With the Los Angeles Clippers’ dramatic Game 7 win last Saturday that knocked defending champion San Antonio out of the Playoffs the NBA’s version of the “Elite Eight” field was completed. The second round of the Playoffs – the Conference semi-finals – began on Sunday.
Upon winning that series Clippers coach Doc Rivers expressed the sentiments of many by saying it was a shame the Clippers/Spurs series was a first round matchup. That was high level NBA basketball at its best, worthy of Conference Finals. Perhaps in looking back, the most significant game of the regular season was San Antonio’s loss at New Orleans. In addition to putting the Pelicans in the Playoffs at the expense of Oklahoma City, it dropped the Spurs from the second seed to the sixth seed, denying them home court advantage, which historically, has been almost impossible for road teams to overcome in decisive Game 7s, as was the case this past Saturday.
Aside from that great series, however, the first round of the Playoffs was rather boring. Three teams – Golden State, Cleveland and Washington – won in four-game sweeps. Fifth seeded Washington’s sweep of fourth seeded Toronto was the only true opening round upset. In the West, fifth seeded Memphis defeated fourth seeded Portland but because of their better regular season record Memphis had the home court advantage in that series.
The Playoffs’ first round needed 41 games to be completed. Home teams were 25-16 SU but just 19-21-1 ATS. There were 18 OVERs and 23 UNDERs. Home Favorites were 14-14-1 ATS with Home Underdogs 5-6. The one pick ‘em game was won by the road team.
Here’s a look at each of the four second-round series.
Golden State (1) vs. Memphis (5): Golden State took control of Sunday’s opener, winning 101-86. It was the Warriors’ fifth straight Playoffs win after sweeping past New Orleans, and Steve Kerr became the first coach since the Lakers’ Pat Riley in 1981 to win his first 5 Playoff games. Of course Memphis was without Mike Conley and his absence was felt. Both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph played well for the Grizzlies but they had no answer for newly-named NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Conley is listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s Game 2 and the Warriors are favored by the same amount, -10.5, as they were in Game 1. And after going 0-8-1 ATS through their third game in the New Orleans series, the Warriors have covered their past two games. Golden State should win on Tuesday and take a 2-0 lead to Memphis for Game 3. Memphis, with or without Conley, would be in its most favorable situation in Game 3, assuming they are down 0-2 in the series. The presence or absence of Conley will be factored into the line and the Grizzlies, long a strong defensive team, should be at their best as they try to get back into the series or take a 2-1 lead. This series handicaps as Golden State winning in five games.
Houston (2) vs. LA Clippers (3): The Clippers were at a disadvantage in Monday’s opening game with star Chris Paul very questionable following a hamstring injury in Game 7 vs. the Spurs. Paul, who would be at less than one hundred percent if he did play, resulted in the Rockets being bet up from 5 to 6 point favorites as of Monday morning.
The Rockets are rested after having eliminated Dallas in five games. James Harden is the offensive force for Houston and Dwight Howard is the defensive force, though a liability at the free throw line. The Clippers have perhaps the best starting five in the league but bench depth is a major concern.
The Rockets had that huge edge in Game 1 but this has the makings of a seven game series. This is a much different, more talented and confident Clippers team than in seasons past. Doc Rivers is given by most observers a significant coaching edge over his Houston counterpart, Kevin McHale.
If Houston did win Game 1 the Clippers, getting at least +5, would be playable in Game 2. The Clippers would also be playable back home in Game 3 if laying no more than 4.5 points, regardless of the status of the series.
Interestingly, all four regular season meetings stayed UNDER the Total with three of the four staying UNDER by more than 8 points.
Atlanta (1) vs. Washington (5): The top seed in the East, Atlanta, had more trouble than anticipated in eliminating eighth seeded Brooklyn. After winning the first two games at home the Hawks dropped the next two games on the road before winning games 5 and 6. Washington was very impressive in sweeping fourth seeded Toronto out of the Playoffs, winning the first two games on the road.
The backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal gives Washington a real chance to pull the upset against a Hawks team that is well balanced but lacks a true “go to” guy. Atlanta should bounce back with an inspired effort in Tuesday’s game two.
This series handicaps as lasting six games with Washington ultimately prevailing, winning the series on the road in Atlanta. Beal was banged up in Game 1, which may take away some of the value of playing on Atlanta in Game 2. If the Hawks win Game 2 the Wizards would be playable at home in Game 3 if favored by 4.5 points or less. If the series stands 2-1 following Game 3 the play would be on the trailing team to square the series in Game 4.
Cleveland (2) vs. Chicago (3): In the first round, Kevin Love was injured and is out for the duration of the Playoffs. J R Smith was suspended for the first two games of this series. Nevertheless Cleveland was almost a 5-2 favorite to defeat the Bulls with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving expected to lead the way.
If this series is officiated fairly Chicago has an excellent chance of pulling the upset and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. If Cleveland won on Monday the Bulls would be the play in Game 2. If Chicago pulled the Game 1 upset you’ll have to lay a few more points to back the Cavs in Game 2 as they seek to avoid an 0-2 deficit, but Cleveland would be the preferred play in that scenario. Chicago would be a solid play in Game 3 regardless. The call is for Chicago to win this series in six games.
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]