The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets find themselves in must-win situations on the road on Friday night.
Despite coming in as the higher seed, the Bulls and Rockets dropped Game 1 and 2 at home.
Now the two teams must hit the road to take on confident and young squads in the Washington Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively.
Going down three games to none is simply not a good look.
The Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets will also renew acquaintances on Friday. Their series is deadlocked at 1-1 after splitting the first two games in Toronto.
Brooklyn did what it needed to do by winning in Toronto and stealing the home-court advantage. Toronto must take it back to win the series.
Here are my predictions for all three games.
Blazers Will Push Rockets to the Brink
Don't blame Dwight Howard for his team's struggles in the playoffs. Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof has the numbers:
If there is anyone on Houston's side to blame for a lack of offensive production, it's James Harden. Much like he did in his NBA Finals appearance back in 2012, Harden has been a disappointment.
Fox Sports' Jimmy Spencer talks about Harden's failures.
Offense hasn't been the biggest problem for Houston, though. It's been its defense. Specifically, the interior defense.
LaMarcus Aldridge has looked like a mixture between Kevin McHale and Rasheed Wallace in this series.
Look at his shot chart, per Exavier Pope of CNBC:
By operating primarily on the left side of the floor, Aldridge has feasted on the Rockets "defense."
Through two games, he's averaging 44.5 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Those are NBA 2K14 MyPlayer stats.
Can the Rockets make the adjustments necessary to stem the tide?
I say no.
Leadership and poise is needed to turn this type of shipwreck around. That's what Houston lacks most of all.
While Howard has been solid, he isn't the type of presence that rallies troops. Harden's energy and communication also seem to dip when he's struggling.
This has become a disaster for Houston that may lead to an embarrassing sweep.
Chicago Will Respond to Keep Hope Alive
There are two big reasons why the Wizards are giving the Bulls fits. First, the Washington backcourt is too fast for Kirk Hinrich and Co. to stay with off the dribble.
John Wall and Bradley Beal are breaking down the Bulls defense almost at will.
Secondly, the Wizards defense has been quite good.
Chicago lacks the players who can create offense for themselves and others. During the fourth quarter, the Bulls are scrambling around as opposed to being able to look to dependable scorers to get tough buckets, or at least get to the line.
Washington is staying disciplined and forcing average offensive players into tough shots.
How in the world will the Bulls turn this around?
The same way they have all season: with heart, defensive intensity, rebounding and hustle.
It sounds cliche, but those qualities are what spurred this team to a 48-34 regular-season record.
After falling behind 0-2, expect one of the best defensive and rebounding efforts of the season from Chicago on Friday.
Despite the Bulls' normally solid defense, Washington has shot the ball well all series.
The Wizards have made 48 percent of their shots through two games. It stands to reason, the hot shooting has to cool at some point.
On the other side, Chicago has made just 10-of-37 three-point attempts. The Bulls aren't exactly a great shooting team, but that's even bad for them.
With an increased effort on the offensive and defensive glass, the Bulls will get open looks off second chances, and more opportunities to run.
They will ride that to a Game 3 win on the road.
Brooklyn Will Defend Its Home Court
DeMar DeRozan was phenomenal in Game 2 for the Raptors. He was getting harassed by Paul Pierce and other Nets defenders most of the night, but he still seemingly made tough shots look routine.
He finished with a game-high 30 points in Toronto's 100-95 win.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey talked about DeRozan's shot selection and success during Game 2 with Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:
You’re probably not going to be able to get to the rim every time against this team because they do a great job of packing the paint. What we’ve got to do, and DeMar did it, is take in-between shots, some mid-range shots, basically the shots the defense is giving you, and not try to force it past that.
DeRozan will need to be just as good on Friday if the Raptors are going to steal back home-court advantage.
Since February 1, the Nets are 16-2 at home. The team's dominance on its home court is a big reason for its late surge.
In the first home playoff game of the postseason, the Nets will come out strong and confident.
Playing in the postseason on the road is a major transition for many of the Raptors' best players. DeRozan is included in that number.
Brooklyn's more experienced core will teach a lesson in intensity and poise.
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