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NBA-Sunday night- Boston and Utah want to even the series and stay alive … ?

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 8 Chicago at No. 1 Boston (TNT, 6:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Oct. 27 Celtics at Bulls (-1) 105-99 (Under 209)
Nov. 2 Bulls at Celtics (-3) 107-100 (Under 207.5)
Feb. 16 Celtics at Bulls (+1) 104-103 (Under 214)
Mar. 12 Bulls at Celtics (-7.5) 100-80 (Under 208)

2016-17 Postseason (Bulls 2-1)
Apr. 16 Bulls (+7.5) at Celtics 106-102 (Over 207)
Apr. 18 Bulls (+7) at Celtics 111-97 (Over 206.5)
Apr. 21 Celtics (-2.5) at Bulls 104-87 (Under 206)
**Game 5 will take place from Boston’s TD Garden on Wednesday.

The Bulls announced point guard Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb in Game 2 on Friday morning, ruling him out until he’s re-evaluated in 7-to-10 days. Unless there’s a Game 7 in this series, a strong possibility given the remaining series layout, he’s played his last game against the Celtics this season.

It now remains to be seen whether Chicago can survive without his pace, energy and defense. Early returns weren’t promising. Rondo averaged nearly a triple-double (11.5/8.5/10.0) in helping the Bulls build a 2-0 lead in Boston, turning back the clock to the days where he helped drive veteran teammates Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to hang the most recent banner the storied Celtics have on display at TD Garden.

Jerian Grant started and Michael Carter-Williams played the bulk of the minutes in Rondo’s before Cam Payne closed out garbage time. Payne, who played four minutes, outscored Carter-Williams with his three points. MCW and Grant shot a combined 3-for-10 from the field and had more turnovers (7) than assists (3). Both were liabilities.

Wade ended up playing a lot of point and shot 6-for-18, often forcing up shots when his options dried up. He led Chicago with 18 points and was probably its most effective starter, which says a lot about how awful the Bulls were. Butler never found a rhythm without Rondo to help him get going and shot 7-for-21 from the field, finishing a team-worst minus-27 in his 39 minutes of action. He failed to get to the free-throw line after shooting 18 over the first two games. Considering this season’s breakthrough, it was a disappointing effort. Without Rondo, it was on him to help set the tone early and make the game easier for others, especially at home. There isn’t time to revamp a game plan, so going up 3-1 hinges on turning things around with better energy and execution. At least Butler is pointing fingers at the right guy.

“I don’t feel I changed the game defensively either,” Butler told reporters after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t think I did too much of anything. It’s alright, we go out ot and play the way we’re supposed to , I play the way I’m supposed to, and then back to the Bulls have a chance.”

Boston played its best game of the series after surrendering an average of 108.5 points per game in the two losses. Brad Stevens felt his team played like he wanted them to, wounded and desperate. They came out with the intensity required from a team that couldn’t afford a loss and helped the cause by shooting the lights out at United Center, connecting on 17-of-37 3-pointers.

Rebounding and turnovers were a major point of emphasis for Boston prior to Game 3 and things turned out around as far as miscues go. They committed just 12 turnovers while forcing 17 from the Bulls, 11 of which came on steals. On the boards, however, the Celtics were victimized again, outrebounded 52-37, which brings the count for the series to 148-111. Even with Robin Lopez playing his worst game, Chicago still created extra chances on the offensive glass.

Isaiah Thomas joined the Celtics in Chicago after flying across the country to be with family and attend his sister Chyna’s funeral in Tacoma. He and backcourt mate Avery Bradley were each at minus-20 or lower in Game 2 after actually being on the plus side in the series opener, so their ability to bounce back with 31 points and 16 assists were vital to getting Stevens his first road playoff win as Celtics head coach. Stevens adjusted his starting lineup by putting another shooter out there with Gerald Green replacing Amir Johnson, who got just six minutes. Second-year guard Terry Rozier, another perimeter threat who has been an asset at both ends, has become an x-factor in the series, while rookie lottery pick Jaylen Brown has fallen out of the rotation altogether.

Can Thomas hold up and provide another solid game at the end of what’s been an emotionally taxing eight-day span since finding out his younger sister had died in one-car accident at practice last Saturday afternoon? After a record-setting regular season for the Celtics, Thomas has averaged 23.0 points and shot 45 percent from the field in this series despite his personal tragedy. After 11 turnovers in Boston over the first two games, he had just two miscues and nine assists, his largest output in that category since late January. Al Horford had his best game of the series, finally getting the better of Lopez and finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals while going 2-for-3 from 3-point range. If he’s settled in and continues to flourish, Chicago is in trouble.

The Bulls opened as 1.5-point favorite against the Celtics on Friday before news that Rondo was sidelined made the rounds. Boston ended up favored on the road and covered easily in what became the lowest-scoring game of the series. It opened as a 2.5-point road favorite and has been favored nine times on the road since the All-Star break, going 4-5 SU/5-4 ATS. Chicago won its last two-regular season home games by a combined 86 points. It won six of eight at United Center, a run that includes the Jazz, Hawks and Cavs as victims. The Bulls also beat Golden State there to open March and need to come through here to give themselves three shots to close out a series that has become even more challenging as they aim to become the sixth No. 8 seed in league history to drop a No. 1.

Western Conference First Round
No. 4 L.A. Clippers at No. 5 Utah (TNT, 9:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (L.A. won 3-1)
Oct. 30 Jazz at Clippers (-7.5) 88-75 (Under 190)
Feb. 13 Clippers at Jazz (-8) 88-72 (Under 207)
Mar. 13 Clippers at Jazz (-2) 114-108 (Over 202.5)
Mar. 25 Jazz at Clippers (-5) 108-95 (2OT) (Over 200)

2016-17 Postseason (Clippers 2-1)
Apr. 15 Jazz (+6) at Clippers 97-95 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 18 Jazz at Clippers (-9) 99-91 (Under 200)
Apr. 21 Clippers (-1.5) at Jazz 111-106 (Over 197.5)
**Game 5 will take place from L.A.’s Staples Center on Tuesday.

The Clippers survived the loss of Blake Griffin in nearly identical fashion to how Utah managed to persevere after Rudy Gobert was lost to a knee injury 17 seconds into Game 1. Griffin’s toe injury was suffered in the second quarter and he tried to play through it until he couldn’t, so L.A. has no choice but to cling to the hope that they can get through this series without their star power forward. Never mind the Warriors. First things first, especially since getting past the Jazz will be a chore.

