Predictions for Each NBA 2nd-Round Playoff Series
Remaining series odds for the second round of the NBA playoffs come via TopBet and are accurate as of the morning of May 2. Make sure you’re rechecking these lines before placing any wagers, as they will shift, or disappear entirely, based on the outcome games that are scheduled to be played.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Golden State Warriors (Off)
Unfortunately, you missed the boat on this series if you were hoping to bet on it. Just as well, too. Bettors would have been tempted to invest in the New Orleans Pelicans’ long-shot odds following their first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. And that would have been a mistake.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors began this best of seven set without Stephen Curry. But he was always going to return. And sure enough, he rejoined the rotation in Game 2, for the first time since March 8, to pump in 28 points in a little over 27 minutes on a tidy 8-of-15 shooting.
This series is now more valuable as an informer of the Warriors’ big-picture playoff stock, as well as the Pelicans’ future.
New Orleans clearly needs extra weapons. A healthy DeMarcus Cousins would have probably bridged the free-throw gap in this series—the Pelicans are a minus-30 from the foul line through two games—but the team needs more sweet-shooting wings worth a dang on defense. Head coach Alvin Gentry is too often forced to choose between stopping power (Solomon Hill) and floor spacing (Darius Miller). The Pelicans need players other than Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, both of whom are guards masquerading as wings, who fit all those bills.
The Warriors, meanwhile, look indomitable with their 2-0 series lead. If there was any ever doubt that they were championship favorites—and there was—it’s effectively gone now. It dissipated after Game 1, when they trounced the Pelicans without Curry, so it’s sure as anything a thing of the past now that he’s back.
Looking ahead, if you still want to invest in the Warriors’ title odds, now would be the time to do it. They aren’t going to improve, not even as they leak into a prospective Western Conference Finals matchup with the Houston Rockets.
The Pick: Golden State Warriors (off) in five games
Utah Jazz (+1,600) vs. Houston Rockets (-4,000)
Speaking of the Rockets, they too look poised to put away their second-round series post-haste. The Utah Jazz are an admirable opponent, but they appear completely overmatched in the early going.
Indeed, these two teams have only played one game. Joe Ingles will hit more of his threes. Donovan Mitchell will continue to be good. Jae Crowder’s shooting has been better, too. But the Jazz don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Rockets’ attack.
This isn’t a matter of speed. The Jazz are actually burning through more possessions per 48 minutes during the playoffs than the Rockets. It’s a matter of shot selection. Houston is jacking almost 12 more three-pointers per 100 possessions more than Utah, with about five additional makes in total.
That’s a difference of 15 points per 100 possessions. No team is going to make that up grinding in the half-court pick-and-roll or even by attacking the rim in transition. The Jazz need their guys throw up triples at a more frequent rate, which is a lot to ask of a squad that only has really one guy, in Mitchell, who’s comfortable creating his own shot.
Crowder and Ingles can potentially handle more volume, but they’re inconsistent with their aggression. And after them, the Jazz don’t have anyone. Rudy Gobert doesn’t have that range, yet you cannot take him off the floor. The Jazz have experimented with Derrick Favors chucking corner threes, but he’s not comfortable doing it, and he’s also a defensive liability at the 4 when Houston goes small.
Unless Alec Burks and/or Royce O’Neale are going to string together four games of outer-body offensive performances, the Jazz just look straight overmatched. Investing in them is tempting, because their defense is elite and they might be able to steal a victory or two. But, in reality, you’d be wasting your money.
The Pick: Houston Rockets (-4,000) in five games
Philadelphia 76ers (-210) vs. Boston Celtics (+165)
The Boston Celtics’ Game 1 victory opened the door for people who want to bet on the Philadelphia 76ers. They were heavy, and thus unappealing, favorites entering this series—and justifiably so.
Not only did the Celtics limp into Game 1 without Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving, both of whom are done for the year, but they didn’t have Jaylen Brown either. Knowing how topsy-turvy their offense has been, especially in the half-court, this should have been something of a death blow.
It wasn’t. The Celtics destroyed the Sixers in Game 1. They chased them off the three-point line and made their defense uncomfortable by attacking certain matchups. Jayson Tatum had his way with J.J. Redick for a couple beats. Terry Rozier fired away every time the Sixers went under a screen. Joel Embiid couldn’t keep pace with Al Horford, the most mobile big he’s needed to defend in a while.
And so, we have ourselves a legitimate series.
And Sixers’ enthusiasts themselves have a unique opportunity.
While a -210 doesn’t qualify as anything lucrative, it’s a fairly reasonable deal for a team that should still be heavily favored. Boston’s offense won’t go boom every night. Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Marco Belinelli and Redick won’t all forget how to make threes at the same time. Embiid and Covington specifically will be better defensively.
Most important of all, the Celtics are on a roller coaster. They don’t know how much time Brown is going to miss, and their offense bogged down at various points in the first round. Those problems aren’t going away. They pose a tough matchup for the Sixers, but as of right now, the latter is the healthier, more transcendent team.
Kudos to anyone who picked the Celtics when they were demonstrative long shots. Your investment has a chance of paying dividends. But bettors would be smart to capitalize on the Sixers’ deflated favorite odds. They won’t experience a dip like this again.
The Pick: Philadelphia 76ers (-210) in seven
Cleveland Cavaliers (-155) vs. Toronto Raptors (+125)
Finally, at long last, after weeks of waiting, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave LeBron James some help during their Game 1 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Make no bones about it, their win wasn’t pretty. They fell behind by as many as 14 points and needed to claw their way back. LeBron himself shot 3-of-15 through the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Raptors missed a few bunnies at the rim and wide-open looks from downtown. It took a perfect storm of supporting cast standouts to propel the Cavaliers to victory. They cannot bank on simultaneous success stories from Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Jeff Green every single game.
Still, there’s something to be said about LeBron playing his worst postseason basketball, the Raptors remaining in the zone for more than three quarters, and the Cavaliers winning this one anyway. It shows they don’t collectively need to be at their best. LeBron can drag them to victory on his own, or they can use a combination of three or four others to carry the load during one of his rare slumps.
The Raptors will improve. That’s a fact. More of their easy looks will go in. DeMar DeRozan will touch the ball more in crunch time. The defense won’t flail as much on switches.
But again: The Cavs, in the aggregate, weren’t at their best. Their supporting cast has yet to put together a masterful performance in conjunction with one of LeBron’s superhuman efforts. And the Cavaliers are overdue for that overlap. Once they get it, watch out.
Besides, if nothing else, the Cavaliers just appear to have the Raptors’ number. Toronto is now 7-18 against Cleveland, through both the playoffs and regular season, during the LeBron James era, Part II. This series could be a good one, but it could also be a short one. Don’t treat the Raptors as the favorites they were entering Game 1. The Cavaliers stole that honor from them. And, truthfully, that distinction never should belonged to the Raptors in the first place.
The Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers (-155) in six games
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