Raptors, Bucks challenged in East semis

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The second round of the NBA playoffs are underway with Portland and Denver having tipped off its Western Conference semifinal series Monday at Pepsi Center in Denver.

Here are my thoughts on each of the four series as they stand with thoughts on how to approach the next few games including how I will approach the games later this week depending on the possible results of the two games to be played Tuesday night.

Raptors vs. 76ers: Toronto won three of four regular season meetings and each was by double digits. After opening this series with a 108-95 home win it appeared this might be a short series. But on Monday night Philly led virtually wire to wire, holding on to win 94-89 and giving fans of “The Process” reason to believe an upset is possible.  

Thursday’s Game 3 becomes key in whether that upset may be realized. Toronto has been served notice that the 76ers will not be an easy out after gaining the home court edge with Monday’s road win. 

I agree with the early line move that opened with the Sixers 1.5 point favorites and was quickly bet down to pick ‘em by mid-Tuesday morning and expect Toronto to get the SU win. 

I do expect this series to be tied at two games apiece heading back to Toronto which means the play in Game 4 will be on the loser of Game 3.  Philadelphia is still a team on the rise, positioned to contend for “Beast of the East” for the next several seasons. 

Bucks vs. Celtics: Boston pulled a surprising upset in winning the series opener. The surprise was not that the Celtics won but did so in pretty convincing fashion, outscoring the Bucks 60-40 in the second half after holding a two-point lead at the half. 

There was a huge adjustment in the series price following Game 1. After opening as -250 favorites prior to the series, the Bucks were reinstalled as only -125 to -130 favorites after suffering that initial upset. 

Should the series head to Boston tied at a game apiece the Bucks will again be solid favorites to win the series. But should the Celtics have swept the two games in Milwaukee they will become solid favorites to advance as the Bucks would have to win four of the next five games. 

I’ve laid the -125 on the Bucks to get past the Celtics. If the series heads to Boston tied I will be looking to back the Bucks in Game 3 and then to back the Game 3 loser in Game 4 with the expectation of the series returning to Milwaukee tied 2-2.

Warriors vs. Rockets: Golden State held on for a 104-100 win to open this series that featured some major controversy in the closing moments that worked against the Rockets. 

I backed Houston in Game 1 and got the cover and have backed them again in Tuesday’s Game 2. The Warriors opened as favorites of a shade under 3-1 to win the series and were adjusted upwards to -400 following their Game 1 win. If the Rockets managed to win Tuesday night they should still be solid underdogs to win the series even with the homecourt edge for what would then be a best-of-five series. Regardless of the result of Tuesday’s Game 2 I will be looking to back the Rockets once again in Game 3 on Saturday. 

But in the event the Rockets are down 3-0 entering Game 4 my play will most likely be on the Warriors to complete the sweep next Monday, having sent the message to not just Houston but to the entire basketball universe that they are no longer fooling around.

Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers: This may be the most compelling of the four second round series as both teams, especially Denver, do not have much recent successful playoff history. 

In what was a competitive game for the first half in Monday’s opener, the hometown Nuggets controlled the second half, leading by seven to 11 points for much of those final 24 minutes en route to their 121-113 win and covering as 4-point chalk. 

Denver opened as slightly lower 3.5 point favorites for Wednesday’s Game 2 in which I will be backing the visitors to square the series. Denver opened as the shortest of the four favorites to win their second round series at -150. Following their opening win the Nuggets were adjusted to -240 and I shall take the bite.

I’ve liked the way Portland played down the stretch and they were impressive in getting by Oklahoma City in the opening round. Portland lost three of four regular-season meetings with Denver and with its loss in Game 1 all five meetings were decided by single digits.

Trail Blazers +3.5 at Nuggets (Wednesday): I look for Portland to even up their series with a straight up win before heading home. The Blazers may have been a bit rusty in the second half of Monday’s opening loss to the Nuggets as the added rest does not always show up in the first half of a game following an extended layoff. Although Damiam Lillard was brilliant with his 39 points in the opener I expect CJ McCollum to bounce back from a subpar effort in which he tallied just 16 points. TRAIL BLAZERS

Raptors +1 at 76ers (Thursday): Perhaps Toronto was a bit complacent in Game 2 following their 108-95 win in the series opener in which the Raptors controlled the flow as the 76ers led virtually wire to wire in evening the series in Monday’s 94-89 win.  

Over the regular season Toronto showed to be clearly the better team with three double-digit wins in four meetings, including a 119-107 win on this court in February. 

Kawhi Leonard remains the best player on the court and scored 35 points in Monday’s loss. Expect adjustments to be made such that he receives more support from his teammates. RAPTORS

Last week: 0-0

Season: 43-31

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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