Griffin is done for the remainder of the postseason, and if nothing else, he’s given the Clippers plenty of opportunities to gain experience playing without him. He’s missed 70 of 173 possible games including the postseason since 2015-16 began. Griffin averaged 25 points and six boards over the first two games and was headed to similar production before bowing out of Game 3, leaving with 3:17 left before halftime.

L.A. won the second half 61-48 as Chris Paul took the game over and everyone else simply played their roles in a 111-106 comeback win. They went on a 15-0 run to put away the Jazz, riding Paul’s 34 points, the most he’s scored since dropping 40 on Feb. 26, 2016. Luc Mbah a Moute responded well to getting more touches, while Marreese Speights wound up a team-best plus-12. Those are the two guys who most played Griffin’s role, while Paul Pierce logged 21 minutes, his longest stretch on the floor since Nov. 29 and second-longest on the season. Despite not scoring and taking only one shot, he was out there for key stretches.

The Clippers biggest problem in this series may not be that Griffin is out, but rather, that Gobert may soon be in. The French center with the 7-foot-7 wingspan appears on the verge of getting back, even though he’s considered doubtful for Sunday. Because of how vital this game is to the Jazz, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he gets treatment all afternoon and sees how he feels closer to tip-off.
If Gobert remains out, look for the Jazz to go small without Griffin to worry about, likely utilizing Boris Diaw for long stretches to keep from overextending Derrick Favors. The former No. 3 overall pick scored just two points in 38 minutes on Friday night and will be playing a game on a single day’s rest for just the second time since early March. He looks spent. Without Gobert available and with Favors limping around, the Jazz have surrendered 49.3 points in the paint and have been outrebounded by DeAndre Jordan and friends. Utah hasn’t been beaten at home in consecutive games since Feb. 13, when these Clippers followed Boston’s act in pulling an upset, winning 88-72. The stakes are obviously higher now.

“You don’t want to go down 3-1 going back to their place,” said Jazz point guard George Hill, who will be tasked with finding a way to slow down Paul. “They have been playing well at home. Yes, it’s a must-win situation for us.”

Utah saw All-Star forward Gordon Hayward get his team off to a great start with a 21-point first-quarter outburst in Game 3, ultimately scoring a career-high 40 points. He struggled down the stretch, making only one fourth-quarter bucket, so protecting homecourt falls on his shoulders more than anyone else’s. Since Griffin is such a tough physical matchup, his absence means the Jazz can get away with playing multiple wings like Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles alongside Hill, Hayward and whoever they have working at center.

Quin Snyder has had a great season pushing the right buttons in leading his team to a Northwest title, making him part of the Coach of the Year conversation. He’s going to be counted on to continue adjusting on the fly and now is on more of an even playing field with more experienced counterpart Doc Rivers, who is now also forced to become innovative with his own personnel.

The under has prevailed in five of the last seven Jazz games, but the teams combined for 217 points in Game 3 and teamed for 222 in their final regular-season in Salt Lake City.

NBA-Play offs- “Take this for data” , looking to save the season…

Western Conference First Round
No. 2 San Antonio at No. 7 Memphis (TNT, 9:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Feb. 6 Spurs at Grizzlies (-1) 89-74 (Under 200.5)
Mar. 18 Spurs at Grizzlies (+4) 104-96 (Over 196)
Mar. 23 Grizzlies at Spurs (-8) 97-90 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 4 Grizzlies at Spurs (-9) 95-89 (OT) (Over 195.5)

2016-17 Postseason (Spurs 2-0)
Apr. 15 Grizzlies at Spurs (-9.5) 111-82 (Over 190)
Apr. 17 Grizzlies at Spurs (-10.5) 96-82 (Under 189)
**Game 4 will take place from Memphis’ FedEx Forum on Saturday.

After a pair of games where they failed to really challenge the Spurs, head coach David Fizdale struck the stiffest blow his team managed to land in San Antonio, questioning the officiating in an effort to try and get a few more calls for his team as they return home to Memphis to try and make a series out of this. Pointing out that Zach Randolph shot no free throws and Kawhi Leonard’s 19 attempts eclipsed his entire team’s despite the Spurs not taking the ball inside the paint as often as Memphis did.

“I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t seem to add up. Overall, 35 times we shot the ball in the paint. We had 15 free throws for the game. They shot 18 times in the paint and had 32 free throws. Explain it to me,” Fizdale demanded post-game. “It was a very poorly officiated basketball game.”

Officials don’t typically take kindly to being called out, especially since Fizdale’s warning to not “rook us,” is coming from a first-year head coach of a team filled mostly by veterans. Depending on who is on the whistle, Fizdale may have a technical coming his way and could see his strategy backfire if the Spurs are aggressive. He was fined $30,000 by the NBA for disparaging the officials, although Memphis players and area businesses have volunteered to ensure the head coach won’t have to pay a dime out of pocket.

Thus far, Marc Gasol’s 32-point Game 1 has been the lone brightspot for a Grizzlies team that has lacked the consistency to even hang within double-digits thus far in the series. Point guard Mike Conley, coming off his best regular season, has struggled with being the focus of San Antonio’s defensive game plan, shooting 40.6 percent despite averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 assists. Although solid enough, those numbers aren’t going to help make a dent against a team as efficient as San Antonio, especially when you add a free-throw discrepancy into the mix.

Conley, Gasol and Randolph must all be better and need to get contributions from the team’s younger players who may be able to settle down more and produce at home. JaMychal Green has shot 2-for-8, while undrafted rookie free agent Wayne Selden has gone 2-for-10. Those two have started both contests. James Ennis and Andrew Harrison, key contributors off the bench, shot a combined 6-for-17 in San Antonio.

Unless somebody gets it going, the Spurs are simply going to continue sending extra help Conley’s way and daring others to beat them. Vince Carter has averaged over 30 minutes per game in the series and has managed just 8.0 points, so the Griz are going to need more from him too.

In case you’ve lost count, in order to have a chance to win, they’ll need better efforts from all their standouts, their fringe starters, older role players, younger bench guys, the fan base, referees and Fizdale himself.

