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Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz (-5.5)

The Jazz feel like a team that’s been figured out. And this isn’t exactly new.

Two years ago in the bubble, the Jazz went up 3–1 in the first round but lost three straight to end their season. Last year, Utah was up 2–0 in the second round before losing four straight. It feels like they may be on their way to four straight Ls again.

The Jazz are very good at what they do, but what they do is narrow. They take and make a heap of 3s and have an all-world rim protector in Rudy Gobert. But when opponents take away the 3s and pull Gobert away from the rim, the Jazz wilt. That’s what Dallas did successfully in Game 2, and the Mavs went back to the well successfully for another win in Game 3.

Now the season is on the line for Utah, maybe along with this version of the franchise, but they don’t look like a team ready to fight. This team quit on each other all season long, and now it looks like Luka Doncic will return to slice and dice the defense even more.

Look for the Mavs to continue to roll, covering and winning on the road to put a dagger into this Jazz franchise.

THE PICK: Mavericks +5.5  Mavericks moneyline

Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (-3.5)

This series was billed as the gem of the first round, and it’s lived up to billing.

The Nets have more than acquitted themselves, even with two subpar games from Kevin Durant. Brooklyn lost the opener at the buzzer and could easily be 1–1 or even 2–0 in the series. Now the Nets are fighting for their season.

But the Celtics return Robert Williams, and he makes a nasty defense even nastier. This Boston defense dwarfed the league’s rankings the past couple months and has made Durant’s life miserable. Jayson Tatum has proven Durant’s equal thus far, and Boston is the deeper team. Right now, they look better coached and hungrier too.

These games have been close all the way. The Nets have proven they’re nearly a coin flip in any game, but they’re heavy series underdogs at this point, needing to win four of five. This is a desperate spot for Brooklyn, but even so, the line has moved too far against an opponent as good as Boston.

The move at this point may just be taking the points for either underdog in a series that might just come down to which superstar hits shots in the clutch.

THE PICK: Celtics +3.5 

Memphis Grizzlies -3 at Minnesota Timberwolves

Game 3 of this one felt like it could have been an entire series unto its own.

The Timberwolves took a huge early lead, only for the Grizzlies to storm all the way back before the half. Minnesota opened up an even bigger lead in the third quarter, but Memphis erased it again, then held on to win late and stun the Wolves crowd.

This series has been wild and unpredictable. These are two young teams that can go on crazy runs or disappear for long stretches, and these games have swung on pivotal foul calls on bigs from both sides, notably Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Each game has seen big runs, and though Minnesota blew a huge chance in Game 3, it has more than proven itself up for the challenge. The Wolves were the better team in Games 1 and 3, and they may have cracked a new useful lineup in this matchup with Jarred Vanderbilt at center.

It matters that Memphis came back from two big deficits, but it also matters that they found themselves in a 20-point hole twice. Minnesota has been up for it. The Wolves should not be home underdogs. Take the points.

THE PICK: Timberwolves +3 

Golden State Warriors -4.5 at Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are cooked. Nikola Jokic is wonderful, and he’ll be a deserving MVP. But Jokic was always up against it against a team as good as these healthy Warriors.

Without Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr., these Nuggets were badly out-manned from the start. Jokic dragged this team as far as he could, but this ragtag bunch can’t hang with a Golden State team firing on all cylinders.

The Warriors have three of the best shooters in the world with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson healthy and Jordan Poole unstoppable right now. Draymond Green has been magnificent in defense and orchestrating the offense. The Warriors are draining 3s all over the court, and they’re also hitting almost two-thirds of their 2-pointers.

Golden State has had answers for Jokic defensively, but Denver has no answers of its own. The Nuggets played a near perfect first half offensively in Game 3 but trailed by double digits at the half anyway. This team is done, and they know it. Look for the Warriors to pull away and win in style.

THE PICK: Warriors to win by 11+ points