As we go to press on Monday seven of the eight opening round Playoffs series have yet to be decided. Only Cleveland has advanced to the second round of the Playoffs – the Conference Semi-Finals – after sweeping Indiana in four games. Golden State was in position to match Cleveland’s feat with a win Monday night in Portland, having won the first three games.
The other six series all will go at least five games with at least four of them assured of lasting at least six.
Here’s a review of Cleveland’s opening round sweep and a look at the other series as they stood through Sunday.
Coming into the Playoffs no team had more question marks surrounding its prospects for the Playoffs than the Cavaliers. The players looked tired and the team’s performance since the start of March left many wondering if the Cavs were realistically vulnerable to be upset before reaching the NBA Finals and the much anticipated third straight meeting with Golden State.
In sweeping past Indiana the Cavs. did not really do much to answer the questions. Indiana was my lowest rated team of the 16 Playoff teams, and while Cleveland did win all four games, the margins were just 1, 6, 5 and 4 points. Their Game 3 win in Indiana was the result of an historic comeback as Cleveland trailed by 25 points at halftime.
And whereas their comeback should certainly be given the appreciation it deserves, falling behind by such a margin does little to suggest the Cavs can just “turn on the switch” and elevate their level of play on a moment’s notice. The competition gets tougher – even within the weaker Eastern Conference – as the Playoffs advance and the Cavs will await the winner of the series between Milwaukee and Toronto to face their next challenge.
The Bucks and Raptors were tied at two games apiece heading into Monday’s game in Toronto. The teams split their pair of games in both locales with third seeded Toronto holding the home court advantage in what is now a best of three series. This has been a very low scoring series with three of the first four games staying UNDER the Total and that trio of games that stayed UNDER doing so each by more than 15 points.
Three of their four regular season meetings also stayed UNDER the Total, which adds up to six UNDERS in eight meetings this season. Given the way this series has unfolded and the added intensity likely to be displayed as the series winds down the UNDER should still be considered for play in each remaining game.
Milwaukee failed to capitalize after taking 1-0 and 2-1 series leads and it would not be a surprise if the winner of Monday’s Game 5 wins the series on Thursday in Milwaukee in Game 6. Should there be a Game 7 back in Toronto the pressure would be on the Raptors to avoid another early Playoffs exit. Up and coming Milwaukee would be an attractive Game 7 play if getting at least 6 points.
Through Sunday the home team had yet to win a game in the series between the top Eastern seed Boston and eighth seeded Chicago. The Bulls looked to be the much better team in winning the first two games in Boston but their chances of advancing were dealt a serious blow when Rajon Rondo was injured in Game 2 and lost indefinitely, likely for at least the remainder of this series.
Rondo had been instrumental in Chicago’s first two wins and his absence was felt in both losses. Boston is now in position to take control of this series, heavily favored to win Wednesday’s Game 5 at home. Regardless of the result of that game, Chicago will be attractive as a play back home in Game 6, either trying to wrap up the series with a win or force a Game 7 if they lose on Wednesday. But look for Boston to be the play back home if there is a Game 7.
Only three games had been played in the Atlanta/Washington series through Sunday with the home team having won (and covered) each. This series, between the fourth and fifth seeds, had the makings of being one likely to go the full seven games. Atlanta had the easiest win of the first three games with a 116-98 rout of the Wizards in Game 3 as they avoided going down 0-3 to the team that had won three of four regular season meetings.
Washington is still the pick to advance from this series and they would be the play back home in Game 5 whether they are in position to eliminate Atlanta or to take the lead in the series if the Hawks won Game 3 to knot the series.
The Wizards would be playable in Game 6 in Atlanta if in position to wrap up the series if getting at least 2 points or if laying no more than 2 points if Atlanta is up three games to two and the Wizards need the win to force a Game 7 back home. In a deciding Game 7 Washington would be the play if laying no more than 5 points whereas Atlanta would be the pointspread play if getting at least 8 points.
In the West, Golden State may have wrapped up their opening series if they won on Monday night in Portland. The Warriors are expected to be without head coach Steve Kerr on the bench for an undetermined length of time as he deals with an illness.
The Warriors are such a well-organized and efficient team that whereas Kerr will be missed, the Warriors will still be able to function at an elite level. Should there be a Game 5 the Warriors would be the play, even as modest double digit favorites, to get a decisive win and advance to face the winner of the series between Utah and the LA Clippers.
That series between the Clippers and Jazz is noted more for who the key injuries were to each team. Utah’s big man Rudy Gobert was injured seconds into Game 1 and missed virtually that entire game and the next two. The teams have split the first four games, each winning once at home and once on the road.
Gobert was back for Utah in Game 4 but the Clippers suffered their key injury when Blake Griffin injured his big toe in the first half of their Game 3 win last Friday. Griffin has been ruled out for the balance of the Playoffs, which greatly reduces the Clippers’ chances of advancing. They and the Jazz had identical 51-31 records with the Clippers gaining the home court advantage by winning three of four regular season meetings.
Utah’s Gordon Hayward played just nine minutes in Sunday’s Game 3 before leaving due to the effects of food poisoning. He is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s Game 5 in which the Clippers, who played well without Griffin in Game 4, are favored by 3 points back home. Game 5 should be crucial in what is now a best of three series.
An upset win by the Jazz would make Utah the play back home in Game 6 to eliminate the Clippers. But a Clippers win would give them two chances to win the series and they can be considered for play both as a Game 6 underdog in Utah and, if needed, as a favorite back home in Game 7.
Houston takes a three-games-to-one lead back home for Tuesday’s Game 5 and is favored to end the series. The Rockets are favored by 7.5 points and have been challenged at points by Oklahoma City in all three games following Houston’s 118-87 blowout win in Game 1. The Rockets simply have the better talent surrounding their star James Harden than does OKC have to complement Russell Westbrook.
The line is large enough to consider a play on the Thunder in Game 5, and if they happen to pull off the upset win the play in Game 6 would be on Houston to end the series in what would likely be close to a pick ‘em game. But if the series returns to Houston for a Game 7 the Rockets would be the play even if they are favored in the same vicinity of the Game 5 line.
Including the regular season, Memphis and San Antonio have met eight times and the home team is a perfect 8-0 SU. Memphis has covered the line in all four of its home wins but also in both regular season road losses. The Spurs did cover in both home wins in the Playoffs. This is now a best of three series with the Spurs favored by 10 points in Tuesday’s Game 5. Memphis’ win as home underdogs in Game 3 was not a surprise but their win in Game 4 was, considering the Spurs pedigree and huge edge in Playoffs experience.
Memphis sent a message that they are not intimidated by history and Mike Conley Jr. is a big time player with a nice supporting cast. It’s tempting to lay the big number with the Spurs in Game 5 following those back-to-back losses but the better play might be to wait until Game 6 back in Memphis and then back the Spurs either to eliminate the Grizzlies or, if upset in Game 5, to force a Game 7 back home.
If there is a Game 7 the Spurs would be playable at minus 10 or less, but by being forced to go the distance could be vulnerable to being upset in the next round if they were to meet Houston.
But that’s a topic for next week when we should know most, if not all, of the second round matchups.