April 27 - Day Six. Are you getting a feel for this game yet? Good, because we're just getting a feel for how the first round is seemingly going to play out. The top seeds in each conference, while tested a little, are still unbeaten. Beyond that, things get a little muddy.
So, you might want to pick a stud from any of the 0-2 squads, thinking they'll be a bit desperate to keep their teams from falling into a near-insurmountable 0-3 hole. Carmelo Anthony would be a good choice tonight as the action shifts back to Denver. Or, if you haven't yet picked Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich, also not bad choices as they go home to the Windy City.
We already suggested Gordon to you, and he had a subpar performance after a stellar opening night contest. He should bounce back and turn in a nice outing in Game 3. As for Hinrich, he was my personal choice a few nights ago and he didn't disappoint, generating a 40 PRA.
But, I'm thinking along slightly different lines for today's expert pick.
The Pick: The New Jersey Nets soundly defeated the Pacers at home Tuesday night, but they'll hear it on the road tonight from the crowd inside Conseco Fieldhouse -- always one of the loudest and most difficult buildings to play in, no matter the condition of the home team.
Robinson and Collins have played solid defense on O'Neal in Games 1 & 2, but expect O'Neal to get his in Game 3.
Al Bello/Getty Images/NBAE
So, my suggestion is if you haven't already taken Jermaine O'Neal, do so tonight. It's doubtful you'll have the opportunity beyond this round. But, why tonight, you ask, versus, say, Game 5 or 6?
General Strategy: Here's why. First, like I said, the game's at home, where the Pacers went 27-14 in the regular season. The Pacers also won the only regular-season meeting there before splitting two in Jersey. Go back further, however, and you'll see last year's Pacers established a trend of winning Game 3 at home after splitting the first two on the road. They downed Boston in Round 1 and Detroit in Round 2. In that first-round, Game 3 win over Boston, O'Neal tallied 21 points, 11 boards and three assists.
Reason two: O'Neal had an abysmal night in Game 2, hitting only 3-of-12 shots for 12 points to go along with seven boards. And Game 1 wasn't any better. Looking back on the regular season -- and forgetting March even existed as O'Neal returned from a groin tear -- every time O'Neal turned in back-to-back sub-20-point games, he rebounded with respectable digits: PRAs of 42, 35, 32 and 43.
Now look back on your picks in this game over the past week. Would you be happy with a 35 or 40 from O'Neal tonight and save that 54 from LeBron James for a later round? I certainly would.
Reason three: O'Neal logged three minutes more than he did Sunday, but still was only on the floor 32 minutes. The cause: foul trouble. After two straight disappointing outings, expect those minutes to tick upward as O'Neal and Rick Carlisle look to find a way to keep those fouls in check.
As you see, and maybe you've noticed in rationalizing your own picks, there's a lot of grey area to making each selection. You can look at the stats and trends, adding in your own expectations for what may play out on the court, but ultimately there's a bit of luck involved in each pick. But, if, based on the stats we have at our disposal, O'Neal has a big game tonight, you'll be the one making the jump in the standings tomorrow.