The second round of the Playoffs is winding down with one team already having clinched a spot in their Conference Finals and another perhaps having done so by the time you are reading this column.
With each passing game it seems more and more likely we will get a third straight NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State.
It was remarked last week that in sweeping past Indiana in four games to win their opening round Playoffs series Cleveland really did not answer many of the questions that had arisen following their poor play of the prior month and a half, dating back to the start of March. The Cavs won those four games by margins of 1, 6, 5 and 4 points – an average of 4.0 points per game.
Many of those concerns, however, have started to be answered in an emphatically positive manner following their four-game sweep of Toronto in the second round. The Cavs swept the Raptors by margins of 11, 22, 21 and 7 points – an average of 15.3 points per game. Cleveland played with focus, intensity and passion. Those characteristics had been missing from the Cavs for much of the season.
After sweeping past Portland in four games to win their opening series, Golden State took a 3-0 lead against the Utah Jazz into Monday night’s Game 4 in Utah. The Warriors won the first three games of the series by nearly identical margins of 12, 11 and 11 points, and in a couple of those games they eased up late in the contest. Their margins of victory versus Portland were 12, 29, 6 and 25 points, an average of 18 points per game.
On Monday morning the Westgate SuperBook released their revised odds to win the NBA Title for the seven teams still involved in the Playoffs. Golden State remains the odds-on favorite at 5-13 (meaning you would have to lay 13 dollars to win just 5). Cleveland remains the second choice at more “generous” odds of 5-2.
No other team was less than the 16-1 odds attached to third choice San Antonio with Houston not that far behind the Spurs at 20-1.
Cleveland will again benefit from extra rest before beginning the Eastern Conference Finals against either Boston or Washington.
That series between the Celtics and Wizards was tied at two games apiece following Washington’s explosive second half on Sunday that evened the series after Boston had won the first two games at home.
What is noteworthy about the series is, dating back to their four regular season meetings, the home team had won and covered all eight games. None of the games was decided by less than 8 points and six of them were decided by double digits, including all four of their Playoff games.
The home court edge enjoyed by both the Celtics and Wizards in their matchups is evidenced by the lines in their Playoff games. In general the home court is considered to be worth between 3 and 4 points but the Celtics were favored by 4.5 and 5 points in Games 1 and 2, and Washington was favored by 5.5 and 5 points in Games 3 and 4.
In what is now a best-of-three series Boston is a 4.5 point favorite in Wednesday’s Game 5. Given that strong pattern favoring the home team, the prudent plays, barring any future key injuries, would be to continue to back the home team in the remaining games of this series. Boston’s win and cover in Game 2 of the series did require overtime in a game Washington had a double digit fourth quarter lead (a truly bad beat for Wizards backers).
This series certainly has the potential to go the full seven games, although an upset win by Washington in Game 5 at Boston might force a play in Game 6 on the Wizards back home. History strongly favors the home team in a Game 7 and, again, considering how these teams have fared at home against one another it would be tough to back the Wizards in a Game 7 in Boston.
Three of their four Playoff games have gone OVER the Total and that would continue to be the way to look at playing the Total, provided the line is 218 or lower.
Cleveland might like this series to go six rather than seven games to avoid having too much rest prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Finals, although the eight days of rest between the end of their series against Indiana and the first game against Toronto did not show too much rust as the Cavs won that initial game by 11 points, leading by 12 points after the first quarter and by 14 points at halftime.
Should Utah have pulled an upset of Golden State on Monday night to extend that series to five games, the play would be on Golden State to wrap up the series in Game 5 on Wednesday back home. The Warriors have every incentive to end the series as quickly as possible to also enjoy extra rest before meeting the winner of the San Antonio versus Houston series that has the makings of a seven game series.
Unlike the series between the Celtics and Wizards, the road team has had pretty good success when the Rockets and Spurs have met this season. The road team won three of four regular season meetings, and in the Playoffs the teams split the first two games in San Antonio and the next two games in Houston.
What may be most surprising about those first four games is each was not just decided by double digits but three of the four were decided by margins of 27, 25 and 21 points. San Antonio’s Tony Parker was injured in the fourth quarter of their Game 2 home win and is out for the duration.
Perhaps wanting to show Parker’s loss could be overcome the Spurs took a two-games-to-one lead with their 11 point road win in Game 3. But that may have been a temporary surge of momentum as Houston evened the series with their 21 point home win in Sunday’s Game 4.
The loss of Parker gives Houston an even larger edge in overall team depth and could propel the Rockets to a series win. But that might have to come in six games given the aforementioned historical home team edge in a Game 7. Houston is a 5.5 point road underdog in Tuesday’s Game 5 and can be considered for play both in Game 5 and Game 6 back home on Thursday. But if there is a Game 7 in San Antonio the Spurs would be the play.
Three of the four games in this series have gone OVER the Total with 225, 217 and 229 total points scored. The lone UNDER, in Game 3, produced just 195 total points and could be considered the aberrational game in the series given both teams’ comfort level in playing up tempo. The winner in the other three games in the series scored 126, 121 and 125 points.
Hard to pick against either Cleveland or Golden State. It would be interesting if a sportsbook would post a prop as to which series will go longer.
Andy Iskoe and his Logical Approach provide popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long-time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]