We are guaranteed no sweeps in the conference semifinal round, which is a great thing, as the Cavs & Rockets each won at home to tie their series at 1-1. Here are my ATS picks for those Games.
Cavaliers vs. Bulls (-2)
Remember those Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) and Michael Jordan Nike commercials where Blackmon said: "It's Gotta Be The Shoes!" Well, for LeBron James perhaps it should be: "It's Gotta Be The Headband!" James ditched the headband several weeks ago in an apparent show of solidarity with his teammates because none of them were wearing one. James wasn't great in Cleveland's Game 1 loss in which the Cavs never led. He was 9-for-22 from the field and had six turnovers, two late ones that killed Cleveland rallies. He vowed to be more aggressive in Game 2 and certainly was, while donning the headband again. LeBron took 29 shots, his second most all season, and made 13 for 33 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and only two turnovers in the 106-91 victory.
Cleveland never trailed in that one so we are still awaiting our first lead change in this series. James also attempted nine free throws after only two in Game 1. He was quite simply a different player and the Cavs outscored the Bulls by 31 points with him on the floor. That was the final game of J.R. Smith's two-game suspension. Will Smith go into the starting lineup for Game 3 on Friday? Normally you would assume yes but Iman Shumpert has played really well in this series in Smith's spot. He had 15 points and seven rebounds in Game 2. Shumpert did suffer a groin injury that limited him to 29 minutes but it's not thought to be serious. Coach David Blatt will have a decision to make on Shumpert/Smith. It's a good problem to have.
NBA Free Pick: Take Cleveland even though it has failed to cover the NBA betting odds five straight Friday games or its past four after a double-digit win. The Bulls were rather mediocre at home this season.
Rockets vs. Clippers (-4)
This line obviously presumes that Clippers point guard Chris Paul will make his series debut. I didn't expect Coach Doc Rivers to let Paul play in Game 2, after the Clippers already had achieved their goal of winning one game in Houston, unless Paul was 100 percent healthy. Apparently he wasn't, but I'd be stunned if Paul doesn't play in this one. Rivers said the Clippers being up 1-0 entering Game 2 had no effect on his decision. Paul hasn't even been able to run yet after suffering the injury in game 7 vs. the Spurs. Even without him, the Clippers nearly stole Game 2 as well before falling 115-109. Blake Griffin had 26 first-half points and the Clippers led by nine at the half, thanks largely to 41 second-quarter points, and as many as 13 in the third quarter. The Clippers' 41 second-quarter points were than the Rockets have allowed in any period all season, and their 65 at the break matched the most Houston has given up.
However, James Harden took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 32 points as Houston outscored L.A. by eight. He didn't play much of the third quarter because he had four fouls. Coach Kevin McHale sat him with 10:32 left in the third and Houston down 11. Harden returned with 2:07 left in the quarter and quickly drew two fouls, leading to four made three throws. He was 15-for-15 from the line on the night. Harden played the entire fourth quarter. “A lot of times, I let James play when gets four, but I just had a gut feeling it might be better to sit him a little bit,” McHale said. It's fair to say that was a must win considering the Clippers had won 12 of the past 15 against Houston and perhaps were in the Rockets' heads. Plus only three times in league history has a team rallied to win a NBA Playoffs series after losing the first two at home. The last was Dallas against Houston 10 years ago.
NBA Free Pick: This NBA pick totally depends on Paul. If he plays, give the points. If not, take Houston. The Clippers are 1-8 ATS in their past nine at home.