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Inside the Paint - Saturday

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The NBA playoffs continue Saturday night with a double-header and the two matchups feature teams facing 2-0 deficits. In case you’re wondering, only 15 teams in NBA history have overcome this hole and managed to win a best-of-seven series, which doesn’t bode well for the Hawks and Rockets.

Let’s break down the primetime battles.

Indiana at Atlanta (ESPN, 7:00 p.m.)

In my opinion, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise of this year’s playoffs so far. After humbling Atlanta 107-90 in Game 1 last Sunday, Indiana outdid itself in Game 2 and cruised to a 113-98 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday. The 113 points scored by the Pacers was the highest output in a playoff game since the team crushed the L.A. Lakers 120-87 in Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals.

What’s even more surprising about the 2-0 lead is that Indiana wasn’t in great form heading into this series. Head coach Frank Vogel and the Pacers closed the season with a 1-5 straight up and 0-6 against the spread mark, yet they still earned the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.  

For the second straight game, the Pacers’ Paul George led all scorers with 27 points. The second-year player is now the face of Indiana franchise and he can do it all, which was proven with his triple-double performance (23 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in Game 1.

Along with George’s dominance, the Pacers have received great production from their bench. The reserves put up 24 in Game 1 and 38 in Game 2. The top sub in Wednesday’s win was Gerald Green, who scored 15 points in 27 minutes.

Offensively, Atlanta was far from terrible. It shot 49 and 50 percent in the two losses but the defense and constant foul trouble disrupted any chemistry and screwed up the rotation. The Pacers went to the free throw line 63 times in the first two games and connected on 51 of the freebies. Meanwhile, Atlanta has gone 18-of-34 in this series from the charity stripe.

Despite losing both games in Indiana by double-digits, oddsmakers aren’t selling off the Hawks just yet. Atlanta opened as a two-point home favorite for Game 3 and the number has been bumped up to 2 ½ at most shops.

Including the two wins in this series, Indiana has won four straight games against the Hawks. So why is Atlanta favored? For starters, all four of those wins came at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And more importantly, the Hawks have won 11 straight home meetings against Indiana, eight of them by double digits. Indiana went 19-21 SU and 20-20 ATS on the road this season, which includes two straight losses away from home. Also, the Pacers had their Apr. 16 road battle at Boston cancelled due to the bombings.

Atlanta has produced a 25-16 record at home but gamblers should be weary of backing a team that’s just 14-25 ATS at home. Keep in mind this line is short and Atlanta has gone 11-5 ATS as a favorite of 3 ½-points or less this season and the Pacers are 4-8 ATS (33%) in the same scenario as underdogs.

Including the two games in this series, the ‘over’ has gone 5-1 between the pair this season. The total is sitting at 190 for Game 3, which is a slight jump from the closing numbers (185, 187) in the first two installments.

The Hawks are listed at an 8/1 price (Bet $100 to win $800) to win the best-of-seven series. The two teams will square off in Game 4 on Monday from Philips Arena.

Oklahoma City at Houston (ESPN, 9:35 p.m.)

On Friday afternoon, the Thunder announced that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will undergo surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. He’s been ruled ‘out’ for Game 3 and possibly the rest of this series and the playoffs. How will Oklahoma City respond? That’s a difficult to question to answer considering Westbrook has never missed a game in his NBA career.

Oddsmakers had Oklahoma City listed a listed as a three-point road favorite for Game 3 prior to the Westbrook injury. After the announcement, Houston is now being listed as a one-point home favorite for Saturday’s matchup.

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With Westbrook, Oklahoma City finished the regular season as the top seed in the Western Conference and it has lived up to the billing in the first round. The Thunder blasted the Rockets by 29 points (120-91) in Game 1 last Sunday and followed up the wire-to-wire victory with a 105-102 win in Game 2 on Wednesday. Oklahoma City failed to cover as an 11-point home favorite in the second installment and they almost blew a 15-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The Rockets used a 21-2 in the final 12 minutes and led 95-91 with a little over three minutes left on the clock. Then OKC decided to play defense and they closed the game with a 14-6 burst, which include crucial 3-pointers from Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha. Durant finished the game with 29 points and nine assists while Westbrook added 29 points as well. Houston’s James Harden led all scorers with 36 points, 17 of them coming from the free throw line.

Can Houston rebound from the tough setback? They will be at home for two games and they seem to be ready for the challenge. "We were down 15, we could have just given up the game and said, `Let's go to Game 3,' but we fought back and took the lead," Harden said. "So, we definitely have some confidence going into Game 3 and going back home."

Including the victories in this series, OKC has won four of five against Houston this season. The lone win for the Rockets came on Feb. 20 from the Toyota Center as they notched a 122-119 win as three-point home ‘dogs. In that game, Harden scored 46 points and Jeremy Lin added 29 points.

Lin sat out the second-half of Game 2 due to a chest bruise but is listed as ‘probable’ for Game 3. Head coach Kevin McHale switched things up on Wednesday and started Patrick Beverly with Harden and Lin in the backcourt, which worked. The Rockets have conceded that they can’t stop OKC so they’re going to win with offense. Now with Westbrook banged up, you wonder if McHale goes back to his normal lineup for Game 3 or does he push the tempo even more without Westbrook.

OKC went 26-15 SU and 22-17 ATS on the road this year, which included five straight wins and covers to close the season.  Houston has gone 29-12 SU and 24-17 ATS at home.

If you believe the Rockets can create a rally and still win this series against the short-handed Thunder, then you should take a look at the series price. Houston was listed at a 30/1 price (Bet $100 to win $3,000) to overcome the 0-2 deficit and win the best-of-seven battle but that number has dropped to 24/1 (Bet $100 to win $2,400) due to the injury.

Total players have watched the ‘under’ go 2-0 in the first two games and those results were helped with some scoring droughts in the second-halves. The total for Game 3 opened at 211 and dropped to 209. After the Westbrook news, the number was adjusted to 208.

A possible elimination matchup in Game 4 is set for Monday from Toyota Center.

Chris David can be reached at cdavid@vegasinsider.com
 

  
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