The long 82 game regular season comes to a close Wednesday, and while 14 of the NBA’s 30 teams will immediately begin preparing for the draft the other 16 start their journey to the NBA Finals as the Playoffs begin this weekend.
To win the NBA Title a team will have to capture four best-of-seven series, which means up to an additional 28 games may be played.
Of the two conferences, things remain almost totally unsettled in the East where through Sunday only six of the eight Playoff berths had been clinched and three teams were contending for the final two spots.
All is settled in the Western Conference in terms of the teams making the Playoffs and the first round matchups. The only issue remaining is whether Utah or the Los Angeles Clippers will have home court advantage for their opening round series. By virtue of winning three of four games between the teams during the regular season, the Clippers hold the tie breaker should the teams end with identical records, which they have as of Sunday.
It’s a much different situation in the East. The top seed was still undetermined with Boston and Cleveland tied for the Conference’s best record, 51-29 through Sunday. Each team had two games remaining with Boston hosting Brooklyn on Monday and Milwaukee, Wednesday, whereas Cleveland played at Miami on Monday and is hosting Toronto on Wednesday.
Those dynamics tend to favor the Celtics but if the teams end up in a tie the number one seed will go to the Cavaliers. Toronto is all but certain to be the 3 seed with Washington as the 4.
Atlanta and Milwaukee have both clinched Playoff berths but their seeds are unknown as presstime. The Hawks have one less loss than the Bucks and can gain the fifth seed by winning their final two games. Indiana started this week seeded seventh with Chicago and Miami tied for the final Playoff spot. Chicago holds the tie breaker edge over the Heat.
The Playoffs begin this weekend with four games on Saturday and the other four series to begin on Sunday.
Playoffs are much more conducive to excellent basketball being played with no back-to-back situations and often two to three days between games.
In betting Playoffs there are many theories advanced over the years.
For many years the “zig zag” theory was popular – and profitable. It suggested to bet, beginning in game two of a series, on the team that lost the previous game straight up. But it has not been as effective the past decade or so as it was in the 1980’s into the 1990’s.
Spot play theories suggest to be on a team returning home for game three after dropping the first two games on the road. The theory is the home team in game three is the weaker of the two teams by virtue of not having home court advantage. At the same time the team was good enough to make the Playoffs, and if they have any chance of advancing, a win in Game 3 is crucial as it is almost impossible to win four straight after dropping the first three games of a best-of-seven series.
A corollary to that theory is to play a team to complete a four game sweep once that team is up 3-0. The reasoning here is that once a team gets down 0-3 that team accepts the fact that winning the series is extremely unlikely whereas the opponent is eager to wrap up the series and earn extra rest prior to the start of their next series.
None of the theories that may be expounded in the media should ever be played blindly but rather considered on a game by game or situational basis.
Here’s a look at the four Western Conference first round series followed by some general thoughts about what may unfold in the East. The teams’ seeds are shown in parentheses.
Golden State (1) vs. Portland (8): Top seeded Golden State has saved its best basketball for the stretch run. The Warriors won 14 in a row through Sunday, going 10-2-2 ATS. Portland has also played well, going 16-5 both SU and ATS since March 2. Golden State won all four games against the Trailblazers this season, although Portland was much more competitive in the two most recent games.
Portland played poorly over the first half of the season and these teams last met at the end of January. Portland’s play down the stretch suggests they will not be swept but it might be a stretch to expect more than a single win, which is most likely to come at home in either Game 3 or Game 4.
San Antonio (2) vs. Memphis (7): San Antonio is still a team to consider as a challenger to Golden State for supremacy in the West. The Spurs had their chances to overtake the Warriors but those chances effectively ended when they blew a 22 point first quarter lead in what turned out to be a 110-98 home loss to the Warriors on March 29.
Memphis labored to make the Playoffs and for much of the season was in position to earn a higher seed. Although the Grizzlies had a four game winning streak in mid-March they were just 7-13 SU, 9-11 ATS since the start of March. However the teams split their four games during the season with all four games played since the start of February and Memphis winning the last two meetings, March 23 and April 4. San Antonio is the much more experienced team but also one with age. Memphis can take advantage of some matchups and might be able to extend this series to six games.
Houston (3) vs. Oklahoma City (6): This series will have extra intrigue as it matches up the two favorites for MVP honors – Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. Harden has the better overall supporting talent and will be solidly favored to advance past the opening round. Seeded third, Houston has a better record than any team in the Eastern Conference and is given a puncher’s chance of knocking off Golden State should those teams meet in the Western Finals.
OKC won the first meeting between the teams, at home in mid-November. But Houston won the next three. With the better overall roster Harden and the Rockets should get past Westbrook and the Thunder in no more than six games and quite possibly five should they sweep the first two at home.
Utah (4) vs. LA Clippers (5): When healthy the Clippers are the better team. Currently Austin Rivers is banged up for the Clips while George Hill is the only injured player of note for Utah. Both teams were slightly better than .500 on the road this season. Utah leads the NBA in allowing just 96.7 points per game with San Antonio the only other team allowing under 100 ppg (98.1).
Both teams had nearly an identical plus 4 points per game differential. This series has the greatest potential for going the full seven games. Its price will be based on which team has that home court advantage. The forecast will be for the Clippers to advance and they would be playable to win the series if laying no more than -120 with home court advantage or if getting at least +120 if they surrender the home court edge.
Cleveland remains the favorite to but not without potential challenges from any of three teams: Boston, Toronto and Washington.
During the regular season Cleveland took three of four from Boston (1-2-1 ATS), swept all three games with Toronto (2-1 ATS) and took two of three from the Wizards (2-1 ATS). All are very small sample sizes but the fact that the Cavaliers had winning records against all three contenders clearly establishes them as the team to beat, despite their sluggish play down the stretch.
In comparison Boston is 1-3 against Toronto (0-4 ATS) and 2-2 SU/ATS against Washington. All four games with the Wizards were won by the home team. Against the Raptors the only road victory was by Boston in their first meeting of the season.
Toronto was 2-1 both SU and ATS against Washington, interestingly losing its lone home game against the Wizards while winning both road games.
Of the three contenders to Cleveland the best late season basketball was played by the Raptors. The return this past weekend of Kyle Lowry strengthens Toronto.
Expect form to hold in all four Eastern series. The real fun in the East will take place when the Conference Semi-Finals take place following the opening round.