NBA Playoff Pick ‘Em: Previewing the first round

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Will the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks find their way back to the mountaintop? Can the Boston Celtics’ stellar young core finally make good on their potential? Is this the end of the line for the Golden State Warriors and their Golden Trio? Does LeBron James have one last playoff run in him? Does KD? Does Kawhi?

Temps de lecture : 7 mn 🕗

It’s the NBA fan’s version of Christmas morning: The playoffs are finally here! The first round is two weeks of wall-to-wall, pressure-filled, intense hoops. It’s a bettor’s paradise.

Will the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks find their way back to the mountaintop? Can the Boston Celtics’ stellar young core finally make good on their potential? Is this the end of the line for the Golden State Warriors and their Golden Trio? Does LeBron James have one last playoff run in him? Does KD? Does Kawhi?

Over the next few months, all those questions will be answered. Today, I’m looking to answer one question: Can I go perfect on my first-round picks like I did last year?
Let’s find out.

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The Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (-1200) vs Miami Heat (+750)

It should be a walk-through for the Milwaukee Bucks. A warmup series before the real playoffs start for Giannis and Co. In this series we’ll see what it looks like when one of the best defences in the world – featuring THREE sure-fire All-Defence guys – plays the worst offence in the NBA.

The odds on Milwaukee are so long it’s not worth it, but I think it’s going to be a sweep, and you can get Bucks in four (+275) at pretty decent odds.

Boston Celtics (-1200) vs Atlanta Hawks (+750)

This one might be even more lopsided than Bucks-Heat, because at least Miami can defend, slow the pace down, and keep games relatively close. Atlanta is about to be barbecue chicken. Or…I guess barbecue hawk. Gross.

It comes down to just two things: First, Boston is tailor-made (and willing) to hunt Trae Young when they have the ball. Second, DeAndre Hunter and Dejounte Murray need to play every single second that Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum play, because they are the only two Hawks with any hope of guarding the J’s. Even if they do, they’re not ready for it. Boston in four (+265).

Philadelphia 76ers (-1000) vs Brooklyn Nets (+650)

On paper, Philly-Brooklyn is a series that should be as lopsided as the previous two we talked about. Brooklyn has no one to match up with Joel Embiid, and they lack the offensive firepower to sustain a shootout with the Sixers. But Philadelphia has two of the league’s preeminent playoff choke artists in head coach Doc Rivers and point guard James Harden.

They’re going to blow a game. Brooklyn is long, athletic, and tenacious. There’s going to be a game where the Nets get into the passing lanes, forcing Harden and Tyrese Maxey into bad decisions and creating transition bucket after transition bucket. It’ll probably only happen once, so Philadelphia in five (+180) is the pick.

Keep an eye on how Brooklyn defends Embiid. If they’re staying home on shooters, hammer the OVER on his points (33.5 is the line for Game 1). If they’re double-teaming, look for the OVER on points and threes made for P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris, as well as the OVER on Embiid’s assists.

Cleveland Cavaliers (-200) vs New York Knicks (+170)

The most interesting series in the East, this one might legitimately come down to rebounding. New York was bottom 10 in the league in most team shooting metrics, and bottom five in most playmaking metrics. Yet, they cobbled together the league’s 4th most efficient offence. How?

They are the best offensive rebounding team remaining, scooping up 31.8 per cent of their missed shots. And they get to the free throw line at an elite level. Cleveland is 20th in defensive rebounding, and ninth in fouls committed. The Knicks’ strengths align with Cleveland’s weaknesses.

In the playoffs, though, it’s about who has the best guy, and Cleveland has Donovan Mitchell, a proven playoff performer, and a possible series-swinger on defence in Evan Mobley. It’s going to be close but give me Cleveland (-200). These are two of the slowest-paced teams in the league, and Cleveland has the league’s top defence. Game 1’s point total over under is 217.5. If it gets much higher than that, take the UNDER.

The Western Conference

Sacramento Kings (+225) vs Golden State Warriors (-275)

Such is life for the Sacramento Kings fan: You spend 16 years waiting for the playoffs, and when you finally get there, with one of the most fun teams in recent memory, what’s your reward? The team of the decade, finally getting healthy.

