If the first weekend is any indication of what is to come this could be one of the most entertaining and mystifying NBA Playoff seasons in many years.
In a sport in which form has traditionally held up over the years, five of the first eight games saw road underdogs pull outright upsets.
Here’s a look at the eight opening round series and how they might be approached at the betting windows as they continue to unfold.
Indiana vs. Atlanta: Eastern top seed Indiana’s well documented slump since the All Star break continued in its opener against Atlanta. The Hawks were clearly the better team, especially in the second half. In approaching the rest of this series it might be best to pass Tuesday’s Game 2. That game should be telling as to whether the Pacers are capable of recovering to win this series or if their spirit is broken with another Atlanta win.
Should the Pacers pull even with a win as they head to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 then Indiana would be playable, possibly as small favorites, to win both and head back home, up 3-1. If the Hawks pull a second straight upset and head home up 2-0 it would be very risky to back the Pacers in either game in Atlanta. Game 3 would likely be a pass with Atlanta being the play in Game 4, up either 2-1 or 3-0 and seeking the series sweep.
Miami vs. Charlotte: The Bobcats’ improvement this season was one of the more positive developments and they showed much moxie in an opening game loss at Miami. Charlotte actually led after the first quarter and was competitive well into the fourth quarter. Key starter Al Jefferson was banged up in the loss and his status going forward remains questionable.
The Heat are more concerned about being fresh for what would be a two month journey to a third straight title and as such, in the early rounds, pick their spots to play up to their full potential.
Miami is favored by 10.5 points in Wednesday’s Game 2, just a half point higher than they were in the opener. Jefferson’s absence would be a huge blow to the Bobcats’ chances so it might be best to look at the UNDER. If Charlotte returns home down 0-2, as is expected, the Bobcats could be playable in Game 3 if getting at least 6 and Jefferson is in the starting lineup. Otherwise continue to look toward the UNDER.
Toronto vs. Brooklyn: In the most competitively priced of the eight games this past weekend, Brooklyn was an outright winner as 3.5 point underdogs. The Nets have a huge experience edge in this matchup although Toronto does match up well and remains the pick here to advance.
Down 0-1 in the series Toronto is playable at minus 4.5 in Tuesday’s Game 2. Should the Nets win and return home up 2-0 this prediction of Toronto will not be looking good. Regardless, Toronto would be the play in Game 3 in Brooklyn as a small underdog. This series should return to Toronto tied at 2-2 for what would then be a best of three series.
Chicago vs. Washington: Chicago relies on defense for its success and when Washington was able to force the pace in Game 1 the Bulls were placed in an uncomfortable position that led to their loss. Favored by 5 points in Tuesday’s Game 2, the Bulls make for an excellent play to even the series at a game apiece and would also make for a solid first half play. Washington tied with Miami and Toronto for the most road wins (22) in the Eastern Conference.
With a solid backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal the Wizards are a team to watch next season. But Chicago should do a better job in making adjustments and controlling the pace in Game 2, setting the tone for the balance of the series. A plausible scenario would be to play Chicago in both Games 2 and 3, followed by a play on Washington in Game 4 if down 2-1 in the series. Otherwise the Game 4 play would be on Chicago as a small favorite, even if down 0-3, which is unlikely but certainly possible.
San Antonio vs. Dallas: After dominating Dallas dating back the past two seasons, San Antonio needed to summon up all of its experience to get by the pesky Mavericks 90-85 in a non-covering Game 1 win.
Game 1 was uncharacteristically low scoring with the 175 total points falling well below the four regular season games between these teams that produced total points ranging from 202 to 223, none needing overtime. Look for the OVER to be the successful play over the duration of the series.
These teams next play on Wednesday with San Antonio favored by 8. Expect a better effort from the Spurs as they seek to go up 2-0 in the series and having been tested by the Mavs in Game 1. If the Spurs are up 2-0, the Game 3 play would be on Dallas as an underdog, with the Spurs the play in Game 4 regardless. Should Dallas upset the Spurs on Wednesday then the plays in both Games 3 and 4 would be on San Antonio. The expectation is Spurs in 5.
Oklahoma City vs. Memphis: Both teams played very well the latter two thirds of the season with almost identical records over their last 50 games. Russell Westbrook had a major impact in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 win with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Despite their fine last season run, however, Memphis is now on a 2-9-2 ATS run despite winning 8 of those 13 games.
Memphis rallied after trailing by 22 at the half to enter the fourth quarter down by just 4. That rally got the attention of the Thunder, who outscored the Grizzlies by 10 in the final quarter of their 100-86 win. OKC was favored by 7 in Monday’s Game 2 with Game 3 to be played Thursday. If Memphis is down 0-2 they would make for a solid play in Game 3 at home, but if the series is tied 1-1 apiece then OKC would be playable if a pick ‘em or the underdog. Unless OKC is up 3-0 for Game 4 the loser of Game 3 would be the play. The UNDER is the preferred totals play throughout this series, especially in Memphis.
L A Clippers vs. Golden State: The Warriors upset of the Clippers in Game 1 was a major surprise, especially after the Clippers jumped out to an early 12-1 lead, and the Warriors were without Andrew Bogut and his defensive presence for this series. Going on the road down 0-2 in a series makes it tough to overcome and thus Monday’s Game 2 was critical to the Clippers’ chances. Regardless, the Warriors would be playable in Game 3 either tied 1-1 or up 2-0 provided they are favored by 3 points or less. The Warriors have multiple sharp shooting options, led by Stephen Curry. At plus 3.5 or more the Clippers would be the Game 3 play and should go on to advance.
The loser of Game 3 should be worth a play in Game 4 unless the Warriors are up 3-0 and on the verge of a sweep. The teams match up nicely for a high scoring series although there is a “no play” range in which 4 of their 5 earlier meetings have fallen. After combining for 241 total points in their first meeting this season the four subsequent games, including Game 1 of the playoffs, have fallen within the relatively narrow range of 203 to 214. Look to play OVER 207 or lower and UNDER 213 or more.
Houston vs. Portland: Game 1 of this series was highly entertaining and a likely preview of how this series will continue to unfold. It was the second of their five meetings this season to go overtime. All five games have gone OVER.
Look to play OVER 210 or less and UNDER 216 or higher. Seeking to even the series, Houston is a 6 point favorite over Portland in Wednesday’s Game 2. The Rockets saw a 10 point lead dissipate in the final four minutes of Game 1 with an inability to hit free throws. For much of the game Houston was the better team and they will be the play in Game 2.
If the series is tied at 1-1 headed to Game 3 you can either pass or you might play Portland to take a 2-1 lead after losing Game 2 in Houston. If Portland is up 2-0 then Houston becomes a strong play in Game 3 and, if successful, also a play in Game 4 to even the series. But should Portland take a 3-0 series lead with a win in Game 3 then the Blazers would be playable at minus 4 or less to complete the sweep.
Next week each series will be revisited with an eye toward how the end game in each may play out.
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]