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Sportsbook.ag Thursday NBA Playoffs Preview

MIAMI HEAT (68-16) at MILWAUKEE BUCKS (38-46)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Miami -7.5 & 195

The Bucks will be playing to avoid a 3-0 series deficit when they take their home court against the defending champion Heat on Thursday night.

Milwaukee was right in Game 2 for three quarters, but then Miami, yet again, flipped a switch, winning the game 98-86 behind a balanced attack led by Dwyane Wade. Wade had 21 points in the game and scored timely buckets to counter Bucks runs. One thing the Heat didn't do in Game 2, however, was cover the 14-point spread. They failed to do so, despite a very poor shooting night from the Bucks backcourt in which Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined to make only 5-of-22 FG (23%), including 0-for-10 from three-point range. Although Milwaukee was a winning team at home (21-20 SU), it was a paltry 15-25 ATS (38%) at BMO Harris Bradley Center this season. Miami was outstanding on the road this season, going 29-12 SU and 24-17 ATS (59%).

The Heat have dominated the first two games of this series with help from almost every player on the roster. In Game 2, SG Dwyane Wade led the way with 21 points (8-of-14 FG) and seven rebounds, but SF LeBron James was also a difference maker as always. James was 0-for-3 from three-point range, but he had 19 points, six assists and eight rebounds in the game. Some of the biggest contributions for Miami on Tuesday came from its bench players. SF Shane Battier was 2-of-5 from three and 4-for-4 from the free throw line to add 10 points and a +17 rating for Miami in just 24 minutes. The Heat also got tons of energy from PF Chris Andersen, who has become a fan favorite at AmericanAirlines Arena. The "Birdman" finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds and a +14 rating in just 12 minutes of play. He has provided the Heat with another defensive presence in the small spurts he has been on the court. SG Ray Allen shot poorly (2-of-8 FG), but had four assists and a game-best +26 rating. PF Chris Bosh finished with just 10 points and six boards, lowering his postseason averages to 12.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG.

The Bucks definitely feel better about their Game 2 performance than they did after Game 1. On Tuesday, Milwaukee was right in the game despite their best two scorers having an off-night. PG Monta Ellis was 2-for-7 FG (0-for-3 threes) and PG Brandon Jennings shot 3-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-7 from downtown. The backcourt did had five assists apiece, but posted a combined minus-20 rating with six turnovers. Despite being outrebounded 43-33, the Bucks got major offensive contributions in this game from their frontcourt though, with SF Ersan Ilyasova, C Larry Sanders and SF Mike Dunleavy. Ilyasova had 21 points (9-of-14 FG) and six rebounds in 29 minutes of play, while Sanders, who battled foul trouble in the game, scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Sanders also had six rebounds and five turnovers. Mike Dunleavy provided instant offense off the bench for Milwaukee, going 6-of-9 from the field and 2-for-5 from three with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes of play.

BROOKLYN NETS (50-34) at CHICAGO BULLS (46-38)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Chicago -3.5 & 181.5

After a big win on Monday to even up the series with Brooklyn, Chicago looks to keep the momentum going on Thursday when it returns home for Game 3.

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The Bulls looked miserable in Game 1, but responded with an eight-point victory, 90-82, over the Nets in Game 2. That is how the season has looked all season. It hasn't been pretty at times for Chicago, but the club eventually finds a way to get the job done. The Nets are 4-2 ATS (1-5 SU) at United Center over the past three seasons, and have also been a great road team at 23-18 (SU and ATS) overall this season. The Bulls have struggled to put teams away on their home court, going 13-28 ATS (32%) despite a decent 24-17 SU mark. Brooklyn is 7-5 SU (8-4 ATS) with exactly two days' rest, but Chicago has been horrible in this scenario, going 7-13 SU (6-14 ATS). And as poor of a wager that the Nets have been after an SU loss this season (14-19 ATS, 42%), the Bulls are only 16-29 ATS (36%) following an SU win.

The Nets looked great in Saturday's Game 1, but were horrendous in Monday's Game 2. They were out-rebounded 44-39 and shot just 35.4% from the field (4-of-21 threes) as a team. PG Deron Williams must do a better job on Thursday, because as he goes, the team goes. In Game 1 he was brilliant (22 points), but in Game 2 he couldn't hit a shot (1-for-9 FG) nor was he aggressive enough in finding his rhythm, finishing with just eight points, but also dishing out 10 assists with a mere two turnovers. C Brook Lopez continues to play well for Brooklyn as he tallied 21 points (7-of-14 FG), five rebounds and three blocks in Monday's loss. PF Reggie Evans didn't rebound the ball like he normally does though, finishing with just eight rebounds and a minus-12 rating on Monday. The Nets are going to need SG Joe Johnson to perform better if they are going to take control back in this series. Johnson went 6-for-18 against the Bulls in Game 2 for 17 points, four assists and four rebounds. He will need to start shooting the ball better to give the Nets a second go-to option on the wing. SF Gerald Wallace also needs to show up on Thursday after a horrendous Game 2 where he scored two points on 1-of-7 shooting with a game-worst, minus-16 rating.

The Bulls responded well to the 106-89 beating they took in Game 1, and came back and won Game 2 by holding Brooklyn to 82 points. Chicago dominated the third quarter of the game, winning that period 22-11 and never looking back after that. SF Luol Deng stepped up on Monday after he was seemingly absent in Game 1. Deng went 7-of-17 from the field with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. His defense was also superb, as he finished with two blocks and one steal. PF Carlos Boozer continued to play well for Chicago with 13 points and 12 rebounds, giving him 19.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG for the series. The X-factor in this series is C Joakim Noah, who has been playing despite a nagging foot injury. Noah was non-existent in Game 1 with four points and five rebounds, but played very well in his 25 minutes in Game 2, tallying a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. If the Bulls can get more positive minutes from C Nazr Mohammed, who scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting Monday, it will really ease the burden on head coach Tom Thibodeau. PG Nate Robinson has also had a strong series offensively with 14.0 PPG on 52% shooting.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (58-26) at MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (56-28)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Memphis -4.5 & 179.5

After dropping both games in Los Angeles, the Grizzlies try to climb back into their first-round series with the Clippers in Thursday's Game 3 back home in Memphis.

The Grizzlies were blown out of Game 1 by a 112-91 score, but played much better defense in Monday's Game 2, and nearly pulled out the victory, losing 93-91 after Chris Paul made a last-second floater. That gives L.A. nine straight victories (5-3-1 ATS) during a streak that has seen the team score 104.8 PPG on 50% FG and 36% threes. Memphis is happy to return home, where it is 32-9 SU and 23-16-2 ATS (59%) this season, including 14-1 SU (8-7 ATS) in the past 15 games. But that one SU defeat came to the Clippers, 91-87 on April 13. Los Angeles is a solid 24-17 SU on the road this season, but just 20-21 ATS. The Clippers are 13-7 SU (11-8-1 ATS) in the past three years versus Memphis, which includes a 5-1 SU mark (4-2 ATS) this season. Los Angeles is also much better with two days' rest, going 14-3 SU (12-4-1 ATS) in this scenario, compared to the Grizzlies' 10-2 SU record, but subpar 5-6-1 ATS mark after a couple days off.

The Clippers have had a tremendous series offensively with 102.5 PPG on 51.3% FG, but they shot terribly from three-point range in Monday's Game 2, making just 2-of-15 threes. But it has been the defense that has been the difference in this series, limiting Memphis to 91 points in both games and holding a decisive 87-61 rebounding edge in the two games. The Clippers produced a league-leading 9.6 steals per game during the regular season, but have less than half of that (4.5 SPG) so far in the series. PG Chris Paul has been the star of the series with 23.5 PPG (57% FG), 8.0 APG, 3.0 RPG and 1.5 SPG. He's committed just two turnovers in his 69 minutes of action. Four other Los Angeles players have also averaged double-figures so far this series. PF Blake Griffin has 15.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.5 BPG, while SG Jamal Crawford has knocked down 14.0 PPG on 11-of-22 shooting. Two other Clippers players have been even hotter from the floor, as PG Eric Bledsoe has 11.5 PPG on 10-of-13 FG (77%), while SF Caron Butler has 11.0 PPG on 10-of-15 shooting (67%). C DeAndre Jordan has scored a total of only seven points (3-of-6 FG), but has 16 rebounds in the series, and posted four blocks in Game 2. The one player that had a poor performance Monday was SG Chauncey Billups, who scored just five points on 2-of-8 FG with a team-worst minus-11 rating. In Game 1, Billups tallied 14 points and a +14 rating. Although the L.A. starters combined for a minus-33 rating on Monday, the six bench players posted a stellar +43 combined rating.

Despite the pedestrian point totals, the Grizzlies have actually shot pretty well in this series, making 46% FG despite a poor 7-of-23 three-point clip. Their defense has been outstanding at FedEx Forum this season, holding visitors to a mere 87.0 PPG on 42.7% FG and 31.8% threes. And despite getting outrebounded, points in the paint are nearly even in this series at 96-94 favoring the Clippers. If the Grizzlies are going to get back in this series, PF Zach Randolph has to stay out of foul trouble, picking up five personals in each of the first two games. That has limited him to 13.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG in the postseason, numbers well below what he did against L.A. in the regular season (14.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG). PG Mike Conley has admittedly struggled to keep Chris Paul in check, but he was still able to score a playoff-career-high 28 points in Game 2, and is averaging 20.0 PPG, 7.0 APG and 2.0 SPG for the series. C Marc Gasol has also had a strong offensive series with 16.5 PPG, but has just nine rebounds in the two games combined. SG Tony Allen was a monster on the glass Monday with a game-high 10 boards to go along with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Starting SF Tayshaun Prince has been dreadful this postseason, scoring just eight points on 3-of-15 shooting. PF Darrell Arthur had some key buckets during his team's fourth-quarter comeback on Monday, finishing with nine points (4-of-5 FG), but had the worst rating on the team (minus-11).

  
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