Everybody not named J.R. Smith shot 6-of-37 from long range in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. We expect some regression to the mean for our Game 2 NBA picks.
Jason’s record as of May 20: 77-79-5 ATS, 16-19 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML, 6-2 Series (plus-4.0 units)
There's nothing I like more as a journalist and a basketball fan than sitting around the computer, waiting for someone's MRI reports to come in. Okay, I can think of a few things. Like catching up on the latest Hollywood gossip. Or maybe getting my torso waxed. But why choose? The NBA gods gave us two MRIs to fret over this week: Dwight Howard's, and DeMarre Carroll's. Grip it and rip it, Jennifer.
So welcome to Round 4 of our world-famous “Plays/Doesn't Play” basketball picks. Just like Howard, Carroll is questionable to play in Game 2 of his conference final on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Carroll's MRI revealed nothing worse than maybe a hyperextension and a bone bruise, so we wouldn't be surprised if he suits up. But Carroll is so important to Atlanta's game plan, we're providing separate picks on Friday's total, which sits at 197 points on the NBA odds board as we go to press.
Scenario 1: Carroll Plays
We had the right formula for Game 1, so the fewer changes there are for Game 2, the better. The UNDER cashed in as expected when the Cavaliers beat the Hawks 97-89 (UNDER 199.5); the two teams lumbered up and down the court at a Pace Factor of 90.3, well below Cleveland's already-glacial 93.0 during these playoffs. And Kyrie Irving (21.5 PER) was held to 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Irving also admitted that his left knee came out of Game 1 in worse shape that it was going in.
All the better if Carroll can suit up on Friday. The less Irving is able to contribute, the more LeBron James (25.9 PER) will have to put the Cavs on his back. James led all scorers Wednesday with 31 points, but as we've driven into the ground by now, it was an inefficient 31 points on 12-of-26 shooting, thanks in part to Carroll's defense. Basketball Reference gave James a Game Score of 20.0 – pretty good, but not earth-shattering.
As we said going into Game 1, James needs all the help he can get if Cleveland's going to advance. He got that help Wednesday from J.R. Smith (14.5 PER), who hit eight of his 12 trey attempts. But that level of performance isn't sustainable, and Smith was the only player off Cleveland's bench who scored a point in the opener. Matthew Dellavedova (8.5 PER) was 0-for-6 from the floor. James Jones (11.1 PER) was 0-for-3. They'll probably do better in Game 2, but Smith will probably do worse. Tomato-tomato.
Free NBA Pick: Take UNDER
Scenario 2: Carroll Doesn't Play
James will be delighted if this scenario comes to pass. With Thabo Sefolosha (13.8 PER, plus-2.5 DBPM) still recovering from his friendly encounter with the NYPD, the next man in line behind Carroll is Kent Bazemore (9.7 PER, plus-1.3 DBPM), who has done most of his work this year against second-stringers. Bazemore isn't a human pylon, but he's not likely to contain LeBron on Friday.
Other than that, we don't expect Carroll's absence would turn the Hawks into a smallball machine the same way Howard not playing for Houston might. But we do expect Atlanta to do a lot better from beyond the arc than that 4-of-23 brickfest we saw in Game 1. There's enough room as it is for the Hawks to hit some more threes and still go UNDER, but if you combine that with James getting his way a bit more often against Bazemore, we think the OVER becomes the right basketball pick in this scenario.