By Dennis Berry
Thursday night there will be three games in the NBA playoffs. All three are elimination games. Of the three teams on the brink of going home, who has the best chance of coming back to win their series?
Down 3-2 to Boston Celtics
It's hard to think of a way that the Atlanta Hawks can come back to beat the Boston Celtics. When you think of the Hawks, you don't think of a team that is tough enough to come back from a 3-1 hole. When you see they have to do it against a proven playoff team like Boston, it is almost impossible.
The first factor working against Atlanta is that they will have to win game six on the road. This is a team that has not proven that it can win a big playoff game on the road. The last time Atlanta was in Boston, they lost 101-79. Atlanta has not won a game in Boston since 2010 or won a playoff game in Boston since 1988. So they have to find a way to stop those streaks to advance.
Atlanta does have a couple of things going for them, though. First, they are coming off a game five win in which they had to come back in the fourth quarter to win. They played excellent defense on the final possession to secure a win.
Second is that they are as healthy as they can be. They have Al Horford back to help anchor their defense. Josh Smith has come back from an injury he suffered in this series. Those are key players who they have missed earlier in this series.
The only problem is you just do not know what you are going to get from Atlanta in a big game. Until game five, this group had not shown it could rise up to a challenge to keep their season alive. Definitely cannot see them doing it on the road.
Boston will win game six to end the series.
Down 3-2 to Los Angeles Lakers
The Denver Nuggets appeared to be done after losing game four at home. They were not able to beat the Lakers when they appeared to be exhausted. No one could have blamed the Nuggets if they just went through the motions during game five and headed off into the offseason.
To Denver's credit, they did not roll over. Despite 43 points from Kobe Bryant the Nuggets went into Staples Center and forced a game six. JaVale McGee had a career night with 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way.
How can Denver still win this series? One thing they have going for them is game six is in Denver. Denver is, despite going 20-13 in the regular season, one of the best home teams in the NBA.
The Nuggets need to turn up the tempo on the Lakers. Denver was one of the highest scoring teams in the NBA this past season. One reason is how fast they can get their offense to defense. Once they get a defensive rebound, they look to push the ball and that is when they have success.
Another positive for Denver was winning game five. Now they know they can win on the road. Even though they did not win a game during a regular season against Los Angeles, they proved they can win at the Staples Center. That was a huge win for a young Nuggets team that gives them confidence to know they can win in Los Angeles.
If Denver is going to pull off the comeback, they need Javlee McGaee to continue to play like he did in game five. When McGee plays like that and they get positive minutes from Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington, they match up well with the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
On defense they have to keep Bynum frustrated. When things are not going the young All-Star's way, he takes himself out of the game. Also they have to hope that Kobe struggles shooting the ball in Denver again.
Denver will force a game seven. It's just hard to see the Lakers losing three straight games in this series.
Down 3-2 to Philadelphia 76ers
The Chicago Bulls had the best record in the Eastern Conference this year. They did that for most of the year without Derrick Rose. Then they lost their best player in game one. After that Philadelphia won the next three games to take control of the series.
After a game five win at home, the Bulls now have to win at Philadelphia to force a game seven. If they can do that, they will have the advantage of having that game in the United Center.
If Chicago is going to win they have to stick to what they do best and that is play defense. The Bulls were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this year. They showed it game five when they held the 76ers to only 26 points in the first half.
The Bulls would love to get Joakim Noah back for game six. Noah has missed the last two games because of a sprained ankle. It would be a huge lift to have one of their leaders back on the court.
If he can't go then Luol Deng and Carol Boozer will have to step up. They were the only two Bulls to score double figure points in game five.
Philadelphia will have an emotional lift from a home crowd looking to help their team win their first playoffs series since 2003. The 76ers will have to control their emotions and not try to win the game in the first minutes of game six.
If Chicago wins game six, you have to believe the Philadelphia will suffer a letdown from not winning the series at home. If that is the case, Chicago will win this series.
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