This doesn't exactly rank up there with gutsy predictions like Babe Ruth calling his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs or the Jets' Joe Namath guaranteeing victory for his Jets over the heavily-favored Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl III. But I'm going to guarantee this: there will be a lead change in Game 3 of the Cavaliers-Bulls series on Friday night. Rather amazingly, there hasn't been one yet, and thus it has been a rather drab first two games with big early leads in each. Both Game 3s on Friday night will be on ESPN.
Cavaliers at Bulls (-1.5, 196)
I'll eat some crow on Game 2 of this series, a 106-91 Cavs win. I thought that Cleveland would win to even things up, but I took the six points on Chicago. However, the Bulls looked almost disinterested from the start, and LeBron James was much more aggressive than he was in the opener. James, who had his headband back on, took a whopping 29 shots and made 13 of them for 33 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers. He was a team-best plus-31. And David Blatt outcoached Tom Thibodeau in Game 2. Blatt started Tristan Thompson over Mike Miller, as I projected. Thompson had only five points but played very good defense, had 12 rebounds and was plus-20. His activity against the pick-and-roll made a huge difference after Pau Gasol killed the Cavs on open shots off the pick-and-roll in Game 1. Miller played just 13 minutes off the bench and didn't score. I doubt he plays at all in Game 3 as the Cavs welcome back J.R. Smith off suspension. Will he start or come off the bench? Iman Shumpert has played very well starting in his place the first two games. Shumpert had to leave Wednesday with a slight groin injury, but it's not thought to be serious.
The Bulls trailed 13-2 at the start, and that was it. Gasol was pretty much shut down, attempting only eight shots and hitting three of them. He had 11 points and four rebounds and was minus-19. Jimmy Butler outplayed LeBron in Game 1 but was dominated in Game 2 as Butler was only 5-for-14 from the field and was a team-worst minus-26. Derrick Rose continued his struggles playing on just one day of rest, hitting 6-for-20 from the field. He didn't attempt a single free throw again, meaning he is settling mostly for jumpers. "Our energy wasn't the way it was in Game 1," Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said. No kidding. I think it's simply human nature to have a letdown after stealing Game 1 on the road. The question now is whether Thibodeau will make the correct alterations in Game 3 like Blatt did in Game 2.
Updated series line: Cavaliers -160, Bulls +140.
Key trends: The Cavs are 0-5 against the spread in their past five Friday games. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four following a win of at least 10 points. The Bulls are 5-1 ATS in their last six after allowing 100 points or more in their previous game. The "over/under" has gone under in six of Chicago's past seven after a loss. The under is 4-0 in Cleveland's past four after a win.
Early lean: The Cavs team that showed up Wednesday would beat anyone. I'm sure the Bulls will play with much more energy at home, but I'll take Cleveland. Go under.
Rockets at Clippers (-4, 217)
There was no delay on posting this Game 3 line, so obviously the oddsmakers fully expect Clippers star point guard Chris Paul to play in this one. I said in previewing Wednesday's game that the Clips already had accomplished their goal of a split in Houston and there's no way I'd play Paul in Game 2 if he wasn't 100 percent. Clearly he wasn't. Houston won 115-109 by outscoring L.A. by eight in the fourth quarter. James Harden scored 16 of his 32 points in that quarter. Dwight Howard finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds -- yet despite big games from their two stars, the Rockets were in jeopardy of losing to the short-handed Clippers yet again. And here's another guarantee I will make: Houston will not shoot 64 free throws in Game 3 as it did in Game 2, making 42 of them. A total of 64 attempts is a joke; the referees decided Game 2, not the players. I understand the home team generally gets the benefit of the calls, but the refs almost got caught up in that. OK, true, the Clippers did do some hack-a-Howard, but 64 attempts?
Blake Griffin had 34 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Clippers, but the Rockets focused their defense entirely on him in the second half when he had only eight. The Clippers only had three more points in the entire second half (44) than they had in the second quarter. They shot only 32 free throws overall by comparison. L.A. hit just 6-for-25 from 3-point range. Jamal Crawford, its only bench threat, was 1-for-8 from long range and 6-for-22 overall. Matt Barnes fouled out, two Clippers finished with five fouls, and four finished with four fouls.
Updated series line: Clippers -145, Rockets +125.
Key trends: The Rockets are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 after scoring 100 points or more in their previous game. L.A. is 1-8 ATS in its past nine at home. The over is 4-1 in the Rockets' past five on the road. The over is 4-1 in the Clippers' last five after scoring 100 points or more in their previous game.
Early lean: If Paul plays, and I assume he will, take the Clippers (who better be getting some makeup calls). Go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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