Following an opening round of the NBA Playoffs that was marked by blowouts and low scoring games, the conference semifinals have been much more competitive.
Sure, one of the four series resulted in a four-game sweep as Cleveland defeated Atlanta. But entering Monday the other three series were either tied at 2-2 or had the higher seed up 2-1 and playing Game 4 on the road with the host in position to create a best of three scenario.
Here are comments on the four series that will determine the teams that will meet for the right to play in the NBA Finals.
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
Of the eight teams that advanced past the opening round Cleveland has arguably played the most dominant basketball to date. The team envisioned by LeBron James when he returned home a couple of summers ago has materialized and the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has flexed its collective muscle in sweeping Cleveland’s first two series against Detroit and Atlanta.
Five of their eight wins have been by double digits and at times it appeared, especially against Atlanta, the Cavs were just toying with and teasing the opposition. In games that appeared competitive entering the late stages of the contest, Cleveland would put on a dominant display of basketball to close out the game.
Even considering the reservations about Tyronn Lue, who replaced coach David Blatt in midseason, the Cavs are playing championship basketball and would be a real threat to prevent Golden State from winning a second straight championship or would give either San Antonio or Oklahoma City a great challenge if the NBA Title is to remain out West.
The Cavs have a very good shot to bring Cleveland its first major professional championship in more than half a century.
Toronto vs. Miami
Perhaps Toronto made a statement, and will play up to its 2 seeding, when they took a 2-1 lead by winning Game 3 in Miami on Saturday in a situation that would have normally expected a big effort from the host Heat.
Toronto has been soundly and rightfully criticized for its recent Playoff failures but it could be finally advancing past the first round with their seventh game win over Indiana has lessened the collective pressure felt by the Raptors.
Monday’s Game 4 could be key to that challenge with the opportunity to take a 3-to-1 lead heading back to Toronto. The major news surrounding this series involves injuries to both teams. Miami’s Hassan Whiteside is considered day to day following a knee injury suffered in Game 3. Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas suffered a sprained ankle in that same game and has been ruled out for the balance of the series.
By the time you are reading this column the series will be headed back to Toronto either tied or with the Raptors having a chance to clinch the series in Game 5.
Miami was the pick earlier to advance to the Eastern Finals and thus would be the play in Game 5 whether the series is tied or the Heat are facing elimination. If there is a Game 6 in Miami the Heat would be the play if seeking to end the series.
If the Raptors are in position to win the series – and are getting at least 5 points – Toronto would be playable. If the series goes to a Game 7 in Toronto, Miami would be the play if getting 3 points or more.
Golden St. vs. Portland
The home team has won and covered each of the first three games as the Warriors entered Monday’s Game 4 in Portland up 2-1 with Steph Curry doubtful to see action as we go to press. The points have not mattered in any of the seven meetings between the teams this season (Golden State has won five) with each of the seven games decided by 11 points or more.
Golden State has shown it can win – and impressively – without Curry and would be the preferred team to play throughout the duration of the series. The OVER remains a solid play and has cashed in 6 of their 7 games heading into Monday’s Game 4.
The only game in which the UNDER cashed was in Game 2 of this series, coming up 2.5 points short of a PUSH when Portland was held to just 12 points when the Warriors rallied from 11 points down after three quarters to win, 110-99.
The six games that have gone OVER have produced total points ranging from 224 to 247 with none of those games going into overtime. Those games also went OVER by at least 11.5 points, suggesting Game 2 was the aberration, so let’s continue to look OVER the total.
San Antonio vs. OKC
This series has defined the zig-zag theory as the teams have traded wins after San Antonio opened the series with a 32-point win in the opener. The points have not come into play in any of the first four games in what has now become a best of three series beginning with Tuesday’s Game 5 back in San Antonio.
To many, OKC has shown surprising heart considering expectations entering the series and the Thunder certainly now have the confidence they can upset the Spurs. A competitive effort in Game 5, even if they fall short, would be another confidence boost, and even if they fall short perhaps this effort could convince Kevin Durant to re-sign with OKC and remain teamed with Russell Westbrook going forward.
Although that remains unlikely it has become more of a possibility with the Thunder’s performance thus far in this series. There has been no correlation between side and total as all four possible combinations have occurred in the four games.
The prediction remains for San Antonio to advance and the Spurs are playable as 6.5-point home favorites in Game 5 and again in Game 6 if in position to clinch the series and are favored by 3 points or less (or made the underdogs as they were in Game 4).
If OKC upsets the Spurs in Game 5 and is in position to clinch the series back home in Game 6 the Thunder can be played if made an underdog of 2 points or more, which is possible considering the Spurs’ pedigree and what would be an elimination game.
It would be hard not to back the Spurs back home in Game 7 if laying 7 points or less although if there is too much of an adjustment, and OKC is getting at least 10 points (unlikely), serious consideration would have to be given to taking the generous points.
And, of course, in the modern age of sports betting in-game wagering is a very attractive option for those who choose not to get involved prior to the start of the game or seek to manage their position as the game is playing out.
In next week’s column the Conference Finals will be previewed as all four series should be over. The one exception would be if the Golden State vs. Portland series goes the full seven games. Game 7 is scheduled for next Monday, May 16. If there is a Game 7 that would be the big story, with or without Curry.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]