Just like the L.A. Clippers and San Antonio Spurs should have never had to face off in the first round of the playoffs. the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls should not be meeting before the Eastern Conference Finals. But this is the format we have right now. Great weekend of basketball in Chicago as both Games 3 and 4 were won by each team's best player on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer: the Bulls' Derrick Rose in Game 3 and then the Cavs' LeBron James on Sunday. Apparently James also shrugged off whatever play Coach David Blatt called. I'm sure that happens all the time in the NBA, but why did James have to throw his coach under the bus? Blatt also tried to call a timeout in the final seconds that his team didn't have -- if the refs had seen that it's a technical foul and Chicago probably wins. If the Cavs lose this series, I don't see how he's back next season. Here are your Tuesday Game 5 previews.
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Bulls at Cavaliers (-5, 191)
If Chicago loses this series, it will have to kick itself for blowing Game 4 as the Bulls were in command entering the fourth quarter after holding the Cavs to just 12 third-quarter points. The Cavs also caught a huge break before James' game-winner as they were able to huddle while officials were reviewing the previous play. Blatt originally called for James to inbound the ball, but LeBron was having none of that and he hit a corner 3-pointer over Jimmy Butler, who otherwise has done a fine job defending James. He was only 10-for-30 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-points. James, who now has three playoff buzzer-beaters in his career, rolled his ankle in the third quarter but played through it, and there's obviously no question he will on Tuesday. Who clearly isn't healthy is Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who is battling both a sore right foot and left leg injury. Upon leaving the arena after Game 4, Irving limped extremely noticeably according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He's not going to sit out but Irving is a shell of himself right now. He was just 2-for-10 from the field in Game 4 and has no lift whatsoever. Derrick Rose is eating him alive.
The Bulls have no empathy for the beat-up Cavaliers as All-Star forward Pau Gasol missed Game 4 with a hamstring injury, and he's questionable at best for Tuesday. Taj Gibson started for him and had six points and eight rebounds. Gibson is a better defender than Gasol but nowhere close to the offensive threat. That also shortens the Bulls' bench appreciably. Chicago's four reserves had just 16 points Sunday. Rookie Nikola Mirotic, who was very good off the bench in Game 3, was only 1-for-9 from the field in Game 4. Rose led the Bulls with 31 points and Butler had 19. They were the only Chicago players in double figures.
Updated series lines: Cavaliers -225, Bulls +195.
Key trends: The Bulls are 5-2 against the spread in their past seven road games. They are 6-2 ATS in their past eight following an ATS win. The Cavs are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 after a win. The "over/under" has gone under six of Chicago's past eight after a loss. The under is 4-1 in Cleveland's past five after a win.
Early lean: Love the under with Gasol likely out again and Irving hobbled. I'm taking the points.
Clippers at Rockets (+2, 219)
The Clippers can become the first team to punch a ticket to the conference finals -- they have never been there -- and after what happened in the previous two games it's hard to see how they don't unless a new Rockets teams shows up. After blasting Houston 124-99 on Friday, the Clippers made it worse on Sunday in a 128-95 victory. The Rockets tried their hack-a-Jordan strategy on Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, and he went to the line a crazy 34 times, hitting 14 of them. It didn't exactly make for pretty basketball. Jordan finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds and was vastly better than counterpart Dwight Howard, who had only seven points and six rebounds and was in early foul trouble. He was ejected early in the fourth quarter after getting called for a second technical. Nothing that would mean a suspension.
L.A. was as high as +2800 to win the NBA title after falling behind 3-2 in the first round to San Antonio and now is +300, behind only Golden State (+150), and that could change if the Warriors lose Monday night in Memphis. The Clippers are first team since the 2001 Lakers to win consecutive playoff games in a series by at least 25 points. I'm sure the Clips would love to finish this off to get Chris Paul and his tender hamstring as much rest as possible. I thought the Rockets had a good shot in this series because they were deeper -- Clips had the better starting five -- but Josh Smith has disappeared. He had just one point in Game 4 and Coach Kevin McHale played him only three minutes in the second half. Smith is shooting 27.3 percent and he hasn't converted more than four field goals in any of the four games. Corey Brewer's not doing much off the bench, either.
Updated series lines: Clippers -2000, Rockets +1175.
Key trends: The Clippers are 4-0 ATS in their past four after scoring 100 points or more in the previous game. The Rockets are 12-3 ATS in their past 15 after a loss of more than 10 points. The over is 4-0 in the past four.
Early lean: The Rockets haven't lost three straight all season. They won't here. We get a Game 6 (then it ends). Go over.
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