I'll confess: I'm a bit nervous about making picks today. I usually write this column in the dead of night after watching five hours of basketball. There was no basketball Monday night. It's the closest thing I've had to a genuine day off ... in quite some time. I don't object to personal time, but I'm on the hottest streak of my life here. Picks in this column have a 49-26 record this postseason. If things go to hell from here, I'm blaming the off-day.
Especially since it was a wholly unwarranted one. There was no reason for the NBA to start the Western Conference finals on Sunday. If that series goes seven games, the Clippers will have played 16 games in 31 days. That series could have started on Monday without incident. But here I am, frittering away a poor, basketball-less day. Time to make the best of it, I suppose. Here are my top picks from Tuesday night's Suns-Clippers Game 2.
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(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers
- I'm comfortable taking Phoenix here with or without Chris Paul in the lineup. If the Clippers were going to get the Suns on the road, it seems like it had to happen in Game 1, when Phoenix was presumably rusty and the Clippers were riding high off the momentum of the Utah series. Now the exhausted Clippers have to turn around and play again in two days, and it's unlikely that they make 20 3-pointers again in Game 2 especially after DeAndre Ayton forced them to play bigger than they would've liked in Game 1. The Suns controlled the terms of engagement. They're the fresher team. They are worthy favorites here. The pick: Suns -5
- Nicolas Batum scored 10 or more points in only 23 of his 67 regular-season games. He got up to a slightly higher percentage in the playoffs, six out of 14, but playing center has been a big part of that. It's given him easy looks from behind the arc. But the Clippers gave their centers over 31 minutes on Sunday. If that trend continues and Batum is more of a forward in this series, his scoring will likely go down. He could still find 10 points, but based on how often he's done so this season, it's likelier that he doesn't. The pick: Batum under 9.5 points
- Reggie Jackson has scored 22 or more points in all three games Kawhi Leonard has missed this postseason. If you're worried about his shooting being unsustainable, remember, he was shooting over 44 percent on 3s this postseason even before Leonard went down and made 43.3 percent during the regular season. There's a meaningful enough sample now to suggest that Jackson has effectively remade his shot. Keep trusting it until the lines react appropriately. The pick: Jackson over 18.5 points