The opening round of the NBA Playoffs was as exciting and entertaining as any in NBA history. Five of the eight series went the maximum seven games and of the 50 games played in trimming the Playoffs field from 16 to 8 teams, eight games were decided in overtime.
This past Saturday saw a trio of series deciding seventh games and two more were played on Sunday. Two time defending champion Miami was the only team to sweep its opening round series in four games. When the Heat host Brooklyn on Tuesday, they will have been off for eight days.
Washington was one of three lower seeded teams to advance to their conference semifinals by defeating Chicago in five games. Also pulling “upsets” were Brooklyn (over Toronto) and Portland (over Houston) as the Nets and Trailblazers each defeated higher seeded teams.
The four higher seeded teams in addition to Miami to advance were San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana, although each of those four teams needed to, and did, win a decisive seventh game on its home court.
Brooklyn’s Game 7 win came on the road at Toronto while Portland clinched its series against Houston with a buzzer-beating home win in Game 6.
From a point spread perspective, underdogs enjoyed great success in the Playoffs’ opening round, going 33-15-1 ATS using closing lines from the LVH SuperBook. One game did close a pick ‘em.
The home/road breakdown showed home underdogs going 8-4 ATS and road underdogs 25-11-1 ATS. Of the 33 covers by road underdogs 22, or two thirds of them, were outright upset straight up wins.
Will the point spread dominance of road teams continue in the second round? Perhaps, but we may also see an adjustment by the lines makers which could tilt the ‘value’ scales towards the favorites.
Totals had a distinctly OVER flavor as the 50 opening round games produced 32 OVERS and just 18 UNDERS (64%). Of the 8 games that went overtime 7 went OVER the Total while 1 stayed UNDER. Of the 7 OVERS, 4 of the games needed the extra 5 minutes to reward OVER backers.
Here’s a look at the second round matchups.
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Indiana (1) vs. Washington (5)
These teams met three times in the regular season with the home team winning on each occasion. Each game was decided by 13 points or more but all three stayed UNDER by more than 17. Indiana’s two wins came when playing the best basketball in the NBA (in November and January). Washington’s win came at the end of March when the teams’ momentum had reversed direction.
Washington had a much easier time getting by Chicago in 5 than Indiana did in defeating Atlanta in 7. It’s too soon to declare that Indiana’s ills a thing of the past but Monday’s opening game might offer a clue. An impressive win by the Pacers could mean the Pacers advance in as few as 5. An upset win by the Wizards could portend a series upset.
Even a Pacers win in a tightly contested game could be a positive sign for the Wizards. In approaching this series at the betting windows look first towards the UNDER provided the total stays at 181 or higher. Should Indiana win but fail to cover Game 1 the play in Game 2 would be on Washington. A comfortable win by the Pacers to open the series would be a signal that the Pacers likely have been able to resolve their locker room issues and make them playable again in Game 2 if laying 6 or less. If Washington won Game 1 they would again be a take in Game 2 if getting at least 5.
Washington would be the play back home in Game 3 regardless of where the series stands. In Game 4 the play would be the Pacers unless they are seeking to avoid a four game sweep. Although the Wizards have a lot to recommend them and are a team on the rise the forecast is for Indiana to achieve what has been expected of them for most of the season and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in 5.
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Miami (2) vs. Brooklyn (6)
Much will be made of the fact that Brooklyn defeated Miami in all four of their regular season meetings, going 4-0 ATS in the process. But upon closer inspection three of the wins were by a single point and the fourth game went to double overtime before the Nets won by 9. The two games in Brooklyn went OVER. The two in Miami stayed UNDER by 10 and 17 points.
There is much to like about the Nets with all the experience on the roster, including Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett plus enough depth to give the Heat a competitive series. But Miami has prepared well for the Playoffs, doing out night off or extended periods of rest, especially for the aging and injury prone Dwyane Wade. In sweeping past Charlotte, Miami was rewarded with eight days of rest before Tuesday night’s opener in this series.
Miami should be primed to gain the upper hand in this series and opened a 7 point favorite in the opener. The preference is to lay the lumber with the Heat in anticipation of that strong start. The loser of Game 1 would be playable in Game 2. For the first game in Brooklyn the Heat would be the play if they are down 0-2 or the series is tied.
If Miami wins the first two games at home then the Nets would be playable in Game 3. Miami would be the play in Game 4 unless the Nets are down 0-3 and seeking to avoid the sweep. Then the Nets are playable provided they are getting at least 2 points. Look for the series to produce more UNDERS than OVER. The forecast is for Miami to win in no more than 6, quite likely 5.
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San Antonio (1) vs. Portland (5)
The Spurs and Blazers split their four regular season meetings with each winning once at home and once on the road. Two went OVER and two UNDER. The lowest scoring game between the teams was in their most recent meeting (193) played in mid March. The other three games produced between 209 and 220 total points.
This has the makings of an up tempo, high scoring series with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard pacing Portland and the Spurs relying on a very deep roster from which any of as many as eight players can score double digits in a given game. The Spurs’ offense is directed by Tony Parker.
In defeating Dallas in 7, the Spurs covered the spread just once – in that seventh game. In defeating Houston in 6, Portland lost to the spread in each of the final four games of the series after covering in the first two. Those results set the stage for this to a series in which backing the underdog proves profitable. Thus look to play the underdog on a game by game basis provided the line is at least +3.
The lone exception, although unlikely, would be to back San Antonio as a small favorite in Game 3 in Portland if they were upset in both Games 1 and 2 at home and are down 0-2 in the series. Also look towards OVER 206 or lower and UNDER 212 or higher. Ultimately the Spurs’ experience is determinative. The forecast is for San Antonio to advance in 6.
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OKC (2) vs. LA Clippers (3)
As is the case with Portland and San Antonio, the Clippers and Thunder split their four regular season meetings with each team winning once at home and once on the road. None went overtime and the games were decided by between 6 and 14 points. The Totals were also evenly split with 2 OVERS and 2 UNDERS in the narrow range of 209.5 and 212.5.
Both teams were extended to seven games in their opening series. Oklahoma City’s seventh game win over Memphis was more decisive than was the Clippers’ clinching win over Golden State but Memphis was shorthanded for that final game at OKC with Zach Randolph suspended. This series has the makings of a high scoring competitive series and forecasts as the most likely to go the full 7.
The Clippers are led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and OKC is paced by soon-to-be-named NBA MVP Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But both teams have excellent complementary players who have made significant contributions both in the regular season and in the Playoffs. The Clippers are considered to have the coaching edge with Doc Rivers (who won a Title with the Celtics) although Scott Brooks did lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals two seasons ago, losing to Miami.
Last season the Thunder was without Westbrook when they were eliminated in the Playoffs. The Clippers had to contend with the Donald Sterling distraction in the midst of their series against the Warriors but ultimately overcame it. This should be another series in which the underdog fares well and thus the first look will be towards taking at least 3 points or more. The exception would be in backing the Clippers at home if they are favored by 4 or less when tied or behind in the series.
The preference is to look OVER before UNDER. The best spots would be to look OVER 212 or less and UNDER 215 or more. OKC is the second lowest favorite to win its series at -200. Based on talent this series is the most likely to produce an upset and the call is for the Clippers to advance to the Western Conference Finals in 7, meaning they would win a seventh game on the road, most likely in the role of an underdog.
In next week’s column the four series shall be revisited based on how they stand through Sunday.
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]