It turns out that picking #1 seeds on their home floor in a game five works out well for those conducting NBA betting. It did for you last night if you rolled with our NBA picks (2-0 last night, 39-15 for the playoffs), as the Warriors and Hawks both put their foot down in crucial game fives and took 3-2 series leads. Atlanta barely made it happen (won, 82-81), but a win is a win and both the Hawks and Warriors now have an 82% chance in winning their respective series.
Two teams can do exactly that tonight, as both the Clippers and Cavaliers hold 3-2 leads in their series and can wrap things up with a win tonight. Cleveland has to do it in Chicago, which may make their case tougher to sell, and L.A. gets to try to do it at the Staples Center. Los Angeles and Cleveland are in very different situations, though, as the Cavs still have a home game in game seven to fall back on, whereas the Clips would sulk all the way back to Houston with a loss tonight. In any event, let’s break down both matchups and see if you should be picking for either series to come to a close on Thursday night:
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) @ Chicago Bulls (3)
This series has been insanely close, as the only game that was decided by more than seven points was a game two in Cleveland that the Cavs absolutely had to win. Cleveland has been the better team over the last four games, as they’ve won three of those games and have been able to win defensive battles and offensive showdowns (if we can call them that). This series has largely been about defense and late-game execution, and somehow an under-manned Cavaliers squad has prevailed to this point. They have the edge all the way due to LeBron James playing out of his mind in spurts, while Kyrie Irving looked much better in game five (he’s banged up) than he did in the two games in Chicago.
Chicago wasn’t amazing at home during the regular season, but it’s really hard imagining them caving in such a huge game – especially in a series that has been so close (two buzzer-beaters). Pau Gasol returns tonight and even if he’s in limited fashion you have to think he gives them what they’ve been missing on offense. I thought this series was going the full seven games from the very beginning and with the Bulls at home tonight, it looks like it will. Expect huge efforts out of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah as the Bulls stay alive.
Pick: Bulls 104, Cavs 99
Houston Rockets (2) @ Los Angeles Clippers (3)
Before this series started I was very worried about Houston’s ability to take the Clippers apart with their studly inside/outside duo. Then Kevin McHale fell in love with the hack-a-Jordan philosophy and the Rockets all forgot how to defend. Their bench also completely eroded, and you could tell the absence of guys like Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas was pretty well felt. Then came game five, where Houston’s studs played out of their mind, the team actually played some defense and Trevor Ariza played awesome for the second game in a row.
Los Angeles also regressed to the mean when it came to their bench, as Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers gave them nothing, they were forced to give the ineffective Spencer Hawes actual run and J.J. Redick was lifeless in the starting lineup. That will happen when you’re in Houston and the prideful Rockets finally play a good, complete game. Logic suggests that was Houston’s last stand, however, as teams down 3-1 in the NBA Playoffs simply don’t survive. Exactly eight teams have done it, and based on what we’ve seen, I’m not sure the Rockets have what it takes to be one of those teams. That being said, the Clippers might be a good team to do it against, as they’ve had some pretty bad collapses in games in recent memory. Of course, if L.A. was going to cave, I would think it would have come against the Spurs in round one.
L.A. is about to make history with a win tonight, as they could advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever. That’s a pretty big deal and I doubt Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are going to take that lightly. Houston hasn’t won in L.A. in this series and obviously if they do tonight they’ll have the Clippers right where they want them in Houston in a huge game seven. With so much on the line, though, I don’t think it comes to that.
Pick: Clippers 109, Rockets 106