this series, but without Curry, they clearly do matchup better with Golden State at both ends. Houston is known for their heroics, too, as they stormed back from the exact same hole (down 3-1 to the Clippers last year). Jason Terry even has guaranteed a Rockets game five win.
Logic should prevail, however. The Warriors still have top level coaching, a terrific system, a fully loaded and healthy roster and home court advantage. Houston should come to play and could very well threaten the spread, the Golden State knows the best thing is for this to end tonight.
Pick: Warriors 108, Rockets 101
Hornets (6) @ Heat (3)
Line: Heat -5.5 Total: 195.5
This is the series where things get tricky, as Miami stormed out to a 2-0 lead and looked like they were going to run away into round two. It got even worse when Nicolas Batum got hurt, but the Hornets fought back, won both games three and four on their home floor and still have Batum around to help them push back in this series. The problem so far is both teams have been too good on their home floor, and now in game five it shifts back to South Beach.
Not a lot separates these teams. Both have very good play at the point, on the wing and down low. Miami is a little more star-studded, has the more consistent defense and a more efficient offense. Charlotte is prone to offensive outbursts, but when their offense isn’t there, they can crater. On the road in a place where they haven’t been enjoying much success, the latter could haunt them tonight. Look for Miami’s defense to return and Goran Dragic to control the pace in a classic grind-it-out win for Miami.
Pick: Heat 98, Hornets 96
Blazers (5) @ Clippers (4)
Line: Blazers -2.5 Total: 195.5
This series is just as troubling, as L.A. looked to be in control with a 2-0 series lead, but lost their momentum with two straight losses in Portland. They have the superficial edge with the series heading back to the Staples Center, but with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin ruled out for the remainder of the post-season, they come to fight with their heart and soul trampled.
The question isn’t if the Clippers can put up a fight in round two of the playoffs or if they can force seven games in this series. It’s whether or not they can win another game. There is no doubt the Clippers still have some offensive fire power and the home court edge, but this has absolutely turned into the Blazers’ series to lose. Griffin was struggling anyways, but taking him outside of the paint hurts L.A.’s offensive upside and should also hurt them on the glass. Paul is the bigger loss, of course, as their stopper for Damian Lillard is gone and he’s precisely what makes their offense go.
The craziest part is CP3’s job on the defensive end and that even with two losses, the Clips kept a very potent Portland offense (105 points per game on the year) below 99 points in all four games. With no one to slow down Lillard, he could go nuts in a huge game five win for Portland.
Pick: Blazers 106, Clippers 102