While the four teams playing later on Wednesday aren't in the same immediate danger that the Thunder were heading into Game 5, the pressure is mounting to produce wins.
Game 5 is a critical time in any series, particularly if the series is tied at two apiece.
The Washington Wizards will play host to the Atlanta Hawks in a pivotal matchup to determine which team will go up 3-2 in a best-of-seven. Likewise, the Boston Celtics are returning home after picking up two vital road wins against the Chicago Bulls with momentum on their side.
Can the Wizards and Celtics take advantage of playing at home? Or will the Hawks and Bulls continue to be spoilers to the outlook of the Eastern Conference? Let's take a quick look at Wednesday's TV schedule along with some predictions surrounding the pair of games.
|NBA TV Schedule for Wednesday, April 26|
|Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards||6:00 p.m.||TNT|
|Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
Note: Live-stream options are available for the two TNT games on Watch TNT.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards
Coming off an impressive 111-101 victory over the Wizards in Game 4, the Hawks are looking to string together their third consecutive victory in the series after trailing 2-0.
Despite a combined 54 point effort form the dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall (22 points) and Bradley Beal (32 points), the Wizards were no match for the Hawks, who had six players score in double-figures and five players scoring at least 15 points, according to NBA.com.
The Wizards cannot afford to lose home court advantage in this series after winning in Washington in the first two games. The saying goes that a playoff series doesn't really start until the home team loses, but the Hawks have all but seized momentum after back-to-back double-digit victories.
It may be true that the Hawks don't necessarily have a star-studded backcourt like the Wizards do, but they still have serviceable players in Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr., not to mention a terrifying front court consisting of Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and impressive rookie Taurean Prince.
Prince has really shone in the last couple of games for the Hawks, scoring 16 points while grabbing four boards in Game 3 followed up by an 11 point, seven rebound effort in Game 4.
His play has not only generated excitement for his team and fanbase, but it's hard not to think about the potential he has shown in such a short amount of time in the NBA.
With consistent contributions throughout their starting five and role players, the Hawks can hurt any team from multiple positions, and having that type of offensive variety is crucial in the playoffs. The Wizards have to rely on Wall and Beal, but it won't be enough in Game 5 as Atlanta steals home court advantage from Washington.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks
Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics
There hasn't been a series quite like this Eastern Conference matchup between the top-seeded Celtics and No. 8 seeded Bulls.
The Bulls stole the first two games of the series on the road, sending shockwaves through Boston and the NBA. When all hope seemed lost, an unfortunate injury to Rajon Rondo hurt the Bulls when the series went back to Chicago, allowing the Celtics to even things up at two apiece, playing some of the best basketball they've played in recent weeks.
But just when it appeared that the Celtics had it all figured out by adding Gerald Green to the starting five in place of Amir Johnson—a bold but well-executed move by head coach Brad Stevens—it appears that a familiar face may be returning back sooner than expected. Well, that's if you believe Rondo can play through an excruciating amount of pain, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical.
It's hard not to respect a player like Rondo, who is willing to put his body on the line for his team in the playoffs. While it isn't a sure thing that he returns to play any significant minutes, his presence alone makes a positive impact for the Bulls. After all, this is the same player who dislocated his elbow against the Miami Heat a few years back while playing for the Celtics and returned to finish the game just minutes afterwards.
But even if Rondo can play at all, it doesn't matter at this point. What this series really boils down to is the play of the stars: Isaiah Thomas vs. Jimmy Butler. Sure, they technically play different positions on the floor, but they do share one important role on their respective teams. When their team needs a bucket, the ball will be in their hands.
Thomas has looked like his old self on the court after the death of his sister this past week, and that's good news for the Celtics in what is a must-win game. Boston cannot afford to be down in the series again, and they certainly can't afford to drop three (yes, three) straight home games as a No. 1 seed in the first round. That's unheard of.
Look for Boston to show up at the TD Garden and go up 3-2 as the Bulls continue to slide.
Prediction: Boston Celtics
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