Rather interesting that the New Orleans Pelicans decided to fire Coach Monty Williams now instead of right after being swept out of the first round by Golden State. Also interesting that the team apparently didn't consult superstar Anthony Davis before making the move, and Davis apparently was a big fan of Williams'. That's going to be a coveted job simply because of Davis, whom if you go by player efficiency rating was the best player in the league this year and should only get better. Sorry, John Calipari isn't leaving Kentucky for New Orleans. But there's a certain Chicago coach who probably will be target No. 1. Here are your Game 6s on Thursday and me hoping both are extended to a weekend Game 7.
Cavaliers at Bulls (-1.5, 192.5)
Cleveland actually opened as a 1.5-point home favorite, and I'm a bit surprised this line has moved that much because the Bulls could be without two key big men in Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. Gasol has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and he said it was only about 40 percent on Tuesday. The team misses him in the biggest way because the Bulls go through these long offensive droughts at least once a game, and Gasol can certainly help there, both with his shooting and good rebounding skills. I actually think he tries to play Thursday, but at about 50 percent I'm not sure how much Gasol will bring to the table. The Bulls really, really will need him if Gibson is suspended. He was ejected in the fourth quarter of Game 5 for "kicking" Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova after Gibson fell on Dellavedova under the basket. In my opinion, Gibson totally doesn't deserve to be suspended. Dellavedova did a punk move by leg locking Gibson's foot, and Gibson was just trying to kick it free, not kick Dellavedova. Even TNT analyst Chris Webber pointed that out on the air. If the Bulls don't have Gasol and Gibson, they have no shot. Plus, Derrick Rose has a minor wrist injury.
I suppose if there's one positive that Chicago could take from the 106-101 loss on Tuesday was that the Bulls seemed to be energized by the Gibson ejection and nearly came all the way back from a 15-point deficit. The key play was when Rose was driving for a potential tying layup on a semi-breakaway in the final minute or so and LeBron James came out of nowhere to swat it. Jimmy Butler missed a 3-pointer off the inbounds play, and that pretty much was that as the Cavs hit their free throws. LeBron played his best game of the year with 38 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals, three blocks and nary a turnover. The Cavs aren't losing when he does stuff like that. Kyrie Irving is playing on one leg yet still had 25 points and five assists. He was much better than Rose, who missed his final 11 shots after a quick start. Rose must dominate that matchup.
This could be the final game, and I believe it will be, for Coach Tom Thibodeau in Chicago if the Bulls lose. Management is either going to trade him, fire him or agree to let him walk away. Thibs would jump at the Pelicans job to coach Davis, which he did for Team USA last summer as an assistant.
Key trends: The Cavs are 3-8 against the spread in their past 11 following a win. The Bulls have covered five straight Thursday games. They are 4-1 ATS in their past five after a loss. The "over/under" has gone under in four straight Bulls games after scoring 100 points or more in their previous game. The under is 4-1 in the Cavs' past five on the road.
Early lean: This series deserves a Game 7, but all the intangibles seem against the Bulls. I do think Gibson will be cleared and Gasol will try to go, but take Cleveland and the under.
Rockets at Clippers (-8, 219.5)
I projected Houston to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season on Tuesday night, and indeed the Rockets did with a 124-103 victory over L.A., the third straight blowout of this series and fourth overall. How is that the same Houston team that scored 99 and 95 points in huge losses in Los Angeles in Games 3-4? It can't simply be a return home. James Harden played through the flu and had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He handled the ball much more than the previous two games. But the real difference was Dwight Howard, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds. Coach Kevin McHale also moved Josh Smith into the starting lineup and Terence Jones to the bench. I'm not sure how much that mattered as Smith had nine points, seven rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes and Jones 12 points and five rebounds in 24. I presume McHale sticks with what worked, however.
Blake Griffin had 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 22 points and 10 assists for the Clippers, but DeAndre Jordan was limited to 24 minutes partly due to foul trouble (he was 7-for-16 from the line). Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised that L.A. blew its first chance to advance to its first conference finals. Since Paul joined the team in 2011, the Clippers have never won a series in fewer than seven games (Spurs 2015, Warriors 2014, Grizzlies 2012). "They were more focused," Coach Doc Rivers said of the Rockets. "They played like they were the desperate team."
Key trends: The Rockets are 1-5 ATS in their past six road games. The Clippers are 4-1 ATS in their past five after a loss. The over is 5-0 in all five games this series.
Early lean: I'd certainly take the Clippers are -360 on the moneyline as this series will end. But 8 points? Nah, I'll take those. Go over.
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