The Minnesota Timberwolves hired former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as their coach and team president on Wednesday, and now I fully believe this team can get into the playoffs in 2016-17 as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed with all that young talent and another lottery pick on the way. When Thibodeau took over the Bulls for his first NBA head coaching job, he led an immediate 21-win leap in the standings. Minnesota has plenty of offensive talent but played terrible defense this season. That will be the biggest change. The next coaching domino to fall likely will be in Washington, with the Wizards closing on a deal with ex-Thunder coach Scott Brooks. The importance of that being Brooks is still tight with free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant. Sorry Wizards fans, that's not happening.
Game 3: No. 1 Cavaliers at No. 8 Pistons (+4.5, 200.5)
Detroit played a bit over its head, especially from long range, in keeping Game 1 close. And it was competitive for a while in Wednesday's Game 2 before the Cavs pulled away and covered (as I projected) in a 107-90 victory. Cleveland pulled away by winning the third quarter by a score of 27-15 and hit a franchise playoff record 20 3-pointers in the game (on 38 attempts). LeBron James had 27 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. The Cavs were plus-10 with him on the court but actually were outscored by one point when Kryie Irving (22 points, four assists) was on the court and when Kevin Love (16 points, 10 rebounds) was.
Detroit had all five starters score in double figures but hit just 4-for-17 from 3-point range this time. Rookie Stanley Johnson led the Pistons with nine points off the bench and after the game stuck his foot in his mouth. Apparently Johnson believes he's playing some good defense on LeBron as Johnson said: "I'm definitely in his head, that's for sure." Ah, rookies! James has scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting against Johnson as his primary defender in the series. James was 6-for-6 against Johnson for 13 points in Game 2. So other than that...
Series line (BetOnline): None
Key trends: The Cavs are 1-5 against the spread in their past six following a win of at least 10 points. The Pistons are 11-5 ATS in their past 16 home games vs. teams with a winning road record. The over is 5-2 in the past seven meetings.
Early lean: Pistons and over.
Game 3: No. 4 Hawks at No. 5 Celtics (-3, 200.5)
Think the Celtics missed Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk in Game 2 of their series with the Hawks on Tuesday? Atlanta won 89-72 thanks to holding Boston to just seven first-quarter points, a franchise playoff low for the C's, who have played a few postseason games in their history. It was also the lowest-scoring first quarter in a playoff game in the shot-clock era. The previous record for fewest points in an opening quarter was eight. It also tied the fewest points allowed in any quarter in Hawks playoff history. Boston was just 3-for-23 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3-point range in that quarter. It was 24-7 after one and that was it. The Hawks blocked a franchise playoff-record 15 shots in Game 2, including 10 in the first quarter.
Bradley and Olynyk are two of the team's top 3-point shooters. Boston was just 5-for-28 overall from there in Game 2. Marcus Smart started in Bradley's place and was awful, going 1-for-11 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range for three points. The Celtics were minus-20 when Smart was on the court. Bradley's out for this series, but Olynyk might return for Game 3. Smart suffered some bruised ribs in Game 2 but should play.
Series line: Hawks -725, Celtics +560
Key trends: The Hawks are 0-4 ATS in their past four road games. Boston is 15-7 ATS in its past 22 at home. The under is 9-4 in the Celtics' past 13 at home.
Early lean: Boston is a very good home team and the Hawks aren't that trustworthy on the road Celtics and under.
Game 3: No. 2 Spurs at No. 7 Grizzlies (+11.5, 181.5)
This series simply needs to go away. I love NBA playoff basketball but I'm not watching this series. It's like watching Kentucky play my high school JV team. Reggie Miller said a group of TNT analysts (him, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber to name five) could beat the Grizzlies right now. I tend to agree. Memphis managed all of 74 points in a Game 1 32-point loss and then scored just 68 in a 26-point Game 2 loss. The Spurs closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run for a 22-11 lead and it was over. It was the fewest points for the Grizzlies in team playoff history. The Grizzlies' Matt Barnes said that his team is "coming to a gunfight with spoons." That's pretty good. Pretty accurate.
That No. 1 San Antonio defense held Memphis to 32.6 percent shooting. It tied for the third-lowest field-goal percentage ever allowed by a Spurs team during the Gregg Popovich era of playoff games. It was the lowest by a Spurs postseason opponent since April 2000. San Antonio wasn't perfect in Game 2. The Spurs turned it over 19 times, their most in about six weeks. You have to give some credit to the Grizzlies in that they are still playing hard, especially on defense. But other than Zach Randolph, and he's done little in this series, it's a bunch of scrubs.
Series line: None
Key trends: The Spurs are 2-5 ATS in their past seven road games. The Grizzlies are 1-6 ATS in their past seven following a loss of at least 10. The under is 6-2 in the past eight meetings.
Early lean: Spurs and under.
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