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Cavaliers are going to advance
Who to back on Sunday in the NBA playoffs
By Dan Favale
Toronto Raptors (+7) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (-7)
It's always tough to bet against a team that's down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series when they're playing at home. For one, you feel bad. Secondly, you're hesitant to bank on them losing a fourth straight tilt, particularly in the second round. It almost feels like the team facing elimination is overdue for a win.
Last, but most certainly not least, you expect the squad with its back up against the wall to pack a certain punch. They are literally fighting for their survival. The team with the lead, meanwhile, can get complacent and cocky. Who cares if they lose? They'll just have the opportunity to close the series out in Game 5, this time at home?
This matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors is different.
The Cavaliers, for starters, are not a complacent team in the playoffs. Or rather, LeBron James isn't a complacent player. He knows the value of wrapping up a series quickly and the rest period that follows. He also knows you don't want to give the opposition life, however little.
As for the Raptors, yes, they will fight. Head coach Dwane Casey is a sneaky-good motivator, and the home crowd in Toronto should be with them all the way. But Kyle Lowry, their best player, is out, while the Cavaliers have won each of the first three games by an average of 18 points.
As tough as it is picking against the Raptors, it would be even tougher to bet in favor of them.
The Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers (-7)
Washington Wizards (-4.5) vs. Boston Celtics (+4.5)
After getting the stuffing kicked out of them in Game 3, expect to see a different version of the Boston Celtics in Game 4.
The winning version.
Sure, the Washington Wizards have held double-digit leads in each of the first three games. John Wall is playing out of his mind, too. But the Celtics won't come out as flat as they did in Game 3 again. Isaiah Thomas is going to attempt more than eight shots, and as we've seen before, this team isn't going to shoot just 10-of-32 from beyond the arc forever.
Plus, the Wizards will be without Kelly Oubre Jr. He was suspended for body-checking Kelly Olynyk in Game 3. A rookie such as himself seldom tips the scales of a playoff game, and this situation is no different. But the Wizards are shallow as it is, and even when he's not draining spot-up threes, Oubre is by far their best defensive wing off the bench.
Losing him for a game puts more responsibility on the starters, who are already shouldering a heavy burden. Washington, in turn, shouldn't have the depth or stamina to win this series—Game 4 included.
—The Pick: Boston Celtics (+4.5)
It's easy to be genuinely torn on this one.
Definitely expect the Houston Rockets to shoot better than 12-of-39 from three-point range this time around. And the chances are James Harden will get more help from Lou Williams—or even anyone else who isn't named Trevor Ariza. The Rockets might even win this game. After all, the San Antonio Spurs cannot expect to make under 10 treys, as they did in Game 3, and win every time against a three-point-drunk squad like Houston.
But this series is overdue for a close game. Hell, the second round in general is due for a tightly contested matchup. Through Saturday, every single second-round contest has been decided by double-digit point margins. That's absolutely ridiculous.
This best-of-seven set, though, is tighter than the final scores infer. The Rockets and Spurs basically matched each other punch for punch for more than three quarters in Game 3. The Spurs adjusted their pick-and-roll coverage, while the Rockets played inspired defense up until the end of the third quarter.
Bank on a super close game, the kind where the winner doesn't matter, because the favorite, in this case the Rockets, is being given too large of an advantage.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (+5.5)
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