There’s very little margin for error because the likelihood of containing Kawhi Leonard without Tony Allen available is so remote. Allen has been ruled out for Game 3 with a calf strain suffered when he was kicked there in the regular-season finale. During the regular season, he helped hold Leonard to 23-for-54 shooting.

Through two postseason games, Leonard has shot 20-for-34 (58.8 pct), averaging 35.5 points. He’s made all 28 of his free-throw attempts, wasting no chance to pile on. We’ll see what Fizdale has in store to try and slow him down, but any extra attention would likely help LaMarcus Aldridge get going since he shot just 3-for-8 in Game 2.

Only the Warriors had a better road record than the Spurs, besting a 30-11 mark by a single game. Although San Antonio lost both of its games at FedEx Forum this season, they won and covered in sweeping the Griz out of last year’s playoffs and won a pair there in the regular season too. In their last 16 encounters, the under has come in a dozen times.

San Antonio is favored on the road and has gone just 10-7 SU/7-10 ATS in this situation since Jan. 1. The Grizzlies are 8-8 SU/ATS when not favored at home this season, with the last win coming on March 18 against the Spurs. OKC beat Memphis on April 5 as a road favorite the last time the Griz were getting points at the Grindhouse.

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 2 Cleveland at No. 7 Indiana (TNT, 7:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Cavaliers 3-1)
Nov. 16 Cavaliers at Pacers (-2.5) 103-93 (Under 208.5)
Feb. 8 Cavaliers (+3.5) at Pacers 132-117 (Over 216)
Feb. 15 Pacers at Cavaliers (-6) 113-104 (Under 219)
Apr. 2 Pacers at Cavaliers (-8) 135-130 (2OT) (Over 214)

2016-17 Postseason (Spurs 2-0)
Apr. 15 Pacers at Cavaliers (-9) 109-108 (Over 208.5)
Apr. 17 Pacers at Cavaliers (-9) 117-111 (Over 210)
**Game 4 will take place from Indiana’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday.

Despite all the doubt cast on the defending champs due to an ugly final few months of the regular-season, the Cavs find themselves on the brink of taking control of this first-round series if they can take care of business as a road favorite.

Indiana missed a shot that would’ve won Game 1 and hung around to also cover on Tuesday, but its opportunity to advance may have already disappeared. At this rate, Thursday night’s game is a must-win to have a realistic chance at pulling off an upset since the Pacers would have to beat the Cavs four straight times otherwise.

Paul George has been honest in his assessment of what went wrong in Cleveland, but drew some criticism since it came off as finger-pointing. Although CJ Miles could’ve gotten the ball back to him for the final look in the series opener, he got off a clean shot that he should’ve made. Lance Stephenson, victimized by Kevin Love at both ends during the Cavs’ game-breaking third-quarter run where they took control, does need to better control his emotions. George isn’t beyond reproach, but he’s averaging 30.5 points, 6.5 boards and 7.0 assists and shooting just under 50 percent while often going toe-to-toe with LeBron James. He’s made 10 of 18 3-point looks and has stepped up enough to give Indiana a chance. That should continue tonight.

George shoots it better at home than on the road and averaged 24.4 points per game during the regular season, so it would be surprising to see him struggle. He’ll also be prepared to see Iman Shumpert, who caught the first DNP-CD of his career in Game 1 before coming in Thursday after J.R. Smith was diagnosed a no-go in the second half due to a hamstring injury. Not only did Shumpert come in with terrific energy on the defensive end, he hit two of his 3-shots and provided a lift over 20 minutes. That effort will be harder to replicate on the road with George ready to see him, but he’ll probably be in the rotation if Smith is ruled out. He’s currently listed as questionable.

Myles Turner had a disappointing first two games, shrinking away from contact and being victimized on the boards. James easily blocked one of his drives to the basket late in Game 2, putting a sour cherry on a night when the 21-year-old standout managed just six points and five boards in 37 minutes. For the series, he’s shooting 36 percent and averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, well below his regular-season averages (14.5, 7.3) despite more minutes. Turner has also been more productive at home, so perhaps familiar surroundings will do him some good.

For their part, the Cavs will be looking to improve to 13-0 after going up 2-0 in a series, extending James’ personal run of 18 consecutive first-round wins that includes his time in Miami. LeBron is averaging 42.5 minutes in the series and shooting 57.5 percent, averaging 28.5 points, eight boards and 10 assists through his team’s first two wins. Kyrie Irving comes off a 37-point game and is averaging a team high 30.0 in the series, while Love comes off a 27-point, 11-rebound game that featured a dominant game-altering stretch. He’s shooting a shade under 69 percent from the field thus far.

Although the Pacers have taken advantage of Cleveland’s continued defensive issues in averaging 109.5 ponints thus far, they’re surrendering 114. The Cavs won the last three games of the regular-series by averaging 126.7 points per game. Although there’s a double-OT game inflating that clip, Indiana hasn’t proven capable of containing their Central Division rival. The over is 7-3 in the last 10 games between these teams, prevailing in four of five.

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 3 Toronto at No. 6 Milwaukee (NBATV, 8:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Raptors 3-1)
Nov. 25 Raptors (-3.5) at Bucks 105-99 (Under 207.5)
Dec. 12 Bucks at Raptors (-8) 122-100 (Over 213)
Jan. 27 Bucks at Raptors (-5.5) 102-86 (Under 213.5)
Mar. 4 Raptors at Bucks (PK) 101-94 (Under 203)

2016-17 Postseason (Tied 1-1)
Apr. 15 Bucks (+7.5) at Raptors 97-83 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 18 Bucks at Raptors (-8) 106-100 (Over 194.5)
**Game 4 will take place from Milwaukee’s Bradley Center on Saturday.

This one might end up closing as a pick’em since the Bucks did enough up north to prove they can hang with the third-seeded Raps. Despite their collective youth, the Bucks won Game 1 convincingly and nearly stole Tuesday night’s contest in Toronto too.

Now that they’re back home in Milwaukee, Jason Kidd’s young team could take another unexpected step forward. The Bucks have lost five of their last six playoff games at Bradley Center dating back to their first-round series against Atlanta back in 2010, which includes a 120-66 loss that ended their last postseason run against the Bulls back in ’15. That won’t exactly bring back any fuzzy memories for Kidd, then in his first season at Milwaukee, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was then a 20-year-old in his second season. Only Khris Middleton and the injured Jabari Parker are left from that roster, so we’ll see what this group can do.

