Welcome to quite possibly the final four-game basketball slate of the entire season. It’s sad isn’t it? The Celtics and Raptors both finished off sweeps yesterday, and the Heat will be looking to accomplish that feat today.
In today’s other series, the Bucks and Lakers will look to continue to assert their dominance over the No. 8 seeds after both teams unexpectedly lost in Game 1. The Rockets will also look to regain control in their series after losing Game 3 to the Thunder in overtime.
Let’s break down these four contests — possibly for the last time — and see if we can identify any potential betting value.
Orlando Magic vs. Milwaukee Bucks (-13.5) — 226.0 total
The Bucks have now covered in two straight games after losing their first game. They were up by as many as 34 points in Game 3 before ultimately winning by 14 points.
The big reason for the turnaround has been the play of their offense. They’ve been extremely efficient over their past two games, posting an effective FG% (eFG) of 60.8%. Giannis Antetokounmpo was scoring hot in Game 3 in particular, making 12 of 14 shots from the field.
Ultimately, the Bucks’ shot profile from this series is very promising for their success moving forward. They’ve posted the second-highest frequency of shots at the rim and third-highest frequency from behind the 3-point line during the postseason. That makes them the only team in the playoffs who rank in the top-five at both locations.
That said, they do appear due for some sort of offensive regression. They’ve posted an eFG% of 58.4% over their past three games, while their expected eFG% is 55.4%. If we focus just on their marks over their two wins, the discrepancy is even wider.
With that in mind, the fact that they covered the past two games by such slim margins does make the current spread a bit concerning.
Additionally, the Magic fit an interesting trend. Teams that fail to cover in two straight games during the postseason have a tendency to cover in their next contest, posting a mark of 165-136-6. That’s good for a return on investment of +6.6% over a strong sample size.
I could potentially talk myself into a wager on the Magic in this contest, but I’d like to see that Aaron Gordon is active before that happens. Head coach Steve Clifford said “maybe there’s a chance” that Gordon could suit up in Game 4, and his presence would give them a better wing defender for Giannis.
No one in basketball can completely stop Giannis, but Gordon did hold him to 8-21 shooting while serving as his primary defender during the regular season. Holding Giannis under 50% would be a massive win after he shot 85.7% from the field in Game 3.
As things stand, I think the best play on this game at the moment is the under. The Bucks are clearly due for some offensive regression, and the Magic have no chance of scoring vs. their elite defense.
The Pick: Under 226.0 (may possibly add Magic +13.5)
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets (-3.5) — 219.5 total
The Rockets will officially be without Russell Westbrook once again in Game 4, which means we’ll be looking at another heavy dose of James Harden and Eric Gordon.
More Harden is undoubtedly a good thing for the Rockets. He’s the most efficient high-volume scorer in basