The 2014 NBA playoffs are forging onward with three pivotal games on tap for Friday evening.
A rubber match between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets is atop the list. These two Atlantic Division rivals have no shortage of bad blood, and it is set to spill over now that the series is moving to New York.
There’s also a showdown between the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, with the Wizards looking to capitalize on the two road wins they stole in the Windy City as the action moves to the nation’s capital.
Finally, the Portland Trail Blazers, holding a 2-0 lead in the series, play host to the Houston Rockets. It’ll be interesting to see if LaMarcus Aldridge can continue his string of incredible playoff performances in front of the home crowd and push the Rockets, who are already on the ropes, to the brink.
Keep reading for a look at the updated odds for each of these thrilling matchups, plus a closer look at the must-watch game of the evening.
|(6) Brooklyn Nets vs. (3) Toronto Raptors||7 p.m.||ESPN2||BRK -5||Nets|
|(5) Washington Wizards vs. (4) Chicago Bulls||8 p.m.||ESPN||WAS -3||Wizards|
|(5) Portland Trail Blazers at (4) Houston Rockets||10:30 p.m.||ESPN||POR -3||Trail Blazers|
Must-Watch Contest on Friday: Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors
This is the only matchup left in the Eastern Conference that is still tied. Expect a bloodbath between these mortal enemies, as the winner of this pivotal Game 3 will move a gigantic step closer to winning the best-of-seven series.
According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the winner of this matchup has gone on to the next round 76.8 percent of the time (a 152-46 record):
According to Elias Sports Bureau, in all-time best-of-7series tied 1-1 Game 3 winner has won 76.8 percent of the series. #ATLHawks— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) April 25, 2014
Because these teams are so close in terms of talent and have split the six total games played between them in 2013-14, the home crowd at the Barclays Center could be the deciding factor.
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri attempted to inspire the Canadian crowd before Game 1, infamously yelling, “F--- Brooklyn!” and subsequently drawing ire and a $25,000 fine from the league office.
That motivational tactic could come back to haunt his club, as cagey Nets big man Kevin Garnett said he’s intrigued to see the crowd’s reaction in Game 3, as per The Associated Press (via ESPN): "Very, very eager to see how they respond to the `F Brooklyn.’ Very, very eager to see how they respond to this kid."
Which team will win Game 3?
The Nets were quite unbeatable in their home digs, especially in the latter part of the season. The team went on a franchise-record 15-game home winning streak (which also tied for longest in the league for the 2013-14 campaign) before dropping a pair of meaningless contests at the tail end of the season—which some feel was intentional in order to draw the Raptors in the playoffs.
However, unless the defense improves from Game 2, Brooklyn will struggle to stop this opponent. The Nets gave up 36 points in the fourth quarter of a 100-95 loss, which was a concerning meltdown after allowing less than 25 points in the last seven quarters of the series.
If that becomes a trend, the Nets will have little chance of survival. Brooklyn thrives on its defensive efforts and has a chance to go far if it can right the ship. Don’t bet against that happening, as these experienced veterans look poised to defend home court on Friday night.
Prediction: Nets over Raptors, 92-88.