The Raptors had lost six of seven first round series before finally breaking through last season, beating Indiana and Miami in Game 7s to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, after losing yet another series opener, something they also managed three times in last year’s playoffs, they’ll be looking to win a fourth consecutive Game 3.

Kyle Lowry rebounded from a 4-point game in a series opener where he shot 2-for-11 by scoring 22 points in Toronto’s 106-100 win. DeMar DeRozan has averaged 25.0 points, but is shooting just 41 percent thus far in the series, so he’ll need to continue getting to the free-throw line to be prductive on the road since he’s completely cut shooting 3-pointers out of his repertoire. Between Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell, Kidd has a lot of options to throw at the All-Star shooting guard.

Antetokounmpo shot 13-for-18 in Game 1 but was held to just 9-for-24 shooting in Tuesday’s loss. Still, he added 15 boards and seven assists, so it’s going to be difficult to keep him from significantly impacting this oen now that he’s back home. P.J. Tucker and DeMarre Carroll will do their best to slow him down.

The Bucks and Raptors combined to shoot 25-for-52 from 3-point range in Game 2 as both put together flurries where they scored on one possession after another. The under had prevailed in seven of nine games prior to Tuesday, which marked the first time both teams had scored 100 or more points in the same game against one another since April 2014, only the second time that had happened in a 17-game stretch.

NBA-Tuesday night-Play Offs- Boston,Clippers and Raptors all looking to even the series after opening defeats

Eastern Conference First Round – Game 2 – Bucks lead 1-0
Milwaukee at Toronto (NBATV, 7:05 p.m. ET)

The Bucks put forth a full 48-minute effort on Saturday as they captured a 97-83 win over the Raptors in Game 1 as eight-point underdogs. Bettors feeling confident with Milwaukee could have taken advantage of a generous money-line payout as high as 3/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $300).

Toronto actually led this contest 51-45 despite falling behind 30-22 after the first quarter. Then, things unraveled for the Raptors in the second-half as they couldn’t buy a shot. Toronto was 7-of-35 (20%) in the final two quarters and 27-of-75 (36%) for the game.

The Bucks didn’t have a great night shooting (44.7%) as a team but Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly stood out as the best player on the floor. The All-Star finished with 28 points and eight rebounds while the Raptors top pair of DeMar DeRozan (27) and Kyle Lowry (4) combined for just 31 points.

The Lowry issue in the playoffs is tough to figure out and certainly not getting better for Toronto. After Saturday’s effort, the point guard is now the second-worst 3-point shooter amongst active players in the postseason at 30.1 percent and his overall field goal percentage is tied for worst at 37.9 percent.

Losing Game 1 of a playoff series has become a familiar trend for the Raptors and this was the eighth consecutive loss in an opening game.

Will Toronto bounce back in the second installment?

In last year’s playoffs, the Raptors answered the bell at home in Game 2 versus the Pacers (98-87) and Heat (96-92) after losing the opener but only went 1-1 against the spread in those games. As I mentioned in Saturday’s piece, Toronto has not been a sound investment in the playoffs at home. Since the club made its return during the 2014 postseason, the Raptors have gone 8-7 at the Air Canada Centre as home favorites. More importantly, they’re only 3-11-1 against the spread in those games.

Toronto has been installed as a 7 ½-point favorite for Game 2 and even though Milwaukee has now won two straight versus the Raptors, it did drop 13 of the previous 14 encounters. Another reason that could have you leaning to the chalk is the fact that the Raptors went 28-13 at home in the regular season and they only dropped back-to-back games once.

After watching Game 1 go ‘under’ (197 ½) on Saturday, the oddsmakers sent out a total of 193 ½ for Game 2 and that number has dipped to 193 as of Monday. Including the outcome from the opener, the Bucks have seen the ‘under’ go 5-0-1 in their last six on the road.

The Raptors (-160) still remain the series favorite over the Bucks (+130) at Sportsbook.ag.

Game 3 is scheduled for Thursday from the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

Eastern Conference First Round – Game 2 – Bulls lead 1-0
Chicago at Boston (TNT, 8:05 p.m. ET)

Handicapping emotion is never easy and that played a major factor on Sunday in Game 1 of this series as Boston point guard Isaiah Thomas was grieving with the tragic loss of his 22-year-old sister, which occurred a day earlier.

The floor general put for a great effort as he scored 33 points but Chicago outlasted Boston 106-102 in the opener as a seven-point road underdog. The Bulls closed plus-255 on the money-line.

Boston forward Al Horford summed up the night for the Celtics and it appears that the tragedy took a toll on the entire club. “’We’re never going to make excuses, but this is hard,” Horford said. “This was difficult, and I felt like our guys really dealt with it best. We knew (Thomas) was hurting…we have a lot of respect for him that he was able to come out.”

Horford wasn’t spectacular on Sunday, but he put forth a decent effort with 19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds. Outside of the two All-Stars, the rest of the Celtics shot a combined 19-of-55 (34%) from the field and that’s not going to cut it in the playoffs. Thomas is expected to play in Game 2 on Tuesday for Boston.

Chicago got a monster night out of Jimmy Butler, who stepped up with 30 points and nine rebounds. Forward Jimmy Portis also came up huge, with 19 points off the bench as the reserves for the Bulls outscored their counterparts 35-22. Chicago also had a tremendous edge on the glass (53-36) with Portis and Butler both pulling down nine a piece while Robin Lopez added 11 rebounds.

Whenever you see the home team losing Game 1 of a series, the line usually spikes up in the rematch. That wasn’t the case in Game 2 as the Celtics opened as 6 ½-point favorites and the line has been bet down to 6 at most betting shops on Monday afternoon. However, Boston went up to a seven-point ‘chalk’ after the team announced Thomas would play.

A lot of pundits believe the top seed is in trouble but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they went 30-11 at home in the regular season. Unfortunately for bettors, they only managed to go 17-24 ATS in those games and they’re now 1-7 ATS in their last eight games played at home after Sunday’s result.

Oddsmakers still have the Celtics (-145) listed as the series favorite over the Bulls (+125) but that number has been trimmed down a lot after the Game 1 outcome. Perhaps some bettors are starting to realize that head coach Brad Stevens is now 2-9 in the postseason and Chicago is the more experienced squad in this matchup.

