There’s a good reason that NBA teams battle through a prolonged and often repetitive regular season: to be at home when it matters most – in the Playoffs. The Brooklyn Nets will take their reward for finishing one place above the Chicago Bulls tonight when they host the deciding game of their first round series at the Barclays Center.
Home advantage counts for a lot. This will be the 111th Game 7 in league history. The record to date is 88-22 in favour of the home side with such encounters decided by an average of 6.2 points. And if such numbers weren’t enough to frighten the Bulls, it should be noted that Chicago is 0-6 all-time on the road in winner-take-all ties.
Of course, the Bulls can reflect on the two chances which have gone begging to deliver a KO blow to the Nets. Up 3-1, they lost Game 5 110-91 and then were edged out 95-92 in Game 6 on their own court. Losing Luol Deng with flu for that one was a hammer blow and if the All Star had been available, it’s likely Brooklyn would be off on vacation by now.
But Deng might be out again, and the Nets are now favoured by -6 on the handicap to advance towards an Eastern Conference semi-final series with the Miami Heat, with their rivals outsiders at 3.25. It’s tough to ever write off the Bulls, who have made beating the odds their trademark all season long but this might be one scrap too many.
Next weekend it’s the Euroleague Final Four in London and it’s worth an early punt on which of the surviving quartet will walk away with the prize. CSKA Moscow are 2.25 favourites and are up against reigning champions Olympiacos in the semi-finals, with the Greeks priced as 7.50 outsiders.
But the spotlight is on basketball’s version of El Clasico in the other semi, with FC Barcelona facing Real Madrid. Both are 3.75 to lift the trophy but on their head-to-head form this season, back Real now to accomplish what Jose Mourinho couldn’t manage and bring a European title back to the Spanish capital.
Best bet: Take Brooklyn to beat Chicago at 1.35