‘Dog Clippers, Magic bark in NBA Playoffs

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The Warriors blew a 31-point lead on Monday night, complicating their first-round series against the eighth-seeded Clippers and providing an extreme reminder that there’s never really a sure thing in sports.

You just know someone turned in early assuming they would have a winning ticket to cash in the morning. You can never get comfortable in the NBA Playoffs.

Golden State, a 13.5-point favorite, was provided that unforgiving reminder, which should serve it well since one embarrassing collapse won’t derail its quest for a three-peat on its own. Losing center DeMarcus Cousins to a significant quad injury was more damaging than a Game 2 loss that evened its first-round series at 1-1.

The books will likely budge slightly on their stance that the Warriors must be so heavily favored to win the West (-400) and the NBA Finals (-200), so there should be more value in backing them going forward. Despite the unfortunate Cousins’ mishap, they remain the NBA’s most formidable team, having built such a massive lead in the first place despite the disappointment of watching a popular teammate limp off to an uncertain future.

Kevin Durant has to stop racking up fouls and technicals, but Golden State will otherwise survive L.A. and play into May. What appears clear after the first weekend is that its toughest test will probably come next.

The first three days of NBA postseason action featured the largest comeback ever, four outright upsets in 10 games, a 51-point quarter from the 76ers and the unlikely emergence of Orlando’s D.J. Augustin and Portland’s Enes Kanter as playoff standouts.

But the most impressive performance, however, came in Houston. The Rockets destroyed an excellent Jazz team 122-90 by landing seven scorers in double-figures. They won the fourth quarter 39-19 as James Harden got whatever he wanted for himself and his teammates. They were the only team that reached a level of proficiency capable of taking down the Warriors four times in a series.

If the Rockets can show that they’re ready to be the same team they are at home in a hostile venue like Utah, they might be the team to ride if you’re looking for someone to dethrone the champs. The Westgate SuperBook has Houston at +350 to win the West and +700 to win it all.

The first weekend’s playoff games all went under the posted total, most of them by wide margins. The first pair of Game 2s hurdled their closing numbers easily, each producing over 265 combined points.

Like most, I went ‘chalk’ with my East picks but didn’t blink when sixth-seeded Brooklyn and seventh-seeded Orlando immediately pulled off road conquests to get things started. Neither series was likely to end in a sweep. At the same time, I don’t expect either to see a Game 7.

The Celtics opened slowly and trailed the Pacers at halftime of Game 1 in the 4-5 series, but put the disparity between the teams on display by outscoring Indiana 26-8 in the third quarter, holding it without a field goal for the first 8:22 of the second half. Boston reminded its opponent that Victor Oladipo’s absence is one it will ultimately be unable to overcome.

In the West, the sixth-seeded Thunder actually opened as a favorite (-150) over the Trail Blazers. Portland took advantage of OKC’s worst 3-point shooting game of the season (5-for-33) to survive nearly blowing a 19-point lead. Kanter outplaying former teammate Steven Adams made the difference at home, but the Thunder only moved to +110 despite falling behind and are likely to counter in what I expect will be a long series.

San Antonio, the West’s No. 7 seed, was +160 prior to getting started, won in Denver. I’ve got the Spurs eliminating the Nuggets as my lone upset pick and was encouraged that they managed to pull out a victory despite being LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan being held to 12-for-36 shooting (33 percent). The Nuggets shot 6-for-28 from 3-point range, which included starters missing 19 of 22. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap each only took nine shots and were unable to impose their will inside.

Despite all the roster turnover Gregg Popovich has had to manage over the past few seasons, the defense and discipline that has produced results remain visible and should make the difference against a Nuggets team lacking much playoff experience outside of Millsap.

Here are a couple of plays to consider this week as the opening round of the NBA Playoffs continue:

Nuggets at Spurs (Thursday): For this week’s first selection, I recommend riding the Spurs in Game 3 since they’ve also maintained the tradition of being incredibly tough at home.

The AT&T Center has been a fortress this time of year going on nearly three decades since it’s incredibly the 30-year anniversary of David Robinson delivering the second-largest single-season turnaround in NBA history as rookie via a 35-win improvement.

San Antonio’s 32-9 home record was tied for third-best during the regular season, while the Nuggets actually finished a game over .500 despite their gaudy mark. Lay the points and expect the Spurs to put the clamps down in Game 3. SPURS

Bucks at Pistons (Saturday): The small sampling we’ve gotten so far suggests that seven of the eight teams that reach the conference semifinal round will be properly tested, but Milwaukee isn’t going to be afforded that same luxury.

It could work out in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s sore knee getting additional rest, so I doubt you’ll hear the Bucks complaining, but the eighth-seeded Pistons simply pose no threat with franchise star Blake Griffin sidelined with knee soreness. Center Andre Drummond was asked to defend the Greek Freak since he’s head coach Dwane Casey’s best option. But he grew so frustrated by the task and the officials that he was ejected in the third quarter.

The 25-8 lead the Bucks raced out to in their 121-86 Game 1 rout feels like it set a tone of hopelessness for the entire series as far as the Pistons are concerned. Milwaukee has been the NBA’s biggest bully all season, registering 45 regular-season double-digit wins in posting the league’s largest margin of victory.

The Bucks have no problem dropping the hammer and will effectively put this series away with another blowout when the series shifts to Detroit for Saturday’s Game 3. Lay the points and don’t blink if the spread winds up around a dozen. BUCKS

Last week: 0-0

Season: 27-28

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About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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