It may not have started out too pretty, but it looks like the top three seeds in the East are going to be alright after all. Chicago, Miami and Boston all took commanding 3-0 leads over the last two days, and all three will look to close out their series on the road and get some valuable rest before a much more difficult round two.
Out West, it appears the Lakers might have finally awoken from their month-long malaise last night, jumping all over the New Orleans Hornets and cruising to the easy win. With the San Antonio Spurs struggling, the Mavericks locked into what looks like it could be a long series with Portland, and Oklahoma City still playing with a nucleus that has yet to win their first Playoff series, let alone make it to an NBA Finals – it’s hard to argue for anyone other than the Champs being the favorite out West.
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Today’s Free NBA Picks:
San Antonio Spurs @ Memphis Grizzlies -2 (Total: 191.5)
Logic would serve that since the Grizz beat San Antonio in Game 1 and played them tough in Game 2, now that they are heading home for Game 3, they should be able to get the win and take a dangerous 2-1 lead in the series with Game 4 to follow at home.
Not so fast though…the Spurs loss in Game 1 had one very key ingredient; or should I say “missing” ingredient – Manu Ginobili. Despite not shooting well from the floor, Manu’s mere presence in Game 2 made an enormous difference. In particular, Ginobili’s ability to penetrate and draw contact played a huge role in the Spurs getting more penetration and drawing more fouls. They shot 12 more free throws than the Grizz in the win, making eight more – basically providing the difference between a win and a loss.
The Spurs will need to do a better job defending Zach Randolph, who to this point has been the best player in the series, averaging 20 points and 12 boards. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies problem is the exact opposite; they need to discover a way to keep Parker and Ginobili from dictating the tempo with their ability to penetrate to the basket and create open looks for teammates or draw foul shot opportunities by going all the way to the rim.
I would be cautios underestimating the heart of the Spurs. I still think this series has the potential to go either way, but I’d be surprised if the Spurs didn’t come out and play well tonight – and take the overly-eager Memphis crowd out of the game early, en route to re-taking home court advantage in the series at two games to one.
PICK: San Antonio Spurs +2
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Denver Nuggets -5 (Total: 205.5)
After a great, and very tight Game 1, the Thunder responded in Game 2 with an impressive performance, leaving little doubt as they took a 2-0 edge in the series. Tonight the Nuggets get to return back to the mountain altitude of the Pepsi Center, and hope that they can turn around the momentum of the series.
The attention is drawn by Westbrook and Durant, as well it should be – but Game 2 was not won by the pair of dazzling offensive superstars, but rather by Oklahoma City’s dominance on the glass. The Thunder outrebounded the under-sized Nuggets 54-31 – a whopping 23 rebound advantage. They also “out-assisted” (is that a word…hmmm) the Nuggets 19-12.
Interestingly, neither shot particularly well from the floor, though the Thunder did hold a 43%-40% advantage. Here’s what I take away from the rebounding and assist stats; this Thunder team that plays really hard and shares the basketball brillinatly. When you combine that with the interior defensive presence of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, the big-shot toughness of Russell Westbrook and the offensive brilliance of Kevin Durant – you are left with a NBA Champion caliber nucleus.
It seemed every expert was touting this as the best series coming in to the Playoffs. I never bought it. I think the Thunder are significantly better than the Nuggets is every facet of the game. Denver could always get hot and score some points in transition, but I still like Oklahoma City to win tonight, and obviously cover the five point line – and I’m not sure they aren’t the best team in the NBA right now.
PICK: Oklahoma City Thunder +5