The first round of the NBA playoffs is well underway and on Thursday, two teams get the chance to close out their series at home while their opponents will come out like animals with their backs against the wall.
Both the Brooklyn Nets and the Denver Nuggets need to steal one on the road to stay alive. Neither are favored on the betting lines to get the job done, though.
Brooklyn Nets @ Chicago Bulls
Odds: Bulls -1.5
The Bulls return to the United Center where they won Games 3 and 4 (including a 142-134 triple-overtime marathon in Game 4) to take a 3-2 series lead. Chicago looks to slow the tempo of the game down and it shows; two of their three wins have come in low-scoring affairs, with the exception of the triple-OT contest. This is a gritty team that has been surviving on defense all season and now they have a golden chance to stage what some would be calling an upset.
The Nets have been inconsistent on offense and terrible from long range, hitting under 30% of their three-point attempts. This is a game where Deron Williams needs to grab it by the scruff the neck and be the best player on the floor, although Chicago’s defense has been geared from keeping him out of the lane, or at least swarmed when he gets there.
Brooklyn isn’t quite there yet in terms of being an elite team in the Eastern Conference, and even though they’ll put up a fight, they won’t be able to force a Game 7 and head back home. Look for the Bulls to smother them in the early game, cover the NBA betting odds and book their ticket to the second round.
Pick: Bulls -1.5
Denver Nuggets @ Golden State Warriors
Many were picking this series to be the most exciting of the bunch ahead of the postseason, and it has lived up to expectations with four games featuring both scoring 100 points or more, and the other game was a 97-95 thriller to open the series. Golden State has a 3-2 lead and Stephen Curry has been magnificent, but the Warriors are a young team that haven’t had much experience in closing a series out, and Curry has been hampered by more ankle troubles; coach Mark Jackson has gone so far as to accuse the Nuggets of targeting him for more physical play.
The Nuggets showed a lot of heart to take this series back to Golden State and for all the talk of how good Curry has been, Ty Lawson has been just as good at the point for Denver, although he has also gotten some help from veteran Andre Miller. Lawson has played in plenty of big games and the raucous crowd at Golden State isn’t going to scare him off. Expect an excellent performance from the former North Carolina star on Thursday night.
Golden State has been a pleasing surprise this season, but they still have a little way to go and the pressure to end a series will be too much for them to deal with, giving the upper hand to the Nuggets going back to Denver for a Game 7.
Pick: Nuggets PICK