A one spot difference in the NBA Draft obviously can mean everything, and I don't necessarily even mean, say, in the Top 3 - although that's clearly true. For example, Bucks rising superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15 th pick of the 2013 draft. The guy taken before him was Shabazz Muhammad by Minnesota (via trade from Utah) and one spot after was Lucas Nogueira by Boston (traded too). I mention this because some draft tiebreakers were resolved this week in a mini-lottery process. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the New York Knicks, for example, had the same 31-51 record this year. So the mini-lottery determined that the Wolves would pick sixth and the Knicks seventh - if neither jumps into the Top 3. Yet more potential bad news for New York. The Timberwolves and Knicks each have a 5.3 percent chance of getting the first overall pick and 18.3 percent odds of selecting in the top three. Here's a look at Friday's three Game 3s in the NBA playoffs.
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Celtics at Bulls ( -2, 207)
A 7 p.m. ET tip on ESPN. Did I think that the eighth-seeded Bulls had a shot to beat the top-seeded Celtics in this series? I did, for two main reasons: 1) Boston by season point differential and net rating was the worst top seed in the NBA in decades; 2) the one thing the Bulls did very well was rebound the ball, which was a huge weakness of Boston's. Also, whenever your team has the best player in an NBA game or series, you have a chance. With all due respect to Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, Chicago's Jimmy Butler is a better player. That said, did I see the Bulls going to Boston and winning the first two games? No way. The Celtics join the 1993 Phoenix Suns as the only No. 1s to drop the first two games to a No. 8. Phoenix rallied to beat the Lakers, but that was back when first-round series were best-of-5. They went to best-of-7 in 2003.
I do think the death of Thomas' sister last Saturday has affected the Celtics as whole, although Thomas himself is playing well. The team just seems flat - even Rajon Rondo said it looked like Boston quit in Chicago's Game 2 111-87 win, and Avery Bradley agreed with him. The Celtics are getting outrebounded but also outhustled. Butler has been fantastic for the Bulls, Rondo nearly had a triple-double in Game 2 and looks five years younger, and Chicago keeps getting unlikely bench contributions from the likes of Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser. Now we see what kind of coach Brad Stevens is. His 2-10 playoff record is the worst winning percentage in NBA history in a minimum of 10 games. Thomas, incidentally, left the team Wednesday to fly to Tacoma to be with his family but is expected back for Game 3. Any projections I give here assume that's the case.
Key trends: The Celtics are 3-10-1 against the spread in their past 14 in Chicago. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of the Bulls' past 11 at home. The under is 5-2 in the past seven meetings in Chicago.
Early lean: Probably like the under more than the side, but go Celtics.They have to win.
Rockets at Thunder (-3, 224)
Starts at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. If I'm a big-time free-agent this summer, like say Oklahoma native Blake Griffin, there's simply no way I would sign with the Thunder. First of all, who wants to live in Oklahoma City? Not a bad town as I've been there but not exactly a bustling nightlife Secondly, who would want to play with Russell Westbrook? Guy's an amazing player but was arguably the biggest ball-hog in NBA history this year. It was more of the same on Wednesday night in Game 2 in Houston as Westbrook had 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds (highest-scoring triple-double in NBA playoff history) but his team lost again, 115-111. I watched that game. Down the stretch, Westbrook basically ignored his teammates and played hero ball, jacking up tough shot after tough shot and going 4-for-18 in the fourth. He was just 17-for-43 from the field overall and 2-for-11 from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 23-for-54 shooting and 5-for-19 from deep. I get that Westbrook doesn't have much help, but come on dude.
Westbrook did keep OKC in the game as it led for a majority; it was tied before Houston scored 10 straight points with 3-pointers from James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon to make it 114-104 with 1:22 remaining. Harden struggled with his shot in going 7-for-17 but finished with 35 points thanks to 18-for-20 from the free-throw line. Gordon and Lou Williams combined for 43 points off the bench. OKC's bench had 24 points. If there's one concern thus far for Houston it's that Ryan Anderson is now 2-for-14 and 0-for-11 from 3 in the series. He can't do anything but shoot from deep so he's worthless when not hitting. The Rockets would need him to beat the Spurs in the next round.
Key trends: The Rockets 5-0 ATS in their past five in OKC. The under is 6-1 in the Thunder's past seven at home.
Early lean: Rockets and under.
Clippers at Jazz (-1, 197)
ESPN2 game at 10 p.m. ET. Any projection I make here is assuming that Utah's most important player, center Rudy Gobert, is out again with his hyperextended knee. He was hurt in the first seconds of Game 1 but Utah won without him. I fully expected the Clippers to punish the paint without Gobert in Game 2 and they did, winning 99-91. L.A. outscored the Jazz 60-38 in the paint. LA's 27 baskets in the restricted area matched a season-high, with 15 of those makes coming uncontested. I will admit I thought that combined score would be much higher, and go over the total, because of no Gobert in the middle.
Blake Griffin had 24 points, Chris Paul 21 points and 10 assists and DeAndre Jordan 18 points and 15 rebounds. Yet the Clippers only won by eight? It was the smallest margin of victory over the Jazz out of the four wins this season."We've got to find other ways to protect the paint," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "Everybody else has to step up. … They were really aggressive attacking the rim." Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 20 points but was a team-worst minus-17 and is shooting only 36.3 percent in this series. Joe Johnson, the hero of Game 1, added 13 points off the bench. I'm a bit surprised the Jazz are favored here, even though they do have a great home-court advantage with very loud fans and playing at altitude.
Key trends: The road team is 9-4-1 ATS in the past 14 meetings. The under is 13-6 in Utah's past 19 after a loss.
Early lean : Clippers and under.
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