The Bulls dropping a game at the buzzer to extend the series? Not a big deal. The Warriors having a few close games against the Pels before finishing them off yesterday? No big deal. But the way the Hawks played in the first two games of their series coupled with their listless loss to the Nets yesterday? Possibly a BIG deal.
There were some questions regarding Atlanta entering the postseason regardless of health. Did they have a true “star” to win them games? Would they be able to beat elite teams in a seven game series? Did they have enough postseason experience? Was their near .500 finish after their record winning streak a better indicator of where this team would eventually end up?
All good questions. Add in the nagging injuries to Milsap and the absence of Thabo Sefalosha, and I think it is fair to not only doubt the Hawks as title ocntenders, but also worry they could lose to the Wizards in the second round.
Of course, both of those teams have some work to do before the second round is a certainty, so let’s dive inside today’s games and see if we can cap of the first full week of playoff action with a winner.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Houston Rockets -2.5 at Dallas Mavericks
Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion. That line was made famous by former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanivich, but it is equally applicable today to the opposing Mavericks. They game Houston their best punch in Game Three… and STILL lost to fall 3-0, so it is easy to dismiss their season as over. But I don’t think Dirk and Tyson Chandler are the type to just lay it down today, especially at home. I think they’ll play lose and free, enjoying the ‘injury’ of Rondo and his subsequent absence and the ball will move around like it did in the early season.
The question is, can they defend enough for it to matter? They gave up a stunning 130 points in Game Three to render their improved offensive performance moot. I can’t imagine they’ll be as poor this afternoon. They have never been mistaken for a “good” defensive team, but they are more middle of the pack than “terrible” like they looked two nights ago.
Houston has been clicking and Dwight Howard seems to be rounding into All-Star form. They have some serious incentive to win today, to get a week to rest up while the Clippers and Spurs punch each other back and forth, but I think they’ll find the urgency of the Mavs a little too much today. Houston will obviously win the series, but I think they’ll at least have to fly home to do so.
I’ll take the Mavs at home with the 2.5, but if you can get a money line with a little extra juice at +125, I’d take the value of that wager over the measly two point cushion. You get a thirty-five percent bump to give up the single bucket. If it comes back to burn us, I’ll own it, but the mathematics say moneyline is the better value play.