NBA playoff round one betting preview. Part two

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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. 

The first eight NBA playoff teams kicked-off on Monday — and we’re off to a pretty good start on those wagers! — and the other eight teams will play their first game today.

This piece will serve as a jumping off point for everything you need to know for the eight teams that are in action on Tuesday.

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.

Milwaukee Bucks (-12) vs. Orlando Magic — 225.0 total

Series price: -10000/+1600

This matchup features arguably the best team in the playoffs taking on the worst team. The Bucks ranked first in the league in Net Rating this season, while the Magic’s rank of 19th is dead last among the 16 postseason squads.

The Bucks are built around an absolutely dominant defense. They rank first in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, and they get even better with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court. Giannis is an elite basketball player in all facets of the game, but he is undoubtedly the best defensive player in the league at the moment. He ranks first in Defensive Win Shares by a pretty significant margin and should take home his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Bucks employ a pretty interesting strategy on the defensive end. They encourage teams to shoot the 3-pointer, particularly from areas other than the corner. A whopping 30.7% of opposing shots this season have been classified as non-corner 3’s this season, which was the top mark in the league.

That philosophy allows them to pack the paint defensively, so they unsurprisingly allow the lowest percentage of opposing shots at the rim. Overall, that has allowed them to rank first in opponent effective FG%.

Those numbers don’t bode well for the Magic. They struggled in general on the offensive end — they finished 23rd in offensive efficiency and 27th in effective FG% during the regular season — and they were one of the worst shooting teams in basketball on non-corner 3’s.

The Magic are also entering this contest shorthanded. They lost Jonathan Isaac for the year after tearing his ACL and meniscus, and Aaron Gordon is currently considered questionable. If Gordon is unable to suit up, that will leave the Magic without the only two guys on their roster with any chance of slowing down Giannis.

Honestly, anything but a sweep in this series would be considered a disappointment for the Bucks. You can grab that at -150 on DraftKings, and I think that’s a really good price. Mathematically, they are -910 on the moneyline for today’s contest, and you would have to think that they will be around that number in each subsequent game. A four-team parlay with four -910 moneyline favorites has “true odds” of around -200, so -150 is definitely fair.

As for Game 1, you can back the Bucks as 12-point favorites. No. 1 seeds have covered in 53.5% of their first round matchups dating back to 2006, and that number increases to 57.3% when favored by at least eight points.

The Pick(s): Milwaukee Bucks to sweep (-150), Milwaukee Bucks -12 in Game 1 (-110)

Miami Heat (-4) vs. Indiana Pacers — 216.0 total

Series price: -335/+250

I don’t see a ton of difference between these two teams on paper. The Heat were slightly better in Net Rating on the year — they ranked seventh, the Pacers ranked 13th — but the Pacers posted a slightly better mark during the restart.

That said, the Pacers are definitely dealing with more questions than the Heat at the moment.

Domantas Sabonis remains without a timetable to return after suffering a foot injury, and it seems unlikely that he’ll suit up at all for the Pacers during the postseason. Sabonis has easily been the Pacers’ MVP this season, averaging 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. He’s also posted a Net Rating differential of +5.4, which is the top mark on the team.

They were able to overcome his absence in the bubble thanks to the offensive explosion from T.J. Warren. He averaged 31.0 points per game over six seeding games in Orlando.

Unfortunately, Warren is now dealing with a foot injury of his own. He’s currently listed as questionable with plantar fasciitis, and while he’s expected to suit up in Game 1, there’s no guarantee he’s going to be as effective.

The Pacers are going to need his offense to keep up with the Heat, who have quietly been one of the most dominant offensive teams in the league this season. They finished the year seventh in offensive efficiency and third in effective FG%, and they were the best shooting team in the league from behind the arc.

A lot of that efficiency stems from Duncan Robinson, who is quite possibly the most valuable role player in the league. The Heat increased their Net Rating by +13.7 with Robinson on the court this season, which puts him in the 98th percentile.

Ultimately, I think the total on this game is a smidge low. The Pacers played significantly faster during the restart, ranking ninth out of the 22 teams in terms of pace. The Heat are definitely a slow team, but they make up for that a bit with their efficiency.

I’m also somewhat interested in buying the Pacers for the series, but I would prefer to do it with +2.5 games. You can grab that at -159 on DraftKings sportsbook, and that means you’ll win this bet as long as the Pacers can force it to six games.

The Pick(s): Over 216.0 (-110), Indiana Pacers series +2.5 games (-159)

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (-1.5) — 225.0 total

Series price: -148/+120

This is a very interesting series to handicap. The Thunder are currently listed as favorites for Game 1 despite the fact that they’re the lower seed. There is obviously no home court advantage in the bubble, so you would imagine that they would continue to be favored in this series as long as Russell Westbrook remains out.

With that in mind, why are they underdogs to win the series? Like I said, it’s a very interesting dynamic.

The Westbrook injury is obviously the huge X-factor here. He’s dealing with a quad injury, and it seems very unlikely that he will be back in time for Game 2 of this series. That will leave the Rockets with a pretty thin rotation, and I wouldn’t expect them to play more than eight guys on Tuesday.

That said, I don’t really expect them to miss Westbrook all that much. James Harden is more than capable of carrying the load for them offensively, and you could even make the case that they’re better offensively without Westbrook. The numbers back that up: They’ve posted a better Net Rating with just Harden on the court this season:

  • Both players on: +5.1 Net Rating
  • Harden on, Westbrook off: +5.8 Net Rating
  • Westbrook on, Harden off: -2.3 Net Rating

The only time where the Rockets will truly miss Westbrook is when Harden is sitting, but that shouldn’t happen very often in this contest. He’s fully rested, so I would expect him to play 40+ minutes if this game stays close.

ESPN’s Scoop Jackson called the Thunder the best kept secret in the Western Conference, and I couldn’t agree more. I love their upside in the playoffs.

They have been powered by Chris Paul this season, who has been as good as ever at 35 years old. His counting stats are down a bit, but his on-court impact has been massive. The Thunder have increased their Net Rating by +13.8 points with CP3 on the court this season, and he should obviously be able to play more minutes in the postseason.

That also goes for guys like Danilo Gallinari (+8.0 Net Rating differential) and Dennis Schroder (+7.0 Net Rating differential). Overall, the five-man combination of Paul, Schroder, Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Steven Adams has posted a Net Rating of +26.8 over 177.3 minutes this season. That’s one of the most effective lineups in all of basketball.

I loved the Thunder to win this series when the price was first released — they were over +300 at most sportsbooks — but I still think there’s some value in grabbing them at +120. They are the better team, and they have a higher ceiling if they lean on their top lineup.

As for Game 1, I am ultimately staying away. I will be very interested in playing the Thunder as underdogs when Westbrook eventually rejoins the rotation, but I don’t love the dynamic of the Thunder being favored against a well-rested Harden.

The Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder to win the series (+120)

Los Angeles Lakers (-5.5) vs. Portland Trail Blazers — 229.0 total

Series price: -500/+365

The last game of the night is arguably the most interesting. The Blazers went on a magical run to secure the final playoff spot in the West, while the Lakers were ice cold during the seeding games.

Can the Blazers pull off the upset? I’m skeptical.

The Blazers have been red-hot offensively, averaging 123.6 points per 100 possessions over nine games in Orlando. That is an absurd number. The Mavericks were the top offensive team in basketball this season, and they averaged nearly eight fewer points per 100 possessions.

They have been led by Damian Lillard, who is staking his claim as one of the best offensive players in the league. He’s averaged 37.6 points per game over his past nine contests while shooting 49.7% from the field and 43.6% from 3-point range. He’s also carried a monstrous workload, checking in with nearly 45 minutes in their play-in game vs. the Grizzlies.

It remains to be seen if he can carry that kind of workload for an entire playoff run, but I’m certainly not looking to bet against Lillard at the moment.

However, I am willing to bet against Gary Trent Jr. and Carmelo Anthony. Those two players have shot incredibly well from behind the 3-point line in Orlando, so they are almost certainly due for some regression.

The Blazers are also dealing with an injury to Zach Collins at the moment, who has already been ruled out for Game 1. Without Collins, Melo is likely going to be asked to spend some time guarding Anthony Davis. That sounds like a disaster.

As for the Lakers, I am buying their pedigree. They ranked second in Net Rating prior to the restart, so I’m not going to penalize them too much for playing poorly in Orlando. Those games meant absolutely nothing to the Lakers, so it’s not all that surprising that they didn’t play well.

Facing the Blazers’ defense should be the best possible medicine for their struggling offense. They rank 27th in defensive efficiency this season, and they’ve allowed nearly as many points as they’ve scored inside the bubble.

Ultimately, I like the Lakers’ chances of winning this series, and I think -500 is a pretty fair price. I also really like their chances in Game 1 with Collins out of the lineup.

The Pick(s): Los Angeles Lakers -5.5 in Game 1, Lakers to win the series -500

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