Thursday is do, die or advance night in the NBA playoffs.
Two teams are facing Game 6 eliminations and will look to force a Game 7, while their opponents are hoping the series comes to an end now.
Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets fell behind 3-1 against the Chicago Bulls after winning the first game of their series, but they have put themselves in a position to make a comeback after pummeling Chicago in Game 5.
Joakim Noah and the Bulls continue to fight through injuries but will attempt to hold their home court in Game 6, where the Nets have yet to win.
The Denver Nuggets are yet another team that fell behind 3-1 after going up 1-0.
They won a chippy Game 5 to reach Game 6, but to force a Game 7, the Nuggets will have to unseat the Warriors at home, where Golden State is 2-0 thus far.
Will the Warriors or Bulls advance to the second round? Let's find out.
Brooklyn Nets at Chicago Bulls
After dropping three straight games to the Bulls, the Nets suddenly have life. And Chicago suddenly doesn't.
The Bulls remain plagued by injuries. I'm not just talking about the still-absent Derrick Rose, either. I'm talking about everyone.
Joakim Noah's foot still isn't right—we saw as much in Game 5—and now Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson are all listed as questionable for Game 6. The latter two are apparently battling illness while Hinrich is still nursing a sore calf.
It seems unlikely that all three of them would miss such a pivotal game, but you never know. Chicago has been battling injuries and setbacks (and now illness) all season. Anything seems possible at this point.
For the Nets, that's good news. With the exception of Joe Johnson, they're not as physically depleted as their counterpart. And it showed in Game 5, when Brooklyn torched Chicago's usually stringent defense for 110 points.
The key for that Nets in that one—aside from Deron Williams going bonkers in the third quarter—was winning the battles in the paint and on the break.
Brooklyn outscored Chicago 54-42 in the paint and 21-9 in transition. By attacking the rim and pushing the tempo on offense, the Nets were able to better control the pace of the game. Chicago isn't a team built to run—especially now—and while Brooklyn isn't known for its uptempo offense either, getting out in front of the Bulls has proved to be a successful blueprint. Forcing the ball out of Luol Deng's hands on the defensive end is imperative as well.
With Chicago, it's all about successfully combatting that attack. The Bulls need to keep the Nets out of the paint and goad them into three-pointers. And even then, they need to generate some offense of their own and find better looks for Deng. Brooklyn has found ways to score on their defense before (100-plus points in three of five games), so they must total some points of their own.
Yet, while they're at home for Game 6, the Bulls are hobbled beyond comprehension. If any one of their "questionable" components winds up sidelined, they're at a severe disadvantage. They're actually at one regardless. Save for Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer, no player appears to be healthy.
Which should make for a series-defining Game 7 in Brooklyn.
Prediction: Nets 93, Bulls 89
Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
The "hit men" are likely to be out and about in this one.
After winning Game 5 at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets are still facing elimination. Though they never trailed during their latest win, they nearly blew a 22-point lead when the Warriors came out firing in the fourth quarter.
Tensions were running high during and after the game, as both sides took exception to the other's "physical" play. Expect that enmity to carry over into Game 6.
Also, expect the Nuggets to try and defend the three-point shot as well as they did in Game 5. The Warriors are converting on 42.6 percent of their deep balls for the series, but Denver held them to just 37.9 percent in Game 5, including 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter.
Now, 37.9 percent is still a good clip, so the Nuggets are going to need to knock down some treys of their own. They're shooting just 32.7 percent from downtown during the postseason but connected on 37 percent of their long-range attempts in Game 5.
It's going to take similar consistency from the outside for the Nuggets to knot the series up at three games apiece.
More importantly, it's also going to take attacking the rim. Relentlessly. It's what the Nuggets do, and it worked in Game 5. They more than doubled Golden State's output in the paint (50-24).
Sans David Lee, the Warriors shouldn't be able to outscore the Nuggets in the paint. Denver shouldn't let them. Golden State held the advantage in Game 4 (48-36), and the Nuggets got trounced.
Shockingly enough, that's been a common theme since Lee went down. The Warriors haven't struggled to get to the rim. Since Game 1, they've scored at least 44 points in the paint in every contest except Game 5.
The Warriors have been aggressively penetrating, especially when JaVale McGee is off the floor. If the Nuggets are going to give them an open lane, they need to take it.
And yet the three-point shot needs to fall as well. In each of Golden State's two losses, it shot under 38 percent from beyond the arc. The deep ball is such an integral part of the Warriors offense that it just doesn't need to go down, it needs to go down frequently. Like 40 percent of the time.
Backed by a rowdy crowd, the Warriors will have no problem winning should they be able to knock down their treys. Denver hasn't had an answer when they do.
It doesn't hurt that the Nuggets tend to disappear on the road, either. They're 0-2 away from home on the series and were just 19-22 during the regular season. Oracle Arena has proved to be one of the most difficult places to steal a victory (as Denver already knows), so watching how the Nuggets respond when the Warriors go on one of their inevitable runs will speak volumes about the outcome of this game.
Is this series fated for a Game 7 as well?
I say yes.
Prediction: Nuggets 111, Warriors 108
All stats for this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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