NBA-Playoffs 2018- Time for Houston to respond, Pelicans seek for first win vs Warriors

Western Conference Semifinals – Warriors lead 2-0
No. 2 Golden State at No. 6 New Orleans (ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET)

Stephen Curry returned Tuesday and despite not playing since mid-March, the All-Star scored 28 points as Golden State ran past New Orleans 121-116. The Warriors failed to cover as 11-point home favorites and that was somewhat of a “Bad Beat” as the Pelicans closed the game with a meaningless 10-2 run.

The Warriors finished 43-of-91 (47%) from the field in Game 2 and Curry helped that cause with an 8-of-15 effort off the bench. He was 5-of-10 from 3-point land and a perfect 7-of-7 from the stripe. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 29 points and Draymond Green barely missed his second triple-double of the series with 20 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Anthony Davis led the Pelicans in both points (25) and rebounds (15) in Tuesday’s loss. The backcourt of Jrue Holiday (24 points) and Rajon Rondo (22 points, 12 assists) played much better in Game 2 after combining for just 20 points in the opener. However, the bench was outscored 44-13 albeit that disparity was helped with Curry’s production.

Entering this series, New Orleans was the hottest team in the league as it closed the regular season with five straight wins before completing a four-game sweep over Portland in the first round.

In the four wins over the Trail Blazers, AD went off for 33 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks. While he hasn’t been terrible in this series (23 PPG, 12.5 RPG), it’s apparent that New Orleans is going to need a “LeBron-like” performance from their best player to even compete against Golden State.

It’s not surprising at all that Golden State leads 2-0 and when you look at the recent head-to-head history, it’s hard to make a case for New Orleans to avoid the sweep. Including this series, Golden State has gone 28-4 SU and 18-13-1 ATS against the Pelicans dating back to 2011 and that includes a 6-0 record in the postseason. Even more impressive, the Warriors have gone 14-1 in their last 15 trips to “The Big Easy.”

In their two visits to New Orleans this season, the Warriors cruised to a pair of victories (125-115, 128-120) but they failed to cover the number in one of those games due to the high spreads (-9, -9). If you go back to the 2016 regular season, the wins by Golden State came by four and eight points yet the lines on those games ranged from 11 to 11 ½ points.

Fast forward to Friday and Golden State only opened as a 4 ½-point favorite for Game 3 and that number has held steady as of Thursday evening. I personally believe the number should be higher and when I think the line is too short, I usually lean to the ‘dog.

Keep in mind that I recently used that same approach on the Spurs as short home ‘dogs in Game 3 of their first round matchup against Golden State and the Warriors ran past them for the easy 110-97 win and cover. So using that technique obviously isn’t guaranteed but I tend to avoid the “looks too easy” numbers.

Western Conference Semifinals – Series tied 1-1
No. 1 Houston at No. 5 Utah (ESPN, 10:35 p.m. ET)

The late-night tip on Friday will feature another home ‘dog as Utah will look to surprise Houston for the second straight game. In what’s been a ‘chalky’ postseason, the Jazz pulled off the largest upset in this year’s edition with a 116-108 win over the Rockets as a 10 ½-point underdog. Utah was listed as high as plus-650 on the money-line.

After dropping a 110-96 decision in Game 1 and only scoring 38 points in the first-half of that loss, the Jazz came to play Wednesday and built a 64-55 break at halftime. Houston fired back with a 30-22 third quarter but they couldn’t buy a shot in the fourth quarter and was outscored 30-23 by Utah.

Shooting percentages proved to be the key factor as Utah shot well from the field (52%) plus they connected on 15-of-32 shots (47%) from 3-point land. Meanwhile, Houston finished 40 percent from the field and only made 27 percent (10-of-37) from distance.

Rockets All-Star guard James Harden led all scorers with 32 points but the man of the match was Utah forward Joe Ingles, who scored 27 points and most of that damage came with a 7-of-9 effort from 3-point land.

Looking at the numbers through the first two games, Utah (51%) has shot the ball better than Houston (42%) and the Rockets edge in 3-point shooting has been minimal (27-22) thus far. The big difference in this series for Utah has been free throw shooting and it will likely cost them a game, perhaps a cover as well. The Jazz are only shooting 60 percent from the stripe while Houston is at 80 percent and that has translated into a plus-13 edge (41-28) on the scoreboard.

For Game 3, Houston opened as a 3 ½-point road favorite over Utah and I think the line is fair considering the Rockets were -6 in their two first round matchups at Minnesota. They split those games, getting drilled by the Timberwolves 121-105 in Game 3 before rebounding with a 119-110 win in Game 4.

Keep in mind that Houston hasn’t been great on the road in the playoffs overall. Since Harden arrived in 2012, the team has gone 7-17 SU and 12-11-1 ATS as a visitor in the postseason.

The Jazz won all three of their games against Oklahoma City in the first round and they produced a 2-1 ATS mark in those victories. Prior to those wins, the Jazz were just 1-7 in their previous eight playoff encounters at home.

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