The NBA playoffs are finally here. We got a brief appetizer on Saturday with the play-in game between the Grizzlies and Blazers, but now it’s time for the main course. Half of the playoff teams will start their first round series on Monday, and the other half will follow suit on Tuesday.
This piece will serve as a jumping off point for everything you need to know for the eight teams that are in action on Monday.
We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.
Denver Nuggets (-5) vs. Utah Jazz — 215.5 total
Series price: -278/+220
The Nuggets and the Jazz kick things off at 1:30 p.m. ET, and there is plenty of betting value in this matchup.
The Jazz entered the postseason as the No. 6 seed, but you could make the case that they are the worst team in the Western Conference playoffs as things currently stand. They were already with Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mike Conley will miss at least the first two games after leaving the bubble to attend to the birth of his child.
It was known that Conley would eventually have to leave, but the timing could not be worse. The Jazz simply don’t have a lot of good players on their roster to begin with, and removing Conley from the rotation leaves them with one fewer.
Overall, the Jazz have been outscored by -6.8 points per 100 possessions with both Conley and Bogdanovic off the court this season. That’s over 923 total minutes, so it’s not a small sample size either.
No Conley means Jordan Clarkson will likely enter the starting rotation, and more minutes for Clarkson is generally not a good thing. I’m starting to feel bad for how much I pick on Clarkson in these writeups and on the Line Movement Youtube channel, but he just doesn’t offer enough on the offensive end to make up for all the points he allows on defense. That gap becomes magnified when he has to play against starters.
As for the Nuggets, they won’t be at full strength either. Gary Harris and Will Barton have yet to suit up in Orlando, and they’ve been ruled out once again for Game 1. But unlike the Jazz, the Nuggets have a host of options that can fill their void.
Michael Porter Jr. has blossomed into a potential star for the Nuggets. He’s thrived inside the bubble, averaging 22.0 points and 8.6 rebounds over an average of 33.3 minutes. He’s also shot the lights out, making 55.1% of his field goal attempts and 42.2% of his 3-pointers. Playing next to Nikola Jokic is also the perfect fit: Jokic knows how to bring the best out of his teammates.
Speaking of Jokic, don’t forget how dominant this guy was in the playoffs last season. He averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game while shooting 50.6% from the field, 39.3% from 3-point range, and 84.6% from the free throw line. The list of players who have averaged 25-13-8 for an entire playoffs is Jokic and Oscar Robertson. That’s it.
The Nuggets were definitely a disappointment during the seeding portion of the bubble — they went just 3-5 and posted the third-worst Net Rating — but they basically gave those games zero attention. I’m expecting them to flip the switch vs. the Jazz.
The Pick(s): Nuggets series (-278), Nuggets -1.5 games (-110), Nuggets -5 in Game 1
Toronto Raptors (-10) vs. Brooklyn Nets — 222.0 total
Series price: -5000/+1400
The Nets have shown a lot of heart in Orlando. They are clearly undermanned — no Kyrie Irving, no Kevin Durant, no Spencer Dinwiddie — but that didn’t stop them from playing competitive basketball. They posted a 5-3 record and a positive Net Rating despite having arguably the worst roster in the bubble.
Can they keep it going vs. the Raptors? I’m skeptical. It’s one thing to play competitive basketball against teams that might be cruising in the regular season, but it’s another to do it against one of the better teams in the league in the playoffs.
Make no mistake about it: The Raptors are definitely one of the best teams in the league.
They finished 7-1 during the seeding games, and they finished fourth in Net Rating in the bubble and over the full season. They might not have the same ceiling that they had last year, but they’re definitely capable of taking care of business in a matchup vs. the Nets.
There’s really only one bet that I’m considering in this series, and that’s the Raptors winning in a sweep. You can grab that bet at -125 on the DraftKings sportsbook, which seems pretty reasonable. I see this series going a maximum of five games, and the difference between the sweep odds and Raptors -2.5 games (-455) is enough to push me in favor of the sweep.
