With Blazers in rear view, can Pelicans actually contend for NBA title?

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The NBA Playoffs began two weekends ago and after nine days of action the path to the second round has taken shape.

One team, New Orleans, completed a four game sweep of its opening round opponent, Portland, in impressive fashion.

The Pelicans won the first two games on the road, by 2 and 9 points, covering as road underdogs in both.

Upon returning home the Pelicans continue their outstanding play with an 11 point win in what was a critical game for the Trailblazers before completing the sweep with a high scoring 131-123 win in Game 4.

The Pelicans now await the winner of the series between Golden State and San Antonio, which stood 3-1 in favor of the Warriors heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Golden State in which the hosts were favored by 11 points to eliminate the Spurs.

There remains some uncertainty about when Warriors star Steph Curry will be able to return. When he was first injured it was clearly expected he would make his Playoffs debut in the second round. Now there is a question on when in the second round that debut shall occur.

Still, Golden State should be able to get by the pesky Pelicans who, led by Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Jrue Holiday, represent an up and coming team in the West and are good enough to avoid a sweep and possibly extend the series to six games.

Also returning home with a three-game-to-one lead is Philadelphia. The young 76ers, led by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (the latter making his Playoffs debut in Game 3), have outclassed the Miami Heat and should pose a real threat to dethroning Cleveland as Beasts of the East. They are playing better than the East’s top seed, Toronto, as well as second seeded and injury plagued Boston.

Only their relative inexperience works against them but as they continue to win they believe more and more they can continue to win. Entering Tuesday’s Game 5 the 76ers have won 19 of their last 20 games dating back to the middle of March.

Philly’s next challenge would come from the winner of the series between Boston and Milwaukee. That series entered this week tied at two games apiece after the home team won each of the first four games. Games 1 and 4 were close, decided by 6 points (in overtime) and 2 points. Games 2 and 3 were decided by double digits with the Celtics and Bucks each winning a close game and lopsided game.

Tuesday’s Game 5 in Boston becomes critical as the loser of that game will face elimination in Game 6 in Milwaukee. If the Bucks are going to win the series they almost need to win on Tuesday as it would be hard to see them winning a Game 7 back in Boston.

The expectation here is the Celtics will take a three-games-to-two lead back to Milwaukee and, if getting at least 4 points, would be the Game 6 pointspread play. Should Milwaukee pull the upset in Game 5 and return home with a chance to clinch the series, the Bucks would be the play if laying no more than 3 points. Boston would be worthy of play back home in Game 7 if favored by 5 points or less.

The other two Eastern series are also tied at two games apiece with the Toronto vs. Washington series and the Cleveland vs. Indiana series now reduced to the best of three. The Cavs and Pacers have alternated wins with Indiana, winning Games 1 and 3 and Cleveland evening the series with wins in Games 2 and 4.

The Pacers wasted a great opportunity to head back to Cleveland up three games to one when they lost in Sunday’s Game 4, 104-100. That win should spark the Cavs to winning the series in six games, although the Pacers appear to still be worth a Game 5 play as underdogs of +6.5.

Toronto may be showing this is the same old Raptors team that has been a major Playoffs disappointment over the past several seasons. They finally earned the top seed in the East and began these Playoffs with a pair of solid home wins.

After a not-too-surprising one-sided loss in Game 3 in Washington the Raptors were in excellent position to take a three-games-to-one lead back home in Sunday’s Game 4. After building an 11 point halftime lead the Raptors were tied after three quarters, and despite several opportunities in the fourth quarter to take control they came up short.

This series now has the look of going the full seven games although a win by the Wizards in Game 5 would warrant a play on Washington to wrap up the series back home in Game 6.

The other two Western series had only seen three games played through Sunday with both series resuming with their Game 4s Monday night.

Houston was seeking to go up 3-1 and were 6 point road favorites at Minnesota while Oklahoma City was looking to take a similar 3-1 lead over Utah and were 4.5 point home favorites over the Jazz.

Houston had won its first six meetings against Minnesota this season (5-1 ATS) before losing on the road in Game 3 of this series. If Houston won and covered on Monday night the Rockets would be playable to wrap up the series back home in Game 6 in which they would likely be between 10 and 11 point favorites.

The Rockets would also be playable if they are coming off a loss and the series is tied 2-2. However, if the Rockets won but failed to cover in Game 5 and return home with that 3-1 lead, the Timberwolves would be attractive as double digit dogs to put up a competitive effort in what likely would be a straight loss to end the series.

Fourth seeded Oklahoma City was in a much more dire situation on Monday, trailing fifth seeded Utah 2-1 and being 4.5 point road dogs in Game 4. If the Thunder won on Monday and returned home all square we can look at a play on OKC in Game 5 if favored by no more than 4 points. A Utah win in Game 4 would put the Thunder in danger of being eliminated on their home court in Game 5, in which case OKC can lay up to -6.

If Utah can win the series back home in Game 6 they would be the play if favored by no more than 3.5 points. If favored by 5 points or more OKC could be played at +5 points or more to avoid elimination and, if there is a Game 7, back home if favored by no more than 4 points. To back Utah on the road in a Game 7 the Jazz would be playable if getting +6 or more.

By the time next week’s column is written we should be down to just eight teams with second round games either just underway or about to begin.

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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