I don’t believe Chicago is more talented than Boston but you can’t overlook its current form. The Bulls closed the season with a 9-4 record and the defense only allowed 97.9 points per game during this run. They’re 6-0 in their last six when holding teams below 100 and Boston barely got there on Sunday.

As a visitor, the Bulls have gone 7-2 ATS (5-4 SU) in their last nine away from home and the two non-covers came when they were favored against the lowly Nets and Knicks.

With the help of a 60-point fourth quarter, the combined 208 points in Game 1 barely went ‘over’ the closing number of 206 ½. The oddsmakers opened 207 for Game 2 and savvy bettors dropped that number quickly to 204 ½ but most shops are holding 205 or 206 as of Monday evening.

The Bulls are tied with the Warriors as the best ‘under’ teams in the NBA (50-33).

Game 3 of this series will take place on Friday from the United Center.

Western Conference First Round – Game 2 – Jazz lead 1-0
Utah at Los Angeles Clippers (TNT, 10:35 p.m. ET)

The 4-5 matchup in the Western Conference was expected to be tight and Game 1 lived up to those expectations as Utah captured a 97-95 win over Los Angeles as a six-point road underdog last Saturday. Veteran Joe Johnson hit a running floater as time expired for the Jazz as they cashed on the money-line at a plus-205 price.

The victory was bitter-sweet for the Jazz, who lost center Rudy Gobert in the opening minutes of Game 1 to a knee injury. He’s been ruled ‘out’ for Game 2 and forward Derrick Favors is expected to start in his place.

Even with Gobert missing 47 minutes on Saturday, the Clippers were unable to take advantage of his absence. The trio of Chris Paul (25 points, 11 assists), Blake Griffin (26 points, 7 reblunds) and DeAndre Jordan all had (10 points, 15 rebounds) all had decent games for the Clippers but the rest of the team was outplayed. The Jazz bench outscored the reserves of the Clippers 47-20 with Johnson leading the way with 21 points and Favors chipped in with 15 off the pine as well.

The Game 1 loss for the Clippers snapped their seven-game winning streak and it was just their third setback in their last 14. Los Angeles hasn’t dropped back-to-back games since mid-March and it has gone 3-0 both SU and ATS after a loss during this span. Make a note that Los Angeles is 10-0 in its last 10 games when scoring over 100 points.

Without the defensive menace Gobert roaming the middle, more than 95 points should be expected from Los Angeles on Tuesday. He only missed one game this regular season and Utah dropped a 112-104 decision at Oklahoma City.

Including Saturday’s result, Utah is now 2-3 both SU and ATS versus Los Angeles this season. Prior to those outcomes, the Clippers were 13-1 against the Jazz in the previous four seasons.

Los Angeles opened as a 7 ½-point favorite for Tuesday but the Gobert injury status has pushed the line up to nine. The Jazz have gone 8-8 on the road in the second-half of the season, but are just 4-5 when listed as a road ‘dog. They managed to cover one of the losses but it’s still rare to see them cover when catching points in these spots.

Despite the loss on Saturday, the Clippers are still expected to win the best-of-seven series (-150) over the Jazz (+130).

The total on Saturday closed at 198 ½ and Johnson’s winner likely saved ‘under’ bets. The low side has gone 3-2 between the pair this season and Game 2 is expected to be another slugfest with the number hovering between 195 and 196 at most betting shops.

After this game, the pair will head to Salt Lake City on Friday for Game 3.

NBA-Saturday-Play Offs-The battle for the ring begins…Its SHOWTIME!!!

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 7 Indiana at No. 2 Cleveland (ABC, 3:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Cavaliers 3-1)
Nov. 16 Cavaliers at Pacers (-2.5) 103-93 (Under 208.5)
Feb. 8 Cavaliers (+3.5) at Pacers 132-117 (Over 216)
Feb. 5 Pacers at Cavaliers (-6) 113-104 (Under 219)
Apr. 2 Pacers at Cavaliers (-8) 135-130 (2OT) (Over 214)

Oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag opened Cleveland as a healthy minus-1100 favorite (Bet $100 to win $9) to win their opening round series against the Pacers, who are plus-700 underdogs.

The line seems a little out of whack when you consider the form for both clubs. Cleveland closed the final quarter of the season with a losing record (9-13) and they enter the playoffs with a four-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Indiana enters the postseason with five consecutive wins.

Despite the struggles for Cleveland and its inability to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, it still has LeBron James and nobody in the East has been able to slow him down the last six years.

Cleveland took three of four against Indiana in the regular season and coincidentally, LeBron did not dress for the loss at Indiana back in November. For those keeping track, the Cavaliers went 0-8 without him in the lineup this season.

The Pacers will rely on All-Star Paul George and he appears confident for this series.

“We’ve got to go out and challenge them,” George said. “It’s going to be tough. They’ve been struggling of late, but they’re still one of the best teams in this game and have one of the best players in the world. It’s going to be a fun matchup. I’m looking forward to it. If you ask me, it’s who I’ve wanted to match up against.”

I believe Indiana can steal at least one game in this series but it’s hard to back a team that went 18-26 this season against clubs above .500. Plus, the Pacers own the worst road record (13-28) amongst the 16 playoff teams.

For betting purposes, Indiana has gone 16-25 against the spread on the road which tells you that they’ve only managed to cover three times in their 28 losses.

Cleveland is holding steady as an 8 ½-point favorite as of Friday evening and its gone 31-10 SU and 19-19-3 ATS at home this season. When laying less than 10 points at home, the Cavaliers have gone 13-6 SU and 7-10-2 ATS.

Since LeBron returned to Ohio, the Cavaliers have played in six Game 1’s at home and they’ve gone 5-1 in those contests while winning by an average of 13.6 points per game.

The Pacers were eliminated in the first round of last year’s playoffs in seven games to the Raptors and they went 1-3 at the Air Canada Centre in the series. However, Indiana was 3-1 ATS and the losses came by an average of 6.3 PPG.

Obviously a lot of new faces surrounding George in Indiana but it should be noted that they’ve been a steady investment (12-12 ATS) as visitors in the playoffs since 2012.

Oddsmakers sent out a total of 213 ½ for Game 1 and that number has been steamed down to 210 ½ and other than expecting more defense in the postseason, I can’t figure out why the pros are leaning to the low side in the opener.

