‘Trends’ established early in the NBA playoffs

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The NBA Playoffs are underway and there have been several surprises and two very interesting developments that I am to refer to as “trends” given the small sample size.
Through the first 10 games, the point spread has not come into play in any game. Four underdogs won outright and of the six favored teams that defended their home courts with wins, all six covered the spread.
Seven of the games saw the final result vary from the point spread by more than 10 points. The three games that were more competitive vs. the line fell less than four points from the closing line.
Perhaps even more interesting is that all of the opening games — those played last Saturday and Sunday — stayed under the total. Nine of the 10 stayed under by more than seven points, including Boston’s 84-74 win over Indiana which stayed below the total by a whopping 54 points. And at 210, the closing total for that game was the lowest of the eight opening games.
Yet before you run to the windows to bet the under, note that on Monday, in the two Game 2’s of the opening series, both went well over the total with the Nets-76ers going over by 44 points and the Clippers-Warriors game exceeding its total by 32.
In winning Monday night, Philadelphia evened its series with Brooklyn at one game apiece after being upset by the Nets on Saturday. The 76ers scored 51 points in the third quarter to break open a competitive game in which they led at the half by a single point.
Perhaps in what may turn out to be the biggest surprise of the opening round, two-time defending champion Golden State blew a 23- point halftime lead that later ballooned to 31 points as the Clippers staged the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history to win 135-131 to even its series at 1-1.
If the opening three days are any indication of what’s to come then we may be in for quite a number of surprises. Here are some thoughts on approaching the remainder of the eight opening-round series.
Eastern Conference
Bucks vs. Pistons: Milwaukee put forth a strong efforts in its opening game, sending a message its best record over the regular season was not fluke. Detroit’s Blake Griffin is likely out for the entire series which all but dooms their chances, perhaps of even extending the series beyond five games.
If the Pistons lose Game 2 on Wednesday, Detroit may be worth backing in Game 3 which would be their best chance for a win in the series. Should Milwaukee be upset on Wednesday, look for the Bucks to come out strong in Game 3 and wrap the series up in five games.
Raptors vs. Magic: Orlando stunned Toronto with its fourth-quarter comeback to win Game 1 on Sunday. The Raptors were 10-point favorites in Game 2 Tuesday.
The Raptors have a history of recent playoff disappointments as they are now 1-10 in opening games of first round series in franchise history. But with a new coach (Nick Nurse) and former Spur Kawhi Leonard this season was expected to be different.  Orlando played its best basketball of the season down the stretch as it was driving to make the playoffs. Despite the lack of star power, the Magic can be disruptive. They are good enough to extend Toronto in this series and if the Raptors were victorious in Game 2, look to back the Magic back home in Game 3 and again in Game 4 if made home underdogs of at least 3 points or more. Ultimately the call is for Toronto to advance in six games.
76ers vs. Nets: After being stunned by the Nets in Game 1 the 76ers responded in a big way with a strong second half in Monday’s Game 2 to square their series.
Brooklyn did gain the home court edge with their opening game win yet the Nets are 3-point home underdogs for Thursday’s Game 3. The Nets made great strides this season and the often overused factor of team chemistry appears to have been applicable for explaining their drive to the postseason.
Philadelphia’s collective psyche will be on display in Game 3 in which they have the chance to regain control of the series. The preferred play over the next week will be to back the loser of Game 3 to even up the series in Game 4. Should the 76ers be up 3-1 heading back to Philly for Game 5, the play would be on the 76ers to wrap up the series in that game. But should the series be tied entering Game 5 the Nets +7 or more would be the play in a game Philly should win but fail to cover.
Celtics vs. Pacers: The late January season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo all but ended Indiana’s chances of making a deep playoff run and his absence was clearly felt in the Pacers’ Game 1 loss in Boston.  In what handicaps to continue as a low scoring series the best spot to back the Pacers will be as home underdogs in Game 3 with a partial play on the Money Line. The expectation is for the Celtics to advance in no more than five games, although a sweep would be expected if the Celtics are up 3-0 after what would be a pivotal Game 3.
