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NBA playoffs: Saturday's East betting preview

Brooklyn Nets at Chicago Bulls (-3, 178)

Bulls lead series 2-1.

The Chicago Bulls are now in position to take a commanding 3-1 lead when they host the Brooklyn Nets in Saturday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference best-of-seven series. Chicago squeezed out a 79-76 victory in Thursday’s Game 3 in a contest in which both teams shot poorly. Nets guard Joe Johnson and Bulls center Joakim Noah are both dealing with foot ailments. Game 5 is in Brooklyn and the Nets would like to go home even.

Fourth-seeded Chicago shot just 39.7 percent on Thursday while holding the Nets to 34.6 percent. The Bulls know the contest wasn’t aesthetically pleasing but it was the results that mattered to them. “We did what we had to do to win the game,” said Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, who had 22 points and 16 rebounds. “In the playoffs, you have to win different ways. Nothing is perfect.” Fifth-seeded Brooklyn has averaged 79 points while losing the last two games and point guard Deron Williams is frustrated with the offense. “When we get the ball swung to the weak side and we get some movement, we’re fine,” Williams said. “But when we just let them keep us on one side, we’re struggling.”

TV: 2 p.m. ET, TNT, WWOR (Brooklyn), Comcast SportsNet Chicago

ABOUT THE NETS: Johnson received a cortisone shot in his sore left foot prior to Game 3 so he could play and scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Johnson indicated he wouldn’t have been able to play without the injection. “I felt pretty good the whole game other than probably about the last two to three minutes,” Johnson said. “It kind of tightened up. But other than that, I felt all right.” Johnson is averaging 16 points and shooting 42.2 percent in the series and it remains to be seen whether he will need another shot prior to Saturday’s game.

ABOUT THE BULLS:
Boozer is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds and shooting 57.4 percent in the series. He had a 25-point game in the opener and was sensational in the Game 3 victory. “Carlos is huge, man,” forward Luol Deng said. “He was hitting some big shots for us. He’s been playing great. Every time they made a run, he was just giving them an answer. Carlos is a great player, man.” Deng also had a fine outing with 21 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. Noah missed all seven of his field-goal attempts but contributed eight boards in 27 minutes despite the foot issues.

TRENDS:

* Nets are 4-1 ATS in their last five road games.
* Bulls are 1-5 ATS in their last six home games.
* Over is 7-1 in Nets’ last eight games following a loss.

BUZZER BEATERS
 
1. Nets C Brook Lopez had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots in Game 3. He is averaging 21.3 points in the series.

2. Bulls PG Kirk Hinrich is averaging 12.5 points in Chicago’s two victories and had just two points in the one loss.

3. Brooklyn is 15-for-56 from 3-point range in the series and the Bulls are just 8-for-35.


Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (-2.5, 190.5)

Pacers lead series 2-0.

The Atlanta Hawks have not done a very good job defensively in the first two games of the series against the Indiana Pacers. The Hawks will try to improve on that end when the series shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Saturday. The Pacers were not exactly known for an uptempo style in the regular season but have put up 220 points in the first two games of the series behind a pair of strong efforts from Paul George.

George recorded a triple-double in the first game and added some offensive aggression en route to 27 points in Game 2. The small forward also provides a tough matchup on the other end for Josh Smith, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson or any other player Atlanta has sent at the defensively-sound George. Indiana has taken each of the first two games by at least 15 points and has been strong enough in the post to force the Hawks to settle for shots on the perimeter.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports South (Atlanta), ESPN

ABOUT THE PACERS: George has gotten plenty of help from George Hill and Gerald Green on the outside, taking some of the focus away from Roy Hibbert and David West in the middle. West struggled with foul trouble in Game 2 and was held to seven points and one rebound in 20 minutes. Indiana still managed to make the 113-98 victory look easy as seldom-used forward Jeff Pendergraph came off the bench to provide a lift. The Pacers are using the athleticism on the wings of George and Green to explode into the paint and attack, which gives an offense that finished 23rd in the regular season in scoring average some extra burst.

ABOUT THE HAWKS: Atlanta battled through foul trouble in each of the first two games and is hoping a change in venue will even up a discrepancy that has seen the Pacers attempt 63 free throws to the Hawks’ 34. Atlanta was even called for three technical fouls in Game 2, including one that had Al Horford in disbelief. Horford put up a double-double in Game 2 but Smith was limited by an ankle injury and foul trouble to 20 minutes. The Hawks tried bigger lineups with Ivan Johnson or Johan Petro in the middle but could not keep the Pacers off the offensive glass. “They handled their home court and now Game 3 is crucial for us, and now we have to handle ours,” Horford said.

TRENDS:

* Hawks are 0-7 ATS in their last seven home games.
* Over is 6-1 in Pacers’ last seven overall.
* Over is 5-0 in the last five meetings.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Pacers have won each of their first two playoff games by at least 15 points for the first time since joining the NBA in 1976.

2. Atlanta took both meetings on its home court during the regular season, 89-86 on Nov. 7 and 109-100 on Dec. 29.

3. Indiana G Lance Stephenson suffered a bruised right hip in Game 2 but returned to the floor and is probable for Game 3.

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