Our friends at ASA recently noted how poor Cleveland has been defensively this season and Indiana has averaged 112.6 PPG during their recent five-game winning streak. The Cavaliers have proven that they can score on Indiana, averaging 126.6 PPG versus the Pacers when LeBron plays.

Game 2 will take place on Monday from Quickens Loan Arena.

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 6 Milwaukee at No. 3 Toronto (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Raptors 3-1)
Nov. 25 Raptors (-3.5) at Bucks 105-99 (Under 207.5)
Dec. 12 Bucks at Raptors (-8) 122-100 (Over 212.5)
Jan. 27 Bucks at Raptors (-6) 102-86 (Under 213.5)
Mar. 4 Raptors at Bucks (Pick) 101-94 (Under 204)

Milwaukee (+300) hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2001 playoffs and the oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag aren’t expecting that to change against Toronto (-380) in the first round.

The Bucks will enter this matchup with a 15-7 mark over the final quarter of the season but it should be noted that nine of those wins came against non-playoff teams. When Milwaukee steps up in class, it hasn’t answered and that was evident against Toronto this season and dating back to the 2013-14 campaign. During this span, the Raptors have gone 13-2 versus the Bucks and even more impresssive, they’re 10-4-1 agaisnt the spread.

The lone win this season came on Mar. 4 when Toronto was without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry due to an injury. When they did face him, Lowry averaged 23 PPG, 6.3 APG and he shot a blistering 52.4 percent from 3-point land.

The Raptors went 14-7 in his absence and newly acquired players via the trade deadline Serge Ibaka (Orlando) and PJ Tucker (Phoenix) certainly filled the void. Both of those veterans can shoot the ball and play defense, two critical factors in the playoffs.

Milwaukee’s success relies heavily on All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a knack of doing everything well (22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG). Outside of the Greek standout, the Bucks have a mixed bag of talent but veteran guards Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova do own championship rings.

Fast forward to Saturday and bettors might be leaning to the Bucks based on the Game 1 playoff tendencies for the Raptors. Toronto has dropped five straight postseason series openers over the past three years and they’re 1-10 all-time in Game 1 as a franchise. What’s a little more suspect is that four of those five aforementioned setbacks came at the Air Canada Centre.

For whatever reason, Toronto has struggled in all home playoff contests and not just Game 1. Over the last three postseasons, the Raptors have gone 10-7 SU and 5-11-1 ATS in Canada. As a favorite, the record drops to 8-6 SU and 3-10-1 ATS.

Toronto opened as a seven-point favorite and that number hasn’t moved as of Friday evening. During the regular season, the Raptors went 28-13 SU and 21-19-1 ATS at home and they’ll be facing a Milwaukee squad (19-22 SU, 17-24 ATS) that enters the playoffs with a losing record on the road.

Total bettors should note that the Raptors saw seven of their final eight games played at home go ‘over’ the total and they did average 110.9 PPG in front of their fans this season, which was the fifth best mark in the NBA.

The total for Game 1 opened 201 ½ and is listed as low as 199 ½ headed into the weekend.

The pair will meet again in Game 2 from the Air Canada Centre next Tuesday.

Western Conference First Round
No. 7 Memphis at No. 2 San Antonio (ESPN, 8:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Feb. 6: Spurs at Grizzlies (-1) 74-89 (Under 200.5)
Mar. 18: Spurs (-4) at Grizzlies 96-104 (Over 196)
Mar. 23: Grizzlies at Spurs (-8) 90-97 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 4: Grizzlies at Spurs (-9) 89-95 (OT) (Over 195.5)
**Game 2 will take place from San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Monday.

If they had their way, the Grizzlies would’ve likely preferred to be matched up with a team that it could more effectively throw off their rhythm. Golden State and Houston prefer to run and would’ve been more vulnerable on nights when outside shots weren’t falling.

San Antonio relishes a more deliberate tempo. It helps the veteran team focus and lock in defensively. This is a problem for Memphis, especially since top wing defender Tony Allen is probably out for the series with a calf sprain. The Grindfather sets the tone for the Grizzlies with his ability to lock up opposing catalysts and held Kawhi Leonard to 39 percent shooting over three of the season’s four meetings. Memphis won two of the three games Allen played, but lost the most recent encounter in overtime on April 4.

Leonard feasted with 32 points and 12 rebounds. In games where Allen was on the floor to shadow him, Leonard shot 14 percent from 3-point range. With him absent, Leonard shot up to 58 percent from beyond the arc. The combination of younger forwards JaMychal Green and James Ennis must now step up to try and bother Leonard, likely getting help from rookie wing Wayne Selden off the bench. With Allen and Chandler Parsons sidelined, the Griz are down two of their top three projcted wings coming into this season, left only with 40-year-old Vince Carter. Carter shot just 37.5 percent against the Spurs, averaging 8.5 points.

The Spurs have Danny Green back from a quad contusion they were cautious with, further complicating matters for Memphis. LaMarcus Aldridge has been in and out of the mix with a sprained thumb but looked sharp in shooting 9-for-14 in the regular-season finale, so the No. 2 seed is the healthier team in this pairing too.

Memphis went 2-3 with Marc Gasol sidedlined with a foot injury that sabotagd their chances of catching Oklahoma City for the No. 6 seed. He’s played in five straight games entering the playoffs, but has shot just 43.5 percent, averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. He has hit 8-for-16 from 3-point range, relying on a dimension to this that he’s turned to for the first time this season. That could be an x-factor here in helping clear space in the paint by pulling older brother Pau Gasol, Aldridge and starting center Dewayne Dedmon out on to the perimeter.

Mike Conley shot just 40 percent against the Spurs this season, averaging 18 points per game, so he’ll have to be better to give Memphis any chance at pulling an upset. In Year 1 after signing one of the NBA’s richest contracts, Conley has had his most productive offensive season, averaging career-bests with 20.5 points, .459 field goal shooting and a .407 3-point clip. His 171 3-pointers and 420 attempts also blow away previous career-highs, so it will be interesting to see whether he can put the Grizzlies on his back since he seemingly has the advantage over veteran Tony Parker and diminutive backup Patty Mills.

The teams have played four times since Feb. 6, including three times since March 18. After losing the first two games by margins of 89-74 and 104-96 in Memphis, the Spurs took care of buisness at home 97-90 and 95-89 to split the series. Only the Clippers won a series against San Antonio this season. The under has prevailed in seven of nine in this series. The Spurs have won three of four playoff series against Memphis, sweeping twice. They won 4-0 in the first round last year. The Griz pulled off a memorable upset in the first round back in 2011, beating top-seeded San Antonio in six games as the No. 8.

