How important is an NBA coach really? I'm talking about in-game decisions, not installing systems at practice or dealing with egos. Do you really think that Phil Jackson, he of the 11 titles, was calling plays from the bench? No, Phil was more Zen Master than NBA coach. And he lucked into coaching Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. I mention this because the Warriors could be without Coach Steve Kerr the rest of these playoffs as he deals with some debilitating neck pain and headaches from his back surgeries (and resulting cerebrospinal fluid leak) before the 2015-16 season. Kerr missed the first 43 games that year and the Warriors were 39-4 without him. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors' sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so. Kerr is due to see specialists at Stanford to determine if he can return. Are the favored Warriors less likely to win a title without Kerr and with former Lakers and Cavs head coach Mike Brown on the bench? I don't think so. Here's a look at the three Game 6s on Friday .
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Game 6: Wizards at Hawks ( -3, 210 )
NBA TV shows this one starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Washington can advance with a victory, but is there any reason not to back the Hawks here since the home team has won every game? Atlanta won its two by double digits, while Washington's three at home were decided by single digits, including Wednesday's 103-99 victory where the Wizards tried to give it away - and then the Hawks did with some silly decisions in the final half-minute. Bradley Beal had 27 points and John Wall 20 points and 14 assists. Those two combined for 42 shots; the rest of the team had 40. Otto Porter, the supposed third member of the Big 3, got only four attempts - although he did go 9-for-10 from the line. Once again, the Wizards' bench was a detriment other than Bojan Bogdanovic.
Atlanta's Dennis Schroder was as good as Wall with 29 points and 11 assists. He was the first Hawks player with at least 25 points and 10 assists in a postseason game since Pete Maravich on April 4, 1973 vs. Boston. Paul Millsap had 21 points and 11 rebounds. But the Hawks seem to go as Dwight Howard goes in this series, and passive Dwight showed up in Game 5 with three shots attempts and five points in 28 minutes. Atlanta also got little bench support - top reserves Kent Bazemore and Ersan Ilysova were a combined 4-for-18 -- and the team missed seven of 21 free throws.
Key trends: The Wizards are 2-6 against the spread in their past eight road games. The Hawks are 5-0 ATS in their past five at home. The "over/under" is 4-1-1 in the past six meetings in Atlanta.
Early lean: Hawks and over.
Game 6: Celtics at Bulls (Pick'em, 204)
Tip at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN with Boston looking to clinch. Will the Bulls get Rajon Rondo back from his fractured thumb here? I believe they will, even at less than 100 percent. The Bulls of course won the first two games of the series in Boston with Rondo in the lineup and playing some of his best basketball in years. There was some talk that Rondo would return early from his fractured thumb for Wednesday's Game 5 back in Boston and he was practicing Tuesday, but Rondo said he was only about 65 percent. I'm pretty confident he plays here but think that line is oddsmakers overvaluing Rondo a bit. The Celtics should be favored as they have figured the Bulls out and the team is over the death of Isaiah Thomas' sister.
The Bulls did lead Wednesday night entering the fourth quarter following a Jimmy Butler buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the third, but Boston outscored Chicago 29-16 in the fourth to win 108-97. Thomas was only 6-for-17 from the field but made 11 free throws to finish with 24 points. The Celtics were 23-for-23 from the line. Avery Bradley was 11-for-19 for 24 points, and Al Horford played his best game of the series with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Dwyane Wade had his game of the series with 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for the Bulls, but Butler was held to 14. Some Chicago media are speculating Butler is dealing with a knee injury. Isaiah Canaan got his first start of the series at point guard and was OK with 13 points. The Chicago bench did nothing.
Key trends: The Bulls are 8-20 ATS in their past 28 Friday games. The under is 10-1 in the Bulls' past 11 at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The under is 5-0 in the past five meetings in Chicago.
Early lean: Celtics and under.
Game 6: Clippers at Jazz (-5.5, 192.5)
A 10:30 p.m. ET tip on ESPN with Utah able to clinch a date with the Warriors. This could be the end of the Clippers as we know them with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all set to hit free agency. I rather doubt Redick is back regardless. Paul will be. I'm hearing more and more scuttlebutt that the Clippers are ready to move on from the injury-prone Griffin and use him in a sign-and-trade. Why would Griffin do that when he's a free agent? The Clips could pay him more. Of course he's out for the playoffs with a toe injury. It's going to take a monster game from Paul here for the Clippers to force a Game 7 because point guard is the only clear advantage that L.A. has in this series. In Tuesday's 96-92 home loss, Paul had 28 points and nine assists, while Redick had 26 points -- but once again no one else did much. Starters Luc Mbah a Moute and Marresse Speights combined for eight points, two assists and eight rebounds in a combined 50 minutes. The bench was terrible as Jamal Crawford was just 2-for-8 for four points.
Meanwhile, Utah had six players score in double figures, led by Gordon Hayward's 27 as he was fully recovered from food poisoning. Rudy Gobert, in his second game back from injury, had 11 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Joe Johnson added 14 points, including a clutch jumper in the lane with 19 seconds left, and eight rebounds off the bench. "Iso Joe" has found the Fountain of Youth. When a series is tied 2-2 in NBA history, a road winner of Game 5 has won the series 63.8 percent of the time. The Jazz are looking for their first trip to the conference semifinals in seven years. Any game in the 90s (or lower) favors Utah.
Key trends: The Clippers are 6-16-1 ATS in their past 23 at Utah. The under is 4-1 in the Jazz's past five after a win.
Early lean: The Clippers rallied from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Spurs in the firstround of the playoffs in 2015, but I don't see it here. Jazz and under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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