Expect the Chicago Bulls to extend the Eastern Conference Semifinals to game seven, as they seek revenge on Lebron James who typically bounces after big scoring nights in follow-up contests away from home.
Look for the Chicago Bulls (listed on the NBA odds as favorites) to stop Lebron James and company in a revenge situation where the King scored 30 points or more to carry his team to victory in their last matchup. Although James is unique in the fact that he is a cross between the dominant offensive big man of a bygone era and also possesses the shooting prowess of the modern NBA superstar, the idea of taking the weight of the city on his shoulders to carry his team through a playoff run in lieu of Kevin Love's injury in today's league is more difficult to overcome than in the past. A host of defensive rule changes throughout the last decade and a half have allowed offenses to open up, share the ball more, and permit greater point distribution throughout the team. In response to these changes, some of the best defensive squads in the last few years, like the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, have stacked the paint to play a rim-protection game, forcing offenses to shoot from less efficient spots on the floor. Isolation plays, where the King's athletic talents can overcome any one-on-one contest are becoming more and more difficult to draw up and execute. Moreover, James is at his best the closer he is to the basket. Lebron is undoubtedly forced to carry an extra burden to see his team through the playoffs, like in his first talent-deprived stint in Cleveland. In a run to the Finals, look for defenses to zero in and make adjustments to stop James and his team after a huge scoring night.
Our angle is as follows: in his career, when James enters a contest as a road underdog after scoring more than 30 points in a previous home game victory against today's opponents, and the prior predicted total closed below the league average of 200, his team is 5-34 straight up with an average line of 5.4 points (8-41 when you factor in home game losses). Against the spread (ATS), his team is 13-26 (33%) in these contests. Nearly a third of the games have taken place in the playoffs where the King is 3-10 straight up and 4-9 ATS. If you throw away the matchups where James' squad were dogs by seven points or more, the average margin of victory in the NBA over the last 20 years, than the ATS record drops to 8-26 (24%) overall and 3-8 in the playoffs. We find this scenario tonight in Chicago.
Since Love went down with a shoulder injury before the start of the Eastern Conferences Semifinals, coupled with a hobbled Kyrie Irving in the series, James has been burdened to carry more of Cleveland's load. Prior to the Bulls matchup, the former Timberwolves' star had missed ten games with the Cavaliers this season—two of them minus James as well. In his absence, Cleveland averaged a paltry 94.8 points a game versus 103.3 with Love in the lineup, but made up a bit on defense giving up an average of 95.7 points versus 97.7 when healthy. All in all, his loss totals a 6.5 points difference, a difficult wound for any team to heal. James averaged 20.5 field goals attempted with Love out of the lineup versus 18.5 for the regular season. In the Bulls series, the king is averaging 26 field goals attempted.
Look for Chicago to stop James from reigning down over the contest like he did in game five of the series where he put up 38 points. In the Tom Thibodeau era, when the Bulls allowed more than 30 points to a player in their previous matchup, they are 23-5 in revenge at home with an average line of -3.9, including stopping the King and crew in game three of the series. Thiodeaux's squad excels at protecting the basket, and with the playoff atmosphere urging on Bulls defenders, don't expect James to get too many close-in and easy baskets.
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Best of luck!