Western Conference First Round
No. 5 Utah at No. 4 L.A. Clippers (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (L.A. won 3-1)
Oct. 30: Jazz at Clippers (-7.5) 75-88 (Under 190)
Feb. 13: Clippers at Jazz (-8) 88-72 (Under 207)
Mar. 13: Clippers at Jazz (-2) 108-114 (Over 202.5)
Mar. 25: Jazz at Clippers (-5) 95-108 (2OT) (Over 200)
**Game 2 will take place from L.A.’s Staples Center on Tuesday.

Although defeating the Kings on Wednesday night was never in doubt, the Clippers would be in Salt Lake City for this series opener if they had failed to do so. The homecourt edge should come in handy in the series computer models view as the most evenly matched of the NBA’s first round, but all it takes is one Jazz win over the next few days for them to wrestle it away.

Utah will take its first stab at an upset with a healthy lineup that it hopes will be able to make the difference. Derrick Favors played in three of the last four games and becomes the x-factor for the Jazz after being limited by injuries most of the season. The former No. 3 overall pick shot 6-for-19 in the two games he played against L.A., both losses, but has the size, skill and ahtleticism to make life difficult for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. If the Clippers have to worry about both he and Gobert patrolling the paint, this becomes a different series.

First-time All-Star Gordon Hayward, point guards George Hill and Shelvin Mack, Favors and scoring wing Rodney Hood all dealt with injuries over the season’s last few months. That made it all the sweeter that they were all available to take the floor in Wednesday night’s impressive win in a back-and-forth game against San Antonio. Since losing the final regular-season meeting on March 25, the Jazz have picked up home wins over the Pelicans, Wizards, Blazers, Wolves and Spurs in addition to a road upset at Golden State. In all, they’ve gone 7-2 to pull off their first 50-win season since 2010.

The Clippers are even hotter, entering the playoffs owners of the league’s longest winning streak at seven straight. The Wizards, Spurs and Rockets have been among their victims and their last five wins have all come by double-digits, so Doc Rivers has his team in a great groove. They’re 43-18 with Chris Paul in the lineup and 8-13 without him, so the Clips may have had a shot at catching Houston for No. 3 had they not been without their floor general for more than a quarter of the season. Instead, they’ve got a much tougher road, forced to deal with one of the top defensive teams in the league in Utah before facing the top offensive group in Golden State.

Griffin pulled back his intensity level over the regular season’s final week, but for the first four wins on this seven-game surge, he averaged 31.3 points on over 70 percent shooting, chipping in 7.3 boards and 5.7 assists. Being able to run offense through him to keep the Jazz defense from keying on Paul is going to be critical to getting out of the series.

Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert and two-time All-Defensive First Teamer DeAndre Jordan will look to stay out of foul trouble so they can serve as anchors protecting the rim. Jordan averaged 9.0 points and 12.8 boards and was successful in avoiding the whistle over the four regular-season meetings

Another key matchup to watch will be how Hayward deals with the physical defense of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who helped hold him to 10-for-30 shooting over the two losses the Jazz suffered with him in the lineup. He scored 27 points and shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the win, so his ability to generate offense will be critical to the Jazz since they often struggle to score.

The under has prevailed in three of the last four Jazz games, but went 2-2 during the regular season between these teams, topping the posted total in both March meetings.

NBA-Wednesday night- Regular season ends tonight,battle for the ring begins soon

By beating the Hornets on Tuesday in a game that was never in doubt, the Hawks sapped a lot of the drama out of tonight’s festivities. Atlanta will be the No. 5 seed, which means they’re likely to rest regulars on the second night of a back-to-back in Indiana.

The problem with that is Chicago and Miami would both really appreciate a Pacers loss. In a three-way tie breaker, between those teams, Indiana would be eliminated. The Bulls could be the No. 7 seed if they end up even with the Pacers, while the Heat need either of those teams to lose and a home victory over Washington to get in at 41-41.

Paul Millsap has played only four games since missing eight with a knee injury that nearly sabotaged the team’s season, helping the Hawks to a 3-1 record. He sat on the second night of the only back-to-back since his return and figures to be inactive. Center Dwight Howard and point guard Dennis Schroder sat that night too, so it wouldn’t be suprising to see Mike Budenholzer give his three most important players the night off. Kent Bazemore has been dealing with a knee bone bruise, so sitting him would be worth looking at too. Thabo Sefolosha just returned from an eight-game absence due to a groin strain against Charlotte and is hoping to play to work out the rust, so he could be in the mix. Still, it’s likely that the Pacers will have a backup-filled opponent to vanquish as they look to end the regular season with their fifth straight win, earning them the No. 7 seed.

That would likely set up a Paul George-LeBron James matchup we haven’t seen since the 2014 Eastern Conference finals that wrapped up in Miami. Cleveland, barring a LeBron-less win over Toronto and a Celtics loss to a Bucks team that plans to rest All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be the No. 2 seed. It still hasn’t been determined whether Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love will play since they’ve had knee issues over the last few issues, but James is citing a calf strain as the reason for his absence and preparing for the postseason. Tristan Thompson has missed four consecutive games due to a thumb sprain that ended his Ironman streak at 447 games, but he’s been cleared to return and will play to build up a little rhythm before the weekend.

It remains to be seen whether Toronto will go all out effort-wise, having already set a franchise record for victories with 50. The plan is to dress everyone and get a win in Game No. 82 as they look to sustain a rhythm, but the game won’t change anything from a seeding standpoint. Although beating the Cavs would help avoid a season sweep and tie them for the second-best record in the East, the Raptors would lose the tie-breaker since they’ve dropped the first three games in the series.

Although beating the visiting Raps without James is certainly possible, Cleveland also needs Milwaukee to pull off a short-handed upset over the Celtics in order to climb into the No. 1 spot. In addition to grounding the Greek Freak, the Bucks also excused Khris Middleton, Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell from flying into Boston. They’ll all be in action at Toronto this weekend in the 3-6 pairing.

Stranger things have happened, but the Celtics are looking to improve to 30-11 at home, don’t plan on resting anyone and value the top seed since they know they can use any edge they can get against a Cavs team that won three of four during the regular season.

