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NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers at Bulls, Rockets at Clippers

Two pivotal game fours in the NBA playoffs second round today.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The higher seeds all face 2-1 deficits in the 2nd round of the playoffs, and two of those series feature game fours today, with immense pressure on the road teams to even things up and get home court advantage back.

Cavs at Bulls
2:30 pm CDT

Bad news for the Bulls, who will be without Pau Gasol for at least today. Gasol injured his hamstring in game three and is unavailable today. That's tough for the Bulls as he has been a significant factor in their 2-1 series lead. It probably means more playing time for Nikola Mirotic, who was excellent in game three. We'll see if he can keep it up. It also means more offensive responsibility for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Rose made the banked in game winner in game three, but is struggling badly, especially on his forays to the rim. Jimmy Butler has also gone somewhat cold, and the Bulls need a big game from him.

The Cavs...really miss Kevin Love it seems. They have really struggled to keep Chicago off the offensive glass, and while they are shooting threes fairly well, without Love's floor spacing, they are finding room to drive hard to come by against a stout Bulls defense that is really packing the paint. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have both struggled, combining to shoot under 40% from the field. James is being forced to do everything, scoring, rebounding (2nd on team for the series), passing (28 assists over three games compared to Irving's 9), and it appears to be taking its toll.

That said, you never know when he's going to just take over a game or a series, so even without Love, the Cavs are far from finished.

Rockets at Clippers
7:30 CDT

The Clippers appear in control after their game three blowout to take a 2-1 series lead. In truth, the Rockets have looked awful in both of their losses, and more than that, they have looked a bit disinterested, which I don't think they are, but still. Their confidence looks shot, while the Clips appear to believe they can get whatever they want. They are shooting 50% from the field in this series, and Blake Griffin has been nearly unstoppable operating from all areas on the court. He was a playmaker in Chris Paul's absence, and now that Paul has returned can resume his bull in a china shop activities in the paint.

The Clips are making threes as well, with J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers (!) particularly hot. Meanwhile, the Rockets are struggling, shooting under 30% from three, something they cannot afford as it is so essential to their game. Other than James Harden (43%) the long range shooters for the Rockets have gone cold. If they are going to get back in this series, that has to change.

This has not been an attractive series. In three games there have been over 100 turnovers and over 200 free throw attempts, as these teams both have a tendency to get sloppy, and both have hacking candidates. Dwight Howard is 16-41 from the free throw line in the series. It's been a bit of an aesthetic disaster, but one of these teams is going to be a Western Conference finalist. It's looking likely to be the Clippers, but that could change if the Rockets can find their groove today.