Three teams are threatened with elimination on their home courts on Thursday night.
The Raptors, Pelicans and Jazz all trail, 3-2, in their respective first-round series. And each has already lost a game at home, so it’s not out of the question that the 76ers, Suns or Mavericks beat them on the road.
Conversely, every lower-seeded team has already stolen a game on the road in their series, so the top seeds are certainly looking to avoid a Game 7 winner at home.
Regular season record: 117-113-2
Play-in/playoff record: 30-27
Weather: 7 p.m. ET | NBA Television
Spread: 76ers -1.5 (-110) | Raptors +1.5 (-110)
Money line: 76ers (-125) | Raptors (+105)
Total: Less than 210.5 (-110) | More than 210.5 (-110)
The 76ers implode. After taking a 3-0 lead, Philadelphia lost Game 4 to Toronto and didn’t walk away in Game 5 at home, so now the Sixers return to Toronto for Game 6. Scottie Barnes is back , Joel Embiid is injured and while the Raptors will be without All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet, the 76ers aren’t getting much out of their All-Star guard, James Harden.
The odds still favor Philly. The 76ers have -699 to win the series and -125 to close it on Thursday. Still, doubt creeps in for a team whose coach and stars are used to letting the playoffs slip away from them.
Part of the reason Toronto even has a shred of hope is Pascal Siakam. In three losses, Siakam averaged 18.6 PPG on 41% shooting. He scored 28.5 PPG on 55% shooting streak wins and his rebound and assist numbers are up as well. Siakam is flanked by OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., who are the Raptors’ only outside shooting threats with VanVleet sidelined. Barnes looked more like himself in Game 5 – he filled the stat sheet in 41 minutes. And Precious Achiuwa, Nick Nurse’s attempt to make up for Toronto’s lack of size against Embiid, was exceptional for long playoff minutes.
When Embiid and Harden were playing at or near their usual levels in the first three games, the extra help from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey was gravy. With star play on the decline – Embiid due to his thumb injury and Harden for unknown reasons – the cast’s help is more essential than ever, and it has dried up in the last two losses. Maxey’s searing shootout nosedived, as did Harris’. Beyond these two, the scoring options that Doc Rivers can call on are limited.
Scotiabank Arena will be deafening as the Raptors head to what would be the first-ever 3-0 comeback win in playoff history. I don’t think they go that far. For some reason, I still believe in Philadelphia. I think Harden needs to show us a glimpse of who he was in Houston — three sidesteps, 10+ free throws, inevitable floaters — that player, the one who won MVP in 2018. The second-place opponent round for the winner of this series is set; the heat awaits. And for all the tweaks Toronto’s defense and length have given the 76ers, Miami’s defense is even scarier. The 76ers shouldn’t have allowed this series to return to Canada and they will make sure to end it there.
BET: 76ers -1.5, James Harden Over 20.5 Points (+100), Pascal Siakam Over 24.5 Points (-104)
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Weather: 7:30 p.m. ET | DTT
Spread: Suns -2.5 (-110) | Pelicans +2.5 (-110)
Money line: Suns (-138) | Pelicans (+115)
Total: Under 213.5 (-118) | Over 213.5 (+100)
I picked the Suns in five before this series started. I couldn’t expect Devin Booker’s injury, of course, but also the way a 36-win team would play the No. 1 seed in the NBA. Of course, New Orleans showed that they weren’t your usual sub-.500 team – they were traded for CJ McCollum mid-season, they haven’t had Zion Williamson all year ( and still doesn’t) and she’s made up ground since November after a 3-16 start. Now the Pelicans are in a position to force a Game 7, where anything can happen.
Two things kept New Orleans from taking a 3-2 lead in the final game: Mikal Bridges exploded for a playoff career-high 31 points and had four blocks to start, and the outside shots of the team have dried up. If a few more threes fall and Bridges doesn’t have a career game, maybe the Pelicans will win. Neither team has shot the ball well from the outside — the Pelicans are 14th in the playoffs with 9.6 threes per game and the Suns are 15th with 8.8. McCollum and Ingram combined to shoot 2 for 13 from beyond the arc.
Phoenix also showed off its defensive prowess for the first time since Game 1. It held New Orleans under 100 points after allowing 125 and 118 in both losses and the Suns were the irritant in that game, forcing 15 turnovers, pulling out 10 interceptions and blocking four shots (all by Bridges). Chris Paul bounced back from his four-point performance to collect 22 points and 11 assists and Cam Payne showed up for the first time in the entire series – he had 12 points in 12 minutes and provided a spark off the bench .
The Pelicans are banking on big games from Ingram and McCollum, and so am I. In the two wins in this series, Ingram is averaging 33.5 points and he’s also better than 30 PPG at home. McCollum shoots 8/19 from deep in those wins, and Jonas Valanciunas had his best game in the dominating Game 4 victory: 26 points and 15 rebounds. Willie Green needs this from his Big 3 and for Herb Jones, Larry Nance and Jose Alvarado to play at their highest level. Crowds were a factor at Smoothie King Arena in the two home games in which the Pelicans edged the Suns by one point, and that should be the case again on Thursday night. I expect a win in New Orleans, but two points is good insurance.
BET: Pelicans +2.5, Jonas Valanciunas Over 12.5 rebounds (-124), Brandon Ingram Over 25.5 points (-108), Chris Paul Over 20.5 points (-112)
Weather: 10 p.m. ET | DTT
Spread: Mavericks +1.5 (-118) | Jazz -1.5 (+100)
Money line: Mavericks (-110) | Jazz (-110)
Total: Less than 210.5 (-110) | More than 210.5 (-110)
The first four games of the series were competitive until Utah turned around in Game 5. Dallas won, 102-77, to regain the lead. Rudy Gobert was the only Jazz starter to score in double digits, the team shot 3-for-30 of three, and Donovan Mitchell left early with what turned out to be a quad injury. He would be ready to play game 6 and his team will surely need his score after this poor performance.
Utah was the No. 1 offense in the regular season. It’s at No. 12 in the playoffs. Dallas had the No. 7 defense in the regular season and improved it to No. 5 in five postseason games. The Mavericks’ defense improved slightly in the playoffs, and its offense went from No. 14 to No. 4.
A big part of that is high-volume three-point shooting. Dallas hoists an NBA record 41.6 threes per game and connects at 15.2, tied with the Warriors for No. 1 in the playoffs. Three players average three threes or more per game (Luka Doncic, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber). Comparatively, the Jazz are dead last in the playoffs in three points (8.8) and percentage (27.8).
After Utah struggled to defend Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie for three games, Doncic returned to the lineup and completely looked himself over, averaging a 30-point double-double in 33.5 minutes per game in two games. Doncic, an even more gifted passer and ball handler than Brunson, who cut the Jazz for 41 points in Game 2, makes it look easy.
I like the Mavericks to close out the series on the road. This Game 5 showing was a wave of the white flag, with or without Mitchell’s injury. The second round is so close for Doncic and Dallas. Utah doesn’t have perimeter defenders or secondary scorers (Jordan Clarkson aside) to keep up. The Mavericks won’t let that happen to a Game 7.
BET: Mavericks +1.5, Luka Doncic Over 8.5 rebounds (-132), Rudy Gobert Over 14.5 points (-106)
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