The NBA’s “second season” – the “real” season according to many – has begun with the opening round of the playoffs starting this past weekend.
Starting this week, one game had been played in each of eight series. Interestingly, the playoffs began on Saturday with the road team Washington giving up a double digit fourth quarter lead before winning at Toronto in overtime.
Not only was that the only overtime game of the weekend it was the only win by a road team. The next seven were won by the home team although two of the road teams that lost, New Orleans and Brooklyn, each covered the pointspread due to late rallies.
There were 5 UNDERs and 3 OVERs although the results were streaky with the first two games on Saturday staying UNDER, the next two games on Saturday plus the first Sunday game going OVER and then Sunday’s final three games each staying UNDER.
Here’s a look at each series. Each team’s seed within its respective conference is shown in parentheses.
Atlanta (1) vs. Brooklyn (8): Atlanta had a rather easy Game 1 victory although the Nets did rally late to make the final 99-92 score deceiving as to how much the Hawks controlled the flow of the game. Atlanta is now 5-0 against Brooklyn this season (3-2 ATS) and should have little trouble advancing to the second round.
Brooklyn’s best chance to salvage a game in this series would be at home in Game 3 if they drop Game 2 in Atlanta on Wednesday. Should the Nets have squared the series with a Wednesday win then Atlanta would make for solid plays in both Games 3 and 4.
Cleveland (2) vs. Boston (7): Boston is well coached and competed into the second quarter of its 113-100 loss to open the series. Cleveland, at -240, is the prohibitive favorite to win the Eastern Conference and should get by the Celtics in no more than six games. The teams split their four regular season meetings but Boston’s wins came in back-to-back games during the final week after the Cavs had already clinched the number two seed and the Celtics were fighting just to make the playoffs.
If the Celtics lose Game 2 on Tuesday they would make for a nice play back home in Game 3. In the likely scenario of Cleveland being up 3-1 heading back home for Game 5, the Celtics would be worth playing if getting double digits. Should the series extend to 6, the Cavs would be the play to win the series back in Boston.
Chicago (3) vs. Milwaukee (6): About as healthy as they’ve been all season, and getting a stellar performance from the oft-injured Derrick Rose, the Bulls had little trouble in opening their series against Milwaukee with a 103-91 win. The Bucks exceeded expectations in Jason Kidd’s first season as coach and played extremely well in the season’s first two months before the season ending injury to rookie Jabari Parker.
Of all the first round series this is the most likely to result in a four game sweep. The Bulls would be playable in both games in Milwaukee if laying no more than 4.5 points.
Toronto (4) vs Washington (5): This handicaps as being the most competitive of the East’s first round series and best chance to go 7 games. Washington won Game 1 in overtime but not after blowing a 15 point lead with just under 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was the Wizards’ first win over the Raptors after Toronto won all three regular season meetings.
This series could follow the much discussed zig zag pattern in which teams trade wins over the course of the series. It would not be surprising if there is not more than one instance of a team winning back-to-back games during this series. Although Toronto should make for a solid play in Tuesday’s Game 2 to avoid falling down 0-2 in the series heading to the road, the underdog should do well from Game 3 on out, especially when getting at least 4 points.
Golden State (1) vs. New Orleans (8): Golden State was blowing out New Orleans in Game 1, leading 84 to 66 after three quarters. To its credit, New Orleans did not just mail in the fourth quarter but staged a furious rally to pull within 6 points with a minute remaining. The Warriors did close out, winning 106-99, but were given a clear message of just how difficult it is to be the pre-Playoffs favorite with limited Playoffs experience in recent seasons.
The Pelicans showed their mettle with the virtual wire-to-wire win over San Antonio just to make the playoffs on the final night of the regular season. Golden State should win this series, most likely in 5 as New Orleans is capable of winning one game back home should they have lost game two on Monday night. If down 0-2 returning home, the Pelicans would be playable in Game 3 if getting at least 6 points. If they win to pull within one game of evening the series, Golden State would make a solid play in Game 4 in the range of 5 to 6 points.
Houston (2) vs. Dallas (7): Houston had a very solid regular season that stayed under the radar for many who follow the game other than to check the nightly stats put up by the Rockets’ James Harden, considered one of the leading contender for NBA MVP honors. Houston overcame the extended absence of Dwight Howard and the late season loss of Patrick Beverley.
Dallas had a fine regular season, finishing with 50 wins but that was good enough only to earn the seventh seed. Houston won the series opener, 118-108, their fourth win in five meetings this season. But their three regular season wins were each by 7 points or less. Dallas allowed an average of 102.3 points per game in the regular season, the most by any of the 16 playoff teams.
Interestingly, all four regular season games between the Mavs and Rockets stayed UNDER the total but Saturday’s opening game sailed OVER by 13 points. Fundamentally this should continue to be a high scoring series with Houston, and the defensive presence of Howard, winning in six games. It would not be a surprise if the home team wins the first five games of this series before Houston clinches the series in Dallas. Dallas would be a nice play back home in games three and four if not laying more than a trey.
LA Clippers (3) vs. San Antonio (6): Gregg Popovich usually has the coaching edge in most matchups but any edge he may enjoy over the Clippers’ Doc Rivers is minimal at best. The teams split their four regular season meetings with only one of those games decided by more than 7 points. In approaching the balance of this series it may be best to avoid the temptation to back the Spurs in Game 2 and look to back the Spurs in Game 3 back home.
The Spurs were -160 favorites to win this series as their defending champion status justified that favoritism in the minds of many. But the Clippers are more than capable of knocking out the Spurs and Game 3 in San Antonio will go a long way in determining if the Clippers are indeed ready to contend for the title.
Portland (4) vs. Memphis (5): Portland won just 51 games while their opponent, fifth seeded Memphis, won 55. Memphis, led by Zach Randolph, was clearly the better team in winning Sunday’s opener, 100-86 and it will be their defense that will determine how far the Grizzlies will advance.
Memphis led the NBA in allowing just 95.1 points per game in the regular season. They allowed just 97.1 ppg on the road. Portland’s dynamic duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard should enable the Blazers to avoid a sweep with their most favorable situation arising back home in game three if they have also lost game two on Wednesday. Yet it must be noted that Memphis has owned Portland this season, now having won – and covered – all five meetings. The call is Memphis in 5.
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]