Mile High Matchup: Lakers go for 3-0 lead

Published on May 4 at 1:47 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Gamblers have three NBA Playoff games on tap Friday night. Let’s start in Boston (40-28 straight up, 35-31-2 against the spread) where the Celtics will take on the Hawks in Game 3.

Even with Rajon Rondo suspended, Doc Rivers’s team evened the series at 1-1 behind a brilliant performance from franchise stalwart Paul Pierce, who scored 36 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead his team to an 87-80 win as a 4 ½-point underdog. The C’s hooked up money-line supporters with a payout in the plus-170 range (risk $100 to win $170).

Boston trailed by 11 points late in the third quarter, but it outscored the home team by a 26-14 count in the final stanza. Pierce made all the shots at crunch time, while veteran reserve guard Keyon Dooling provided a defensive spark and buried a pair of timely treys. Kevin Garnett added 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

Josh Smith (18.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game) suffered a strained left knee tendon at around the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Without its explosive power forward, Atlanta (41-27 SU, 37-29-2 ATS) reverted to its tired tactic of standing around and looking for Joe Johnson to do something off the dribble. As usual, the result was low-percentage shots and awful possessions.

With Smith ‘doubtful’ for Game 3 and Rondo set to return, most books are listing Boston as an eight-point favorite with a total of 173 ½. Bettors can take the Hawks to win outright for a plus-325 payout (risk $100 to win $325).

Atlanta’s two premier big men, Zaza Pachulia (sprained foot) and Al Horford (torn pectoral), remain ‘out’ although Larry Drew is optimistic that Pachulia will be ready by Game 5. Boston’s Ray Allen is expected to miss Game 3 as well.

When Atlanta has been an underdog of eight points or more, it owns a 4-1 spread record. As for the Celtics, they are 6-3 ATS as favorites of eight points or more.

In the lone meeting between these clubs in Beantown this year, Boston won an 88-86 decision in overtime. The ‘under’ has gone 4-1 in this year’s head-to-head encounters, including a 2-0 mark in this series.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.

On ESPN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Philadelphia (36-32 SU, 35-33-1 ATS) will play host to top-seeded Chicago in Game 3. The 76ers knotted the series at 1-1 with Tuesday’s 109-92 win at The United Center as 6 ½-point underdogs.

Jrue Holiday enjoyed an incredible performance, making 11-of-15 shots en route to scoring a game-high 26 points. He also dished out six assists without committing a turnover. Louis Williams added 20 points off the bench and also produced a 6/0 assists-to-turnover ratio.

In the losing effort, Joakim Noah had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Starting at points guard in place of Derrick Rose after he tore his ACL in the Bulls’ Game 1 win, C.J. Watson played 28-plus minutes and finished with 12 points and three assists.

Chicago (51-17 SU, 39-28-1 ATS) captured a 103-91 win as an 8 ½-point home favorite in Game 1, but the victory was bittersweet with Rose going down in the final minutes. The 194 combined points went ‘over’ the 175-point total.

Rose nearly had a triple-double with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Luol Deng chipped in with 17 points, while Noah tallied 12 points, 13 boards and two blocked shots.

Chicago won 18 of 27 games without Rose during the regular season, so it’s not as if it isn’t capable of advancing without its star player. However, the reality is that the Bulls probably aren’t capable of getting out of the East with their perennial All-Star.

Most books are listing the 76ers as two-point home favorites with a total of 179 ½. The Bulls are plus-110 on the money line.

The late game will be played at Pepsi Center where Denver will try to avoid a 0-3 hole against the Lakers. ESPN will have the telecast at 10:35 p.m. Eastern.

Most spots have the Nuggets as four-point home ‘chalk’ with a 204-point tally. Los Angeles (43-25 SU, 29-39 ATS) is plus-165 on the money line.

Mike Brown’s team drew first blood with a 103-88 win as a 5 ½-point home favorite in Game 1. Andrew Bynum dominated with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocked shots on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 31 points, while Pau Gasol added 13 points, eight boards and eight assists.

Danilo Gallinari had a team-high 19 points in defeat.

In Game 2, L.A. won by a 104-100 count but the Nuggets took the cash as 5 ½-point underdogs thanks to a last-second bucket from Kenneth Faried that also sent ‘over’ backers (202 ½) to the window to cash tickets.

Bryant led the way again with 38 points, while Bynum produced 27 points and nine boards. Ty Lawson scored a team-high 25 points for the Nuggets, who got 14 points and 10 boards from Faried.

The Lakers have now won five of six head-to-head meetings against Denver this year, although the Nuggets are 3-3 ATS during this stretch. The teams have split the two meetings in the Mile High City. The ‘under’ had hit in seven straight head-to-head meetings before Faried’s basket resulted in Tuesday’s late-night ‘over’ emergence.

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