Boston’s likely first-round opponent looks to be Chicago, which only needs to defeat Brooklyn at home to guarantee itself a playoff berth after missing out last year for the first time in eight seasons. A Bulls win would also help avoid the first sub-.500 season since 2007-08 and everyone but point guard Rajon Rondo (wrist) is expected to play.

Brooklyn has made itself no friends in South Florida by announcing that it will sit six players in the season finale, including veterans Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker and Quincy Acy. The Nets, one of the two largest underdogs (+15) on the regular season’s final day, will ride young guards Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Whitehead and Archie Goodwin in addition to forwards Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, K.J. McDaniels, Andrew Nicholson and Justin Hamilton. Dinwiddie, LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson combined for 54 points, 20 boards and eight assists in Saturday’s 107-106 upset of the Bulls, shooting 18-for-28. It remains to be seen whether they can come close to duplicating those numbers without Lopez and Lin to command attention.

Miami will face a Wizards team that it beat in D.C. this weekend to help extend its season. Hassan Whiteside scored 30 points in the 106-103 win and has been on a tear, but Washington may opt not to rest players despite being locked into the No. 4 seed. Starters John Wall (quad) and Otto Porter (back) have already missed time and may want to get back in a rhythm, while Bradley Beal expressed an interest in playing because winning 50 games for the first time since 1979, having already become the winningest Wizards team since they stopped being the Bullets 20 years ago.

Nothing has come easy for the overachieving Heat all season, so writing them off would be a mistake given the obstacles they’ve already overcome. Miami can avoid its second losing season in the three years since James left town by improbably finishing at .500 following an 11-30 start. Unfortunately, the Heat have put themselves in position where they need help that isn’t likely to come. Boston swept them 4-0 in the regular-season series, but the games were all competitive.

The Celtics could make their fans and backers awfully happy by securing the No. 1 seed with a win over the Bucks since it would help them eclipse their projected season win total of 52.5. Those who faded can’t be happy that the Bucks left so much talent behind in Milwaukee.

The Raptors won 50 games for the first time in their history, but still need one more to cash for their backers. It’s good news for over-backers that head coach Dwane Casey is dressing everyone and the Cavs aren’t, but winning in Cleveland is never easy. A victory at the Q would wrap up the NBA’s second-best home record behind Golden State. A Toronto win would tie Boston for the East’s top road mark.

Speaking of the Warriors, they’ll be looking to cash tickets for believers who waited for the initial number following the Kevin Durant signing to come down from 68.5 to the number it settled at, 66.5. Golden State needs one more win to get to 67-15 and are expected to play Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson together for the first time since Feb. 28. Draymond Green and Andre Iguoldala will rest and there’s no guarantee that Steve Kerr will play starters more than token minutes, but there should still be enough firepower in place to help end the Lakers’ improbable five-game winning streak that they haven’t really wanted any part of since it may cost them a lottery pick. L.A. chased its over with a rout over the Pelicans last night despite Metta World Peace leading the team with 18 points on 17 shots.

The Grizzlies are also favored to eclipse their projected win total with Dallas in town. The Mavericks lost at home to Denver on Tuesday and won’t play Dirk Nowitzki or J.J. Barea after both started yesterday. Harrison Barnes and Wes Matthews rested in the loss, so they could be available here. Memphis may not rest players but has already begun preparations for its upcoming with the series with the Spurs, making a win no sure thing. The Griz have lost eight of 11, so not coming up with a win to notch the over would be a rough beat for backers.

Two more teams will either equal their expected win totals or come up one short. Atlanta would need to pull off its short-handed upset in Indianapolis to reach the 44-win mark that was expected of it.

Sacramento routed Phoenix on Tuesday to put itself in position to equal the 33 wins oddsmakers forecasted, avoiding 50 losses for the fouth straight season and seventh time in eight years. The only year they didn’t lose 50 came in the strike-shortened ’11-’12 season, so the Kings have already won more games than they’ve managed since going 38-44 in ’08. Unfortunately, they’re Wednesday’s largest underdog, getting 16 at the Clippers. L.A. needs the game to guarantee its 4-5 series against the Jazz starts at Staples Center instead of Salt Lake City.

Utah needs to beat a full-strength Spurs squad and then have Sacramento upset the Clips in order to claim the No. 4 seed. Despite the long odds, the Jazz are playing Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood and George Hill, who have all been in and out of the fold the last few weeks. That should make their matchup with San Antonio perhaps the night’s most watchable since a dress rehearsal feel could yield quality play.

We touched on this topics in the matchups above, but there are still a few more situations worth addressing.

There won’t be many games like the Spurs-Jazz that will feature both teams playing their best guys, but Timberwolves-Rockets may be one of them. James Harden will make one last argument in his case for MVP and will be joined by anti-rest advocate Patrick Beverley (shoulder) in the backcourt. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene have all been in and out of the mix down the stretch but look to be available as Mike D’Antoni seeks rhythm entering the Thunder series. Minnesota lost to OKC on Tuesday night but are unlikely to pull back for the finale. Tom Thibodeau is true to his nature.

Russell Westbrook isn’t a lock to play for OKC against Denver, so check prior to tip-off for a determination. Doug McDermott (knee) sat against the Wolves and is unlikely to play, while Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson joined Westbrook in resting and may take another night off to ensure they’re fresh. The Nuggets rolled in Dallas despite shelving Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Jameer Nelson the rest of the way. Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle) may return tonight, but Michael Malone may just disperse minutes evenly as he did last night. Denver could earn a 40th win in a season for the first time since ’13.

The Knicks won’t have Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis in the final home game of the season, which is why the 76ers have been installed as a road favorite at the Garden. Yes, the Phil Jackson era is going swell.

Anthony Davis (knee) and DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) sat out Tuesday’s loss against the Lakers and aren’t likely to participate in the finale against the Blazers. E’Twaun Moore also sat with an ankle issue, so the same team that head coach Alvin Gentry chastised for lacking concentration may be out there together again. Veteran Jrue Holiday might escape playing a back-to-back, but the Pels will want to look for more production from Cheikh Diallo, who delivered 19 points and 11 rebounds at L.A. Damian Lillard has already announced his intention to play, and while you shouldn’t expect Terry Stotts to play his starters normal minutes, it looks like Portland will have most of its guys out there against New Orleans.