There’s a reason Golden State is favoured despite being the No. 6 seed. You’ve heard all the crazy stats and factoids. How this team hasn’t lost a Western Conference playoff series since Steve Kerr’s arrival in 2014. How they’ve won a road game in 27 consecutive playoff series. None of that matters.

The Warriors are the No. 6 seed because they were terrible on the road this season. And they were that bad on the road because their defence, third-best in the league at home, dropped to 28th in away games. The problem for Sacramento is their defence at home is even worse than Golden State’s on the road. It’ll be the most entertaining series of the first round, and I’ve got Golden State in six (+240).

It’s likely Andrew Wiggins’ threes made over/under will be 0.5 in Game 1, his first game since before the All-Star break. Take the OVER if it is. Steve Kerr is going to do everything he can to get Wiggins easy looks in his return.

Memphis Grizzlies (-140) vs Los Angeles Lakers (+120)

The more I think about it, the more I want to zag where the betting world is clearly zigging. Yes, the Lakers present Memphis problems, especially with Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke out. Yes, L.A. could easily have the two best players in the series. But Ja Morant has averaged 28/9/7 in the playoffs for his career, and was last seen averaging 38 points per game against the eventual champs last season.

This series will swing game-to-game on whether Anthony Davis can put presumptive Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. in foul trouble. I think the margin of error there is larger than people think, because unless Jarred Vanderbilt is going to jump from 24 minutes per game to 40, the Lakers don’t have anyone to guard Ja Morant. Grizzlies in seven (+375) if you’re feeling feisty, Grizzlies to win the series (-140) if you’re not. If Lebron James gets that look on his face though, all bets are off.

Phoenix Suns (-500) vs Los Angeles Clippers (+650)

This series is a stay away for me. There is too much variance involved. We’ve seen this Suns team together for all of eight games since they traded for Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is on the other side for the Clippers, a player you never want to bet against in the playoffs.

Then there’s Chris Paul’s age and history of playoff injuries, Paul George’s possible return from injury, Phoenix’s lack of wing defence coupled with L.A.’s surplus of wing scoring. I truly do not know what’s going to happen here, and I won’t be betting on it. I get paid to make picks though, so give me Phoenix (-500), because Chris Paul usually doesn’t get hurt until the second round.
Durant has quietly taken three fewer shots and scored about four fewer points per game since coming to Phoenix. His scoring over/under will probably open at 29.5, where I like the UNDER simply because KD is happy to sit back and let the game come to him if Booker or Paul have it going.

Denver Nuggets (-500) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (+375)

There is value here despite the lopsided odds. Denver should win, but Minnesota is the worst possible matchup for them to come out of the play-in tournament. Rudy Gobert does as well as anyone in the league on Nikola Jokic, and the Timberwolves play with the kind of frenetic athleticism that can give a deceptively slow-footed team like the Nuggets fits.
When Minnesota has the ball with their starters on the floor, Denver has a tough decision to make: Do they put Jokic on Gobert and risk guarding Karl-Anthony Towns with the much smaller Aaron Gordon?

That makes sense on paper, but it also means you invite the Wolves to use Gobert in screen-and-roll action, where he’s been very effective over his career and Jokic struggles defensively. Or do they put Jokic on Towns and risk their superstar getting flambéed?

There’s no value in picking a winner straight up, since I’ll stop short of actually picking Minnesota to win this series (they’d be just the third 8-seed to do it), but it’s plausible this goes seven. And those odds are much more fun, so give me Denver in seven (+325)

Futures Picks

I’ve got the Boston Celtics to win the title (+300). They have the league’s second-best offence and defence, and a tried-and-true method for identifying the true contenders is to ask which teams are top-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. That means Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

I like Cleveland (+4000) as a sleeper to win the title, though they are probably a year ahead of schedule right now. They were second in point differential this season, trailing only Boston. Golden State (+900) and Philadelphia (+900) are decent value as well. A rematch of last year’s finals would not surprise me in the least, and if you parlay Boston and Golden State to win their conferences, it pays out at +1026.

It’s the best time of the year to be an NBA bettor, and I wish you good fortune in the games to come. As always, play safe and don’t chase.

Will the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks find their way back to the mountaintop? Can the Boston Celtics’ stellar young core finally make good on their potential? Is this the end of the line for the Golden State Warriors and their Golden Trio? Does LeBron James have one last playoff run in him? Does KD? Does Kawhi?

Source: Spornet

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