Favorites, injuries key in early NBA playoff storyline

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After a grueling 82 game regular season that eliminated 14 teams, the Playoffs got underway last Saturday as the field of 16 began a chase to the NBA Championship that will be decided in mid-June.

As we went press Monday night each of the eight opening round series have had one game played and form held true. The home team, favored in all eight games, won straight up to take a 1-0 lead in the best of 7 series.

The point spread results were almost as one sided, but it did not start off that way as many sports books were “middled” in Saturday’s first game. New York had been favored by 6.5 points for much of the time prior to tip off when action came in on the Knicks. That late action caused the line to hit minus 7 and to close at many books at -7.5.

Boston led for much of the game before collapsing in the fourth quarter and being outscored 18-8 as New York won 85-78.

Then Golden State nearly upset Denver, losing by a deuce as similarly priced 7.5 point underdogs, making the tally Underdogs 2, Favorites 0.

Then the barrage hit as favorites went a perfect 6-0 both Straight Up and Against the Spread over the balance of the weekend and all six of those win were by double digits.

This opening weekend marked the first time since the 2010 Playoffs that no road team won an opening game. In that season Home Favorites were also a perfect 8-0 ATS.

Another big story from the first set of games affects Golden State who lost star David Lee for the balance of the Playoffs with a torn right hip flexor. Now Denver has a decided edge and should advance in no more than six games to take on the winner of the San Antonio vs. LA Lakers series.

The Lakers, who won 5 straight and 8 of 9 to make the Playoffs, secured the No. 7 seed by defeating Houston in the regular season finale, in overtime. The Lakers are another team beset by a huge injury as Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles in a win over Golden State and is out until sometime next season.

Injuries are set to play a major factor throughout the Playoffs as many teams are without key contributors. Some teams, such as Chicago, have been without a star player for an extended stretch of time. The Bulls have been without Derrick Rose all season.

Other teams, such as the Lakers, Nuggets and Warriors as noted above, have had far less time to deal with the loss of impact personnel.

Here’s a brief look at each of the eight series as they stand on Monday morning.

Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks will have to win 4 of the next 5 games for Brandon Jennings’ prophecy to come true. Jennings declared before the start of the series against the defending champions that the Bucks would win this series in 6. While his confidence and bravado are to be commended, his sense of reality has to be questioned.

After losing the opener by 23 points it may be hard to visualize Milwaukee winning more than one game if even that. Miami is poised to sweep the series. Milwaukee’s best chance at a win, and a cover, will be back home in Game 3 if, as expected, they are down 0-2 in the series. Should the Bucks earn a win at all, Miami would be a solid ATS play in the immediately following game.

New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics: This has the makings of an extended series with Boston’s experience being a major factor, especially back home. The Celtics battled the Knicks for most of their Game 1 loss and can be expected to do the same in Tuesday’s Game 2. The Celtics are worth playing in both Games 2 and 3.

The loser of Game 3 is worth a look in Game 4 unless New York is going for the four game sweep. If that’s the case the Knicks, laying 3 points or less, would seem to be the proper play. But more likely this series gets extended to at least 6.

Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks: Indiana won the opener game with relative ease, 107-90, and should need no more than 6 to eliminate the Hawks with a five game series win the most probable outcome. The Pacers have has been considered for much of the season as the team most likely to offer a challenge to Miami to make it out of the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta is good enough to win at least one and that, as with the above two series, is most likely to occur in Game 3 at home. However, if Atlanta manages to take Game 2 on Wednesday, the Pacers would be playable in both Games 3 and 4.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was the ease with which Brooklyn defeated Chicago 106-89. Joakim Noah played barely 13 minutes and is likely to be a minimal factor for the next couple of games as he deals with foot issues.

Chicago has been excellent following a loss and may be played in that situation throughout the series. The Bulls are still the pick to make it out of this series and can be played at home if laying under 6 points in Games 3 and 4.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets: The Thunder flexed its collective muscle in Game 1 with a wire to wire 29 point blowout win over the Rockets. The Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, won 15 more regular season games than did Houston.

Still, the Rockets are capable of winning one in this series and that would likely come at home in either Game 3 or 4, assuming they return home down 0-2. Should Houston pull the upset in Wednesday’s Game 2 then OKC would be a solid play in both Games 3 and 4 in Houston. Look for OKC to win at least one in Houston and the Thunder may be backed in Houston if laying 4 points or less.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers struggled all season against the NBA’s elite teams, going 5-17 SU and just 6-15-1 against teams that won at least 65 percent of their games. And that was with Kobe Bryant in the lineup except for their game a week ago Sunday that was a game of need for the Lakers which they won.

The Spurs won 2 of 3 from the Lakers in the regular season but all 3 games were decided by 5 points or less. But then come the Playoffs and San Antonio takes the opener by 12 points. Relying on Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard the Lakers can compete with the Spurs and will be worth a look as 8.5 point underdogs in Wednesday’s Game 2.

The Lakers should win at least one in this series, perhaps twice. But the most likely scenario is for the Spurs to win this series back home in Game 5. The SU loser of Game 3 will be playable in Game 4 provided the Lakers are the underdog. A play on the Spurs would be at -4 or less. Note that all four meetings this season between the Spurs and Lakers have stayed below the total with 3 of the games staying UNDER by more than 18 points.

Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors’ chances to advance were dealt a severe blow with the season ending injury to David Lee, placing an even greater burden on Stephen Curry, who struggled in scoring 19 points in the opener. Still this series could go a full 7 due to Denver’s stark contrast in home vs. road performance. A league best 38-3 at home, Denver had a losing 19-22 record on the road.

If Denver wins Game 2 on Tuesday then the Warriors will be worth playing in both Games 3 and 4 back home. Golden State was a solid 28-13 at home and the absence of Lee will be reflected in a line shaded a couple of points more towards Denver than if the injury had not occurred. Lee’s absence might also tend to favor the UNDER rather than the OVER as Golden State might need to take a more conservative and deliberate approach.

Los Angeles Clippers vs Memphis Grizzlies: Despite the 21 point final margin, the opener was a 1 point game with about 10 minutes remaining. This was expected to be the most contentious of the eight opening round series as these teams had identical records in the regular season. The Clippers were 6 point favorites in Monday’s Game 2.

Regardless of Game 2’s result, Memphis will be playable in Game 3 provided they are favored by 5 points or less. Memphis would be playable in Game 4 if they are down 0-3 in the series. Otherwise, the team trailing 1-2 in the series would be the play.

The series will be revisited in next week’s column.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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