It’s “close-out” night on Tuesday in the NBA Playoffs as four first-round series could all come to their conclusions in nighttime action.
Of course, there’s also a chance none of the matchups will be decided on Tuesday, either, merely acting as preludes to Game 6's later in the week. Which of the matchups, then, look to have the best chance of arriving at a series resolution on Tuesday night? And which ones don’t?
According to the oddsmakers, by far the best chance of a series reaching the finish line on Tuesday involves Orlando and Indiana, who will be tussling at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Tip-off time for Magic-Pacers is at 7:05 p.m. (ET), with coverage provided by NBA.TV.
An early check of the Don Best odds screen notes that Indiana is a prohibitive 10½-point favorite at the majority of Las Vegas wagering outlets, with the total mostly sitting at 179.
The Pacers, of course, have bounced back strongly from their fourth-quarter meltdown in Game 1 back on Saturday, April 29, winning the next three games to push Orlando to the brink of elimination on Tuesday night.
The Magic figured to be in trouble even before this series began as they would be without star C Dwight Howard, sidelined after April back surgery. Although outgunned, Orlando has twice forged stirring late rallies, in Games 1 and 4. The former allowed the Magic to steal an 81-77 decision in the opener, the latter erasing a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit and forcing overtime on Saturday at the Amway Center before Indiana survived, 101-99.
Other than those brief flurries, however, the Magic has mostly struggled in this series, dominated around the basket in Howard’s absence. The Magic has not shot better than 42 percent from the floor in any of the games and has scored just 80 ppg in regulation time in the series.
Indeed, the enduring trend is this series has been its low-scoring nature, with the first three games well ‘under’ which would have also been the result of Saturday’s Game 4 had the overtime period not been required (the total was on 178 after regulation).
The Pacers, looking to advance from the first round for the first time since 2005, could make things a bit easier on themselves if G Paul George could relocate his long-range shooting eye (0-for-13 from tripleville in the series). But it would be a shock if Indiana, which won comfortably in Games 2 and 3 and seemed on the verge of doing so again in Game 4, didn’t advance comfortably on Tuesday.
Celtics Have Hawks On The Ropes
Meanwhile, Boston will also be looking to close out its series vs. Atlanta after the Celtics won both games at TD Garden to assume a commanding 3-1 edge over the Hawks. Tip-off time Tuesday night at Philips Arena will be 8:00 p.m. (ET), with TV coverage provided by TNT.
The Don Best NBA odds screen notes Atlanta a slight 1-point favorite at the majority of Las Vegas wagering establishments, with the total mostly at 174 around the town.
This series took on a different tone in Game 4 Sunday as Boston rolled by a 101-79 count, extending its lead to 37 points on one occasion. This was a sharp departure from the first three games of the series, which were competitive affairs and even required an overtime before matters were settled in last Friday’s game in Beantown.
The recurring theme in this series, however, has been the Boston defense, which has limited the Hawks to 83 points or fewer in regulation time of all four games. That helped contribute to a pair of easy 'unders' in the first two meetings last week in Georgia, although that trend didn’t endure into the weekend games in Boston, thanks partly to an overtime in Game 3 (when the Celtics and Hawks only reached 160 points in regulation).
The reintroduction of C Al Horford into the Atlanta rotation did not help the Hawks in Sunday’s Game 4. Horford, out since early January with a pectoral muscle tear, was a surprise to see on the floor and contributed 12 points off the bench in 20 minutes of action, but did not impact proceedings in the sort of positive manner that head coach Larry Drew might have envisioned.
Drew might be wise to recall Jameer Nelson’s reintroduction (after a long absence) into the Orlando lineup during the Finals vs. the Lakers three years ago. Team chemistry, a fragile element, is often negatively impacted when forced into such lineup transitions in the postseason.
Frontliner Josh Smith, who missed Game 3 with a knee injury suffered in last Tuesday’s Game 2, also returned to action on Sunday, but his 15 points and 13 rebounds could not impact the outcome.
Boston, which has won three straight in this series since losing Game One by an 83-74 count, will be hoping that key F Paul Pierce is available on Tuesday after tweaking his knee in Sunday’s game. All indicators are that Pierce and G Ray Allen, who also returned to action at TD Garden after missing several weeks with an ankle injury, will be available for Game 5.
The Celtics will be motivated to close things out and give some of their veteran stars some much-needed rest before the next round and a matchup vs. the winner of the Chicago-Philadelphia series, which also continues on Tuesday night.
Philly Aims For Upset Of Top-Seeded Chicago
Bulls-Sixers is a “closeout” game as well, though it’s the eighth-seeded Philly side with a chance to lock down this matchup after taking the last three games in this series.
Tip-off time at United Center will be at 9:30 p.m. (ET), with coverage provided by NBA.TV. An early look at the Don Best odds screen notes that host Chicago is a 5-point favorite throughout Las Vegas, with the total at 171½.
Of course, the nature of this series changed completely when Chicago star G Derrick Rose went out with an ACL tear near the end of Game 1, a battle in which the Bulls won and covered handily by a 103-91 count. But Chicago has neither won nor covered the spread in the three games since, confirming that it is hardly the same team without the mercurial Rose running the show.
The Bulls have other injury concerns, with frontliner Joakim Noah iffy for Game 5 after missing Sunday’s game with a twisted ankle.
Chicago was used to playing without Rose, who missed long stretches of the regular season with ankle and groin injuries, but the offense has labored badly in his absence. Without a key shot-creating element, the Bulls often look robotic on the attack end.
Chicago needs some secondary scoring options to step up, and quickly. It would help if Rip Hamilton, who also missed large swaths of the regular season due to injury, could also relocate his shooting touch. But after hitting 6-of-7 from the floor in Game 1 (when Rose was on the court), Hamilton has lost his range, making only 11-of-34 shots over the next three games, all Bulls losses.
It would also help the Bulls if swingman Luol Deng would contribute more to the offense, but his game has soured as well, contributing just 12.3 ppg in the last three losses.
Chicago head coach Tom Thiobodeau made a conscientious effort to slow the pace after his defense was shredded by Sixers sharpshooters in Game 2, resulting in a pair of lower-scoring ‘unders’ in games 3 and 4 at Philly. After losing both of those games at Wells Fargo Center, however, we wonder if Thibodeau will again opt for a more-deliberate tempo in Game 5.
If Noah is absent again Tuesday, it could open more opportunities for Sixers C Spencer Hawes, who scored 22 ppg in the two games at Philly. Hawes’ ability to pass when stationed at the high post is another plus for the Sixer offense. Meanwhile, Rose’s absence has allowed Sixers counterpart Jrue Holiday to have a greater impact upon proceedings.
Kobe, Lakers Return To Staples Center For Game 5
Finally, in the only West first-round matchup on Tuesday night, it’s also “closeout” time for the Los Angeles Lakers, who can finish off the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 at Staples Center. Tip-off time is at 10:30 p.m. (ET), with TV coverage provided by TNT.
The Don Best NBA odds screen notes the Lake Show as a 6-point favorite at almost every Las Vegas wagering outlet, with 199½ for the consensus total.
Give Denver credit for making this series more interesting than it looked like it was going to be after the Lakers cruised to an easy Game 1 win. Denver pushed LA in Game 2, with the Nuggets getting the cover in a 104-100 loss, before winning Game 3 by a comfy 99-84 margin on Friday at Pepsi Center.
The Lakers, however, resumed command of the series with a stirring 92-88 win on Sunday in the Mile High City. Late three-point baskets from secondary Laker weapons Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake allowed LA to escape from Denver with a split and a chance to wrap up the series on Tuesday night at home.
Give Nugget head coach George Karl credit for scheming effectively since Game 1, when his Denver bigs were overmatched by Laker frontliners Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Nuggets have been able to somewhat minimize the damage by the LA frontcourt since but have left themselves exposed to other Laker weapons, with Kobe Bryant erupting for 38 points in Game 2 and the likes of Sessions and Blake making the big buckets in Game 4 when Karl concentrated upon locking down Kobe, Bynum and Gasol in the late going.
The matchups are simply too problematic in this series for Denver, whose bigs JaVale McGee, Kostos Koufos and Timofey Mozgov are overmatched against Bynum and Gasol. Though Karl has been able to adjust somewhat effectively, he has not been able to account for the other Laker weapons stepping to the fore.
Denver, which would prefer to push the pace, slowed the tempo with some success in Games 3 and 4, resulting in a pair of ‘under’ results. Which Karl might try again in Game 5, which suggests Denver will probably not roll over without a fight, considering how competitive the Nuggets have been the past three games. But it might not be enough to get over the hump and force a Game 6 later this week at Pepsi Center.