A quartet of teams are staring elimination from the NBA Playoffs in the face on Friday night but all have proven themselves capable of springing a surprise during the first round of this post-season. And Boston, Atlanta and Houston each have the perk of home advantage as they try to force a final deciding game in these best-of-seven series.
The Celtics were counted out but picked themselves off the canvas. By rights, their series with the New York Knicks should have been a sweep but somehow Boston have kept firing and stolen back two successive games over their great rivals. The keys have been a glimmer of life from Kevin Garnett, who has been dominating on the boards, plus the scoring of Jeff Green.
New York, of course, have the tools to cope with such adversity but their shooting has cooled and they were listless in losing Game 5 92-86. Despite that, the Knicks are favourites by -1 on the handicap to clinch it. Based on the five match-ups to date, look under the total points line of 181.5.
Also on the Knicks' minds will be the historical mark that no team has ever lost a NBA Playoff series after leading 3-0. Got to happen sometime, right? Houston might feel they have a shot at smashing that mark as they try to level their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 3-3.
OKC have a ready-made excuse for dropping two in a row - the loss of Russell Westbrook - but even without their second-best player, the Thunder should still be leaving Houston behind. Yet it’s proven tough to adjust to giving Kevin Durant the ball on so many possessions and still have him be the primary scorer as well. The Rockets are still relying on their shots falling which makes this too close to call so have a punt on this one going under the points line of 207 at 1.91.
Atlanta’s series with the Indiana Pacers has gone with home advantage every time so far, with the Hawks favoured at -1.5 on the handicap to level at 3-3 tonight and their rivals at 2.01 to finish them off. This one looks like it will go the distance.
The other team on the brink are the Los Angeles Clippers, who need to come up trumps on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies. Blake Griffin’s ankle sprain limited him to 25 minutes in the Clips' 112-91 loss on Tuesday and he’ll have a late fitness test this evening. Without him at full steam, it’s hard to see LA delivering a win at 3.32. Memphis, with a chance to avenge last year’s Playoff exit, are -6.5 on the handicap at 1.91.
Best bet: Take under the total points line of 181.5 in New York-Boston