After they easily disposed of their first-round opponents in methodical sweeps, the Heat and the Spurs were widely seen as the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals. However, the Bulls and the Warriors had other plans, stealing home court in their second-round series with shocking road wins earlier in the week.
Now, all they have to do is protect their home court to advance to the Conference Finals. Of course, that's easier said than done, especially against teams with as much talent and experience as Miami and San Antonio. On Friday, the two heavyweights will have a chance to steal home-court advantage back in two crucial Game 3s.
The road looks tougher for the Bulls, who are coming off the worst playoff defeat in franchise history, a 115-78 loss in Game 2. As a result, the biggest storyline headed into Game 3 is the health of their injured players. Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, who would have received the defensive assignments on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have been out since the latter stages of their first-round series with the Nets.
Without them, as well as Derrick Rose, Chicago may not have the horses to run with Miami over a seven-game series. Their best chance may be to ugly up the game and be as physical as possible with the Heat stars, but it's unclear how much contact the referees will allow, as they had an incredibly tight whistle in Game 2, which featured nine technical fouls and two ejections.
The Warriors, in contrast, could easily be coming back to Oracle Arena, one of the toughest places to play in the NBA, with a 2-0 lead. They blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose a 129-127 2OT shootout in Game 1 before bouncing back with a dominating 100-91 win in Game 2, a contest they led practically the whole way.
The Spurs haven't had an answer for Golden State's backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who took turns shooting the lights out in San Antonio. With a raucous crowd at their back, the two Warriors stars will likely be looking for a knockout punch early in Game 3. The key for the Spurs will be keeping the game out of transition and giving themselves a chance in the fourth quarter, as Golden State's lack of experience and a consistent low-post threat has made closing out games difficult throughout the playoffs.
The Bulls game against the Heat will tip off on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, with the Warriors game against the Spurs scheduled to follow at 10:30 p.m. ET.