Shane McNichol makes his NBA playoff predictions for Thursday night, with two teams facing elimination in Game 6 of the Conference Semifinals.
James Harden under 8.5 assists
The performances of the former league MVP have been erratic in this series, putting it mildly. In Games 1 and 4, Harden was transcendent. In Games 2 and 3, he was terrible. In Game 5, Harden was patient and steady, taking what the defense gave him.
It would make sense then to expect another down game from the Sixers’ point guard.
From my vantage point, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest we see Harden play well again, but even if he does so, Boston has to change the way it approaches Harden as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. In Game 5, the Celtics shaded towards Harden, leaving screeners like Joel Embiid open to shoot mid-range jump shots or swing to open shooters.
If Boston counters by making that pass more difficult, Harden loses a lot of easy chances for an assist and may have to call his own number a bit more often.
Malcolm Brogdon under 14.5 points
In this series, Malcolm Brogdon is hitting better than 53 per cent from beyond the arc. That is simply unsustainable. The star reserve guard has made at least one three in each of his last ten games, dating back to the first-round series against Atlanta.
Brogdon is a capable shooter and gets red-hot at times. In the regular season, he had similar streaks. In January, he made at least one deep ball in 13 straight games, while shooting 50 per cent on his attempts. For a month-long stretch in November into December, Brogdon sunk 51 per cent of his long range shots, again while making at least one per night.
Both of those streaks were logically followed by cold spurts. In late December, for example, he made just one of ten three-point attempts and didn’t score in double-figures for a four-game stretch.
After the scoring barrage he’s experienced in recent weeks, I expect regression, in addition to extra attention from the Sixers’ defense.
BONUS Pick: Sixers (+2.5)
Philadelphia knows it needs to close this series at home and lock the door on a Celtics comeback. In front of what promises to be an electric crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, I’m happy to jump on the Sixers with a few points if the Celtics can steal a close one.
Nikola Jokic over 29.5 points
This postseason, in games decided by 20 or fewer points, the two-time MVP is averaging 33 points per game. Some of that is skewed by his 53-point explosion in Game 4 of this series, but with the teams headed back to Phoenix, Jokic could be ready to fill the box score once again.
His 53-point game resulted in a loss for Denver, which is a bit of a trend. Three of his four highest scoring games in the playoffs have resulted in losses. Teams are looking to let Jokic chase his own scoring instead of finding teammates for open threes.
Phoenix may try that route again in Game 6, with a chance to send the series back to Denver.
Aaron Gordon under 0.5 three-pointers made
If Phoenix looks to cut off passing lanes from Jokic to his teammates, Gordon could be one Nugget who suffers.
In the regular season, Gordon made a three in 38 of the 68 games he played, making this prompt feel a tick better than a coin flip.
In the playoffs, however, Gordon has made a three in seven of 10 games. In those 10 games, he’s averaging exactly one made triple, with five of those outings resulting in only one make.
After sinking one or more in four of five games, Gordon is due for a goose egg from long range. I’m betting against him this evening.