So much for the plucky underdogs… after an opening week that saw each conference semifinal series tied at a game apiece, the underdogs returned home with home court advantage seized. They promptly gave home court advantage right back – both the Bulls and Warriors lost and lost by relatively comfortable final margins.
Neither of those two results was particularly surprising however. Both the Heat and Spurs have been here before and were pretty heavy favorites in their series. Tonight is a little different scenario. Most experts are asking “can the Knicks and Thunder ‘steal’ one on the road?” rather than “can the Pacers and Grizzlies maintain their advantage.” Both Indiana and Memphis are prohibitive favorites over their higher-seeded opponents tonight.
So who will wrest control of the series with a pivotal Game Three win? Let’s dig inside the matchups for tonight’s free picks.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies -5.5 (Total: 186.5)
The Grizzlies let one get away in Game One, but didn’t make the same mistake twice. They put the clamps on Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and Mike Conley took over the game. Not only was it a huge road playoff win, it was also significant in that someone emerged in the clutch to establish themselves as the closer. It was a big question mark since the trading Rudy Gay, and it might have been answered Wednesday night.
The Grizzlies have looked good in the series, and now they are returning home to the place they have been nearly unbeatable the last four months. They’ve won three straight playoff games at home, and are 17-1 dating back to the beginning of February (all after the Rudy Gay trade). Giddy Grizzly fans are already talking about getting to the Finals. However, they need to handle their business and go up 3-1 at home for that to happen.
I think they’ll take that first important step tonight. With the injury to Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s advantage in the backcourt is negated. The frontcourt is obviously a CLEAR advantage for the Grizzlies, and they are also a significantly better defensive team. Don’t underestimate the Tony Allen impact. He is a little small to guard Durant all game, but his ability to make perimeter players work and denying them the easy catch is HUGE in this series. I like Allen to make Durant work, and Z-Bo and Gasol to go to work. Give me the Grizz tonight at home with the win and cover.
Free Pick: Memphis Grizzlies -5.5
New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers -4.5 (Total: 182.5)
Despite the wonderful promos and throw-back clips peppering the introductions and commercial breaks, this series hasn’t had the intensity or excitement of the Pacers v Knicks brawls of the 90’s. The series is tied at 1-1, but it feels like the Pacers have a big edge. Yes, the Knicks just BLEW them out of the gym, but the Pacers have won 7 of the 8 quarters in this series. They have controlled the rebounds and controlled the tempo. And tonight, they get to return to their home gym where they have been fantastic all season long.
Amare’ Stoudamire is slate to return tonight, but I don’t expect him to have any positive impact on the series. He may make a few buckets, but if history has shown us anything the last few years, it is that he and Melo together don’t work well. IN fact, they don’t work at ALL.
Give me the Pacers to bully the Knicks inside and to play a solid game. I like them to win by double digits tonight.
Free Pick: Indiana Pacers -4.5