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New York at Miami (TNT, 7:05 p.m. ET)
Without Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and prized rookie stopper Iman Shumpert, the New York Knicks host their first playoff game in 2012 decidedly short-handed. In a perfect world, they would have LeBron James in uniform instead of leading the opposition, which would certainly be working out better for them than what's transpired to date.
Down 2-0, New York has had to watch James shut down Carmelo Anthony thus far in this series, as the team's top free agency target in 2010 has teamed with Shane Battier to hold him to 15-for-41 shooting. Anthony scored 30 points in Monday's 104-94 loss -- a push at most books -- but frustrated Stoudemire with his lack of ball movement enough to cause him to take his anger out on a fire extinguisher in the bowels of Miami's American Airlines Arena, causing hand lacerations that will keep him out of Game 3 and possibly this weekend's Game 4.
For New York, it's been that type of series. Miami sent a message that its minds were in playoff mode in Saturday's opener, winning 100-67 to alleviate concerns that stars James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had rested too much down the stretch. Shumpert, who interim head coach Mike Woodson was counting on to help contain Wade, tore his ACL. Newly-crowned Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler has been rendered ineffective due to a bout with the flu.
Outside of J.R. Smith, Knick reserves are shooting 11-for-30 in the series. Despite all that, the Heat insist this series hasn't started since all they've done is simply hold serve at home. That's standard practice this time of year, but certainly, the defending Eastern Conference champs know the Knicks are ready for a knockout blow. After losing the final two meetings of the 2011 regular season to New York, the Heat has been on alert against their high-profile in rival in 2012, sweeping all three regular-season meetings. The 93-85 win engineered on April 15 at Madison Square Garden represents the only home loss for the Knicks since March 11, a stretch of 12 games. Among New York's victims during that run where the Bulls, Celtics, Pacers and Clippers, an indication of how well the team has responded to the pressure of performing in front of a packed house at the world's most famous arena.
Despite all the attrition, Spike Lee and a pack of vocal supporters will be in attendance hoping the Knicks can actually make this a series. Pulling that off will hinge on being able to execute against a defense that has clamped down by following the lead of James, a three-time All-NBA First Team defender who finished fourth behind Chandler, OKC's Serge Ibaka and Orlando's Dwight Howard in DPOY voting. James has been able to dominate his individual battle with friend and fellow All-Star Anthony while shooting 18-for-32 from the field himself. Dwyane Wade has been tremendously efficient, shooting 19-for-31 in the series.
Without Shumpert, New York has had to rely on team defense and has simply had too many holes to make up for his absence. J.R. Smith and Landry Fields simply can't match up. Miami is shooting over 50 percent in the series and has yet to be challenged, but enters Thursday's game with the mindset that they can't afford to let the Knicks find their footing, especially with Stoudemire and Lin hoping to rush back and make an impact in the series. Going up 3-0 would likely quench those fires. but the Heat may have to do without the services of All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who returned to Miami to be with his wife for the delivery of a new child.
Miami has covered or pushed in all five 2012 meetings, all but one of which has gone under the posted total. Dating back to the start of the 2010 season, New York and Miami have combined for unders in seven of nine showdowns. The combined 198 points in Game 2 did eclipse the closing total of 185 and oddsmakers have pushed the ‘over/under’ for Game 3 up to 186.
Senior odds consultant Mike Pierce of Sportsbook tells VegasInsider.com that this contest is getting major action. He said, “We’re going to have the biggest decision of the year in the NBA for tonight’s Heat-Knicks Game 3, and the volume is directly related to the days off between each playoff game.”
“Right now, over 90% of the action is on Miami -5 and 95% of the money-line bets are on the Heat (-240) as well.”
Oklahoma at City at Dallas (TNT, 9:35 p.m. ET)
Oklahoma City will be filled with emotion as it heads back to the scene where last year's championship dreams painfully ended. The Mavericks clinched their ticket to the NBA Finals by eliminating the Thunder 4-1 in the 2011 Western Conference Finals, but are now simply attempting to get back into this first-round series after failing to close out two winnable games in OKC.
The Thunder actually won their only game of last year's series in Dallas and won big in their last regular-season visit (95-86) on Feb. 1, so they won't be shook by the change of venue, especially since they have won six of seven meetings with the Mavericks in 2011-12, including a pair of exhibition games before the start of this accelerated season. These teams know one another extremely well, but that's precisely why Dallas is such a dangerous foe for the team many expect to reach this year's finals.
Dirk Nowitzki has been a beast in both playoff showdowns, exhibiting the form that confounded Miami last June and helped deliver Dallas' first NBA championship. Shooting 18-for-37 from the field and 20-for-21 from the free-throw line, Nowitzki is averaging 28 points per game in the series and has proven that even Ibaka is no match for his offensive game. Tag-team partner Jason Terry has come off the bench to chip in an average of 16.5 points on 12-for-23 shooting, so considering how well he typically performs in the familiar confines of American Airlines Center, the Thunder have to anticipate they'll have their hands full once again.
As is forever the case with this Thunder squad, there's controversy regarding how often point guard Russell Westbrook shoots instead of distributes, especially since he's matched three-time scoring championship Kevin Durant with 44 field-goal attempts in the series. Westbrook is actually averaging a team-best 28.5 points per game, so don't expect him to alter his approach, especially with Jason Kidd as his primary defender. The crafty future Hall-of-Famer hasn't been able to make an impact against the more athletic Westbrook, who has been able to drive by him at will, getting into the teeth of Dallas' interior defense and generating breakdowns. James Harden, whose effectiveness was in doubt coming into the postseason after taking that nasty elbow from Metta World Peace a few weeks back, has looked like his normal self off the bench, averaging 17 points through the first two encounters. He's shooting 19-for-20 from the free-throw line.
Expect the outcome of Game 3 to hinge on how effective the Mavericks can be in controlling the paint. Brendan Haywood will start at center, but with Tyson Chandler now in New York, Rick Carlisle has had to rely on untested Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright to help make an impact against Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. The Mavs held their own in the rebounding department in Oklahoma City but have to take that part of their game up a notch if they are to get back into this series.
Dallas has been an underdog in five of its last six meetings with the Thunder, covering every single time it has gotten points. Tonight, the Mavericks opened as one-point favorites and the number has been spiked up to 3 1/2-points at most betting shops. Ironically, Oklahoma City's lone cover against Dallas in 2012 came as a one-point 'dog in the aforementioned Feb. 1 visit to Dallas.
The first two games in Oklahoma City went ‘over’ the total with numbers closing at 192 1/2 and 193 points. For Game 3, the number is up 194 ½ points and bettors should know that the two meetings played in Dallas saw a combined 187 and 181 points posted.