The Western Conference Playoffs continued to deliver the drama last night with yet another overtime thriller. This time it was the Portland Trailblazers taking a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 123-120 win. The loss puts a ton of pressure on Dwight Howard and James Harden who will face a long offseason of scrutiny if they were to bow out in the first round of the playoffs; especially Dwight who’s been shackled with the “not a winner” label after five years of early playoff exits.
We took a loss in our lone pick with the Clippers getting routed in Golden State. It was a dangerous pick in retrospect, with all the controversy and nonsense surrounding Chris Paul and company it makes sense that they wouldn’t have their greatest performance. I really believed it would have an inspiring effect, but I suppose there isn’t much inspiration can do when Steph Curry is shooting light-out…
Three games take center stage tonight, including a couple massive games for the respective top seeds in each conference. So will each prevail? Will either?? Let’s take a look at both matchups in tonight’s free picks.
Tonight’s Free Picks:
Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers -6.5 (Total: 186.5)
This series has been one of the most discussed and analyzed from the media, even though it is mostly because of the Pacers implosion. Very little mention has been made of the Atlanta Hawks, who are actually playing really good basketball. Jeff Teague and Paul MIlsap have carried the load, and with the exception of about two and a half quarters, have dramatically outplayed the Indiana Pacers.
However, the series is now best of three and two of those games are in Indiana. As I’ve held to since the beginning, I still think the Pacers will survive this series. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, but if they can just get through tonight’s game I think some of the intense scrutiny and pressure will lessen a bit and they will get back to just playing basketball. They got nice contributions from Evan Turner and Luis Scola off the bench to help lessen the effect of getting nothing from Hibbert. Look for Vogel to take a similar approach with Hibbert tonight, who just isn’t an effective matchup with Atlanta.
I like Indy tonight, but I’m not sure I’m ready to lay seven points with much confidence. Instead, I’ll take tonight to be a defensively-oriented game and to stay under the point total for the fourth straight time (albeit by close margins) in this series.
San Antonio Spurs -4 at Dallas Mavericks (Total: 203)
First it was Ray Allen. Then it was Vince Carter. Note to the Spurs: Do NOT let old 90’s icons open catch the ball against you in the final second of tense games.
Seriously though, how thrilling and awesome was Game Three?? I’ll take a Manu Ginobili and Vince Carter buzzer-beater duo in the final two seconds of the game anytime, and in either order; it’s just great, fun television. But can the Spurs get off the mat tonight and rebound from yet another devastating gut-wrenching loss?
I think they can. Perhaps I have too much faith in the Spurs (and Pacers), but I honestly think the top-seed in the playoffs matters. It’s provided about a 96% win rate historically, and in the Spurs case, they are playing a good #8 seed in Dallas, but not the same dangerously under-seeded team they would have faced had they drawn the Memphis Grizzlies. In fact, the Spurs had beaten the Mavs nine straight times before dropping consecutive playoff games to fall behind 2-1 in this series.
Despite a pair of losses, I am still standing with the Spurs. I think they go on the road, get the win, even up the series, and eventually advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Give me the veteran Spurs to come up big tonight in Big D.