Western Conference
Warriors vs. Clippers: After the Clippers shocked the Warriors in their record-setting Game 2 comeback Monday night the Warriors should be focused for both games in Los Angeles.
At the Westgate SuperBook, Golden State opened as 7.5-point road favorites and were quickly bet up to -8. The Warriors did lose DeMarcus Cousins to a first quarter leg injury and he will be out indefinitely according to head coach Steve Kerr.
Game 3 will be a character test for the Warriors and the preference is to lay the large number both in Game 3 and back home in Game 5. The Clippers would be worthy of backing in Game 4 to cover a number of +8 or more assuming they did not pull another upset to take a 2-1 series lead.
Nuggets vs. Spurs: San Antonio’s extensive playoff experience paid off in Game 1 as the Spurs upset Denver. That made Tuesday night’s Game 2 critical to Denver’s chances of winning this series as it would be very tough to see the Nuggets overcoming two home losses against this foe.
If the Nuggets won Tuesday night, the expectation would be for the series to return to Denver tied at two games apiece, making the preferred play a play on the Game 3 loser in Game 4.  
Should the series return to Denver either tied or with the Nuggets up three games to one the play in Game 5 would be on the Nuggets. 
But if the Spurs head to Denver up 3-1 the preference would be to pass Game 5, hoping for a Denver win and a return to San Antonio with a Game 6 play on the Spurs to complete what in the minds of many would be a minor upset of the No. 2-seeded Nuggets.
Trail Blazers vs. Thunder: This may be the most compelling of the eight first-round matchups as there is much to like about both teams.
Portland, after outscoring the Thunder by 14 points in the first quarter, held on for a five-point win in Sunday’s Game 1, covering as short 3-point favorites. To me it signals that the winner of Tuesday’s Game 2 will win this series. 
Either OKC will resume its mastery of the Blazers and return home with the series tied at a game apiece and now holding the home court advantage or Portland will have shown its Game 1 win was indeed no fluke. 
My strategy at the moment is to play the winner of Game 2 in both games in Oklahoma City.
Rockets vs. Jazz: With its 32-point blowout win to open their series against Utah, Houston sent a signal that the Rockets are intent on finishing the job in which they came up just short last season when they lost to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals in seven games after taking a 3-2 lead.
The linesmakers and the public did not overreact at all to Game 1’s results as the line for Tuesday’s Game 2 opened Houston favored by 6.5, the same number at which Game 1 closed.
The Jazz played very well at home over the second half of the season and will enter Game 3 having won eight straight and 13 of 15 at home. 
Utah will be the preferred play in Game 3 whether the series is tied or the Rockets are up 2-0.
However, play the loser of Game 3 to win Game 4 even if the Jazz are on the verge of elimination. 
The call is for Houston to win the series in no more than six games but don’t expect Utah to go without presenting the challenge they did not present in the series opener.
Here are two games to consider playing this week as the first round continues:
Pistons at Bucks Total 211 (Wednesday): Expect a better offensive effort from the Pistons and a typical effort from the Bucks who blew out Detroit 121-86 in Game 1. 
In the regular season, each successive meeting produced more total points than their previous game, rising from 207 to 211 to 219 to 220.  
The Bucks have scored at least 115 points in four of their five meetings with the Pistons this season. OVER
Warriors -8.5 at Clippers (Thursday): Fully embarrassed from blowing a record setting 31-point lead in Monday’s Game 2 loss to the Clippers, expect the Warriors to maintain focus for the full 48 minutes as they seek to regain the home court advantage, even without the injured Cousins. 
The Warriors have shown they are the much better team than the Clippers, winning by 17, 27 and 18 points in the three games prior to the Game 2 loss. WARRIORS
Last week: 0-0
Season: 41-31

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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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