The Pick: Raptors sweep (-125)
Boston Celtics (-5.5) vs. Philadelphia 76ers — 218.5 total
Series price: -360/+275
I’m expecting this to be a pretty competitive series.
The Celtics are quietly one of the best teams in basketball. They finished third in Net Rating this season, trailing only the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. They were even better during the restart, ranking second in Net Rating.
The only real question mark for the Celtics heading into the playoffs is the health of Kemba Walker. He was limited during the restart games, but he did get up to 31.8 minutes in one of his final games. He reportedly could have played 34 minutes in that contest so he does appear to be trending in the right direction.
Walker’s status is vital for the success of the Celtics. Their offense has been at their best with Walker on the court this season: They increase their offensive efficiency by +4.8 and their effective field goal percentage by +2.7%. Overall, the two-man combination of Walker and Jayson Tatum has posted a Net Rating of +11.0, which makes them one of the most effective combos in the league.
Unfortunately, the Celtics will run into a very difficult matchup for them in the first round. The 76ers have had their number this season, posting a record of 3-1 against them. Those contests were close on average, but the 76ers outscored them by an average of +2.5 points per game.
Ultimately, I think the Celtics can go far in the playoffs if they can get out of this round. With that in mind, I’m buying the Celtics over the long term, but I’m not all that interested in playing them in the first round.
I do think there is some value in the under 218.5 in Game 1. The average score in the four games between these two teams was 106.5 to 104, and two of the games featured a combined total of less than 210 points. The defensive intensity only ratches up during the postseason, so I think this total is a couple points too high.
The Pick(s): Celtics to win the East (+500), Celtics to win the NBA title (+1500), Under 218.5 in Game 1
Los Angeles Clippers (-6) vs. Dallas Mavericks — 229.5 total
Series price: -530/+380
The Clippers were my pick to win the title before the bubble started, and I see no reason to get off that train now. They rank second overall in Net Rating this season, and they were third in Net Rating during the bubble.
We still haven’t seen their full lineup for a ton of minutes this season, but what we have seen has been promising. The five-man combination of Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac has been nothing short of dominant, posting a Net Rating of +22.1 points per 100 possessions over 147.3 minutes. We should see plenty of that lineup in the playoffs, which doesn’t bode well for the opposition.
That said, there’s no guarantee that we’ll see that matchup tomorrow. Beverley is listed as questionable, and Head Coach Doc Rivers said he would exercise extreme caution with him. Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell are also questionable, but it does seem like Harrell will be in the rotation for the first time in Orlando.
The Mavericks are expected to be at full strength in this matchup. Kristaps Porzingis is their only player on the injury report, but he’s listed as probable.
Dallas has been one of the unluckiest teams in basketball this season. They finished just seven in the Western Conference standings, but they finished sixth in the league in terms of Net Rating. That suggests they should’ve had a much better record.
The success that they did find this season came on the back of an elite offense. They finished first in the league in offensive efficiency, and they posted one of the top marks in the history of the league.
That said, the Clippers weren’t all that far behind them. They ranked second in offensive efficiency, and they were significantly better on the defensive end.
With that in mind, I don’t think this is a very good matchup for the Mavs. The Clippers aren’t a team that they can just beat in an offensive shootout. If they were taking on the Nuggets in the first round, I might’ve talked myself into an upset.
I’m still buying the Clippers’ futures at their current numbers — they’re +300 to win the title on DraftKings sportsbook — and I think -530 is a bit thin for them to win the series as well. -530 translates to an implied probability of 84.1%, and I think their true odds of winning are above 90%.
As for Game 1, this is a pass for me. I will be looking to play the Clippers potentially in Game 2 if Beverley isn’t going to be limited, but the three questionable players have me a little skeptical for the opening matchup.
The Pick(s): Clippers to win title +300, Clippers to win series -530