Friday NBA playoff previews: Nets, Mavericks, Rockets look to avoid early vacation

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Thursday night there were three Game 6s, now there are three Game 7s. Friday night there are three Game 6s, we’ll see if anyone can close out a series.

Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets (Raptors lead series 3-2). You can bet that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will not be on the bench for the fourth quarter again. They were there with reason in Game 5 — the Raptors had been in complete control of that game and the Nets made their comeback with those two sitting — a 44-point fourth quarter. Still, they could have used Pierce’s shooting late. The Raptors looked rattled during that fourth quarter run, can they shake that off and stand up tall in Brooklyn? Can they get another big night where Kyle Lowry outplays Deron Williams (Lowry owned him in Game 5)? What the Nets really need is a big game from Joe Johnson, one where he gets to the free throw line.

San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks (Spurs lead series 3-2). Already this series has latest longer than many expected, but the Mavericks don’t want it to end quite yet. If they are going to keep it going and force a Game 7 the Mavericks are going to have to defend the Spurs pick-and-roll much better than they did in Game 5. And they are going to need Dirk Nowitzki to play for the entire game like he did the fourth quarter of Game 5 (14 in the fourth and 26 for the game). And Dallas will need a big night from Monta Ellis. There is a feeling around this series that the Spurs started out very sloppy and are just now starting to really find their groove. If so this is over… but I personally have counted out Dirk and Dallas too many times to do it again.

Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (Blazers lead series 3-2). Houston has staved off elimination once, but now can they do it on the road? Of course the Rockets need another big night from Dwight Howard — particularly defensively helping out on a more aggressive defense on LaMarcus Aldridge. (On the flip side, Portland needs the Aldridge who was the best player in the series the first four games back, they need to do a better job of getting him touches.) Houston also got great performances from Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in Game 5 and those two, or someone (we’re looking at you, James Harden) needs to step up if there is to be a Game 7. In Game 5 Houston was clearly the more desperate team, we’ll see if Portland can match that Friday at home.