NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Thursday April 23

NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Thursday April 23

NBA Playoff Picks and Predictions for Thursday April 23

Our team of writers and handicappers hand out their NBA picks and predictions for Thursday, April 23.

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Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics, 7:05PM ET

Considering Kevin Garnett is wearing a suit instead of a uniform, it seemed only natural that all eyes would be on Paul Pierce as the Boston Celtics launched their title defense.

Anyone looking toward the spotlight needs to check again.

Pierce was content to stand toward the side as the Celtics split the first two playoff games against the Bulls, and with Game 3 in Chicago on Thursday, he had no plans to move unless called upon.

``If that's what's going to help us win, that's what I'll be,'' he said. ``If I have to go out there and get somebody else open and set more screens and it's going to be effective and help our ballclub win, that's what I'm going to do.''

They might need a little more now.

Already short-handed, the Celtics lost Leon Powe to a season-ending knee injury in Game 2 and saw speedy point guard Rajon Rondo sprain his right ankle.

Pierce? He's healthy.

He just hasn't asserted himself in this series. Although he's averaging 20.5 points, his shooting percentage is down from 45.7 percent in the regular season to 40 percent, and he's deferring to teammates.

NBA Free Pick: Chicago | Best Line: -2 Sports Interaction

Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs, 9:35PM ET

After chatting with league officials, Mavericks center Erick Dampier is toning down his plans to thwart San Antonio's Tony Parker.

The big guy is still going to get physical with the speedy point guard in Game 3, but he's no long guaranteeing that ``my first foul Thursday night is going to put him on his back.''

``I probably shouldn't have said it like that,'' Dampier said Wednesday. ``Maybe the way it came out, it sounded bad. ... I'm just going to go out there and play the way I've been playing.''

Dampier vowed to pop Parker on Monday night, after he turned Game 2 of this first-round series into a personal layup drill. Parker scored 38 points in 33 minutes, leading San Antonio to a 105-84 victory that tied the series at one game apiece.

The quote appeared in Tuesday's editions of The Dallas Morning News. Once it reached the league office, a ``review'' began, which essentially meant Dampier having to explain himself. He did so again Wednesday with reporters.

NBA Free Pick: Dallas | Best Line: -4 Sports Interaction

Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz, 10:35PM ET

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Still weary after yet another loss in Los Angeles, the Utah Jazz knew Wednesday was last call for optimism.

The first-round playoff series against the Lakers returns to Utah on Thursday, a game which will either get the Jazz back in it or put the put the defending Western Conference champions on the verge of sweeping the best-of-7 series.

``The series is not over. They just did what they were supposed to do - win at home,'' Utah point guard Deron Williams said. ``Now we've got to do what we're supposed to do.''

If the Jazz lose Game 3 on Thursday, anything they say about the series not being over yet will have a hollow ring. Through two games, the Lakers have shown depth well beyond reigning MVP Kobe Bryant while taking a 2-0 lead, pulling out to huge leads in both games and then dispatching the Jazz every time they rallied to make it close.

So far it's been a rerun of last year's second-round series, when the Lakers won the first two games and forced Utah to hold on at home.

The Jazz are in the same predicament almost a year later, needing home-court advantage and any other edge they can summon just to stay in the series.

NBA Free Pick: Jazz | Best Line: +2.5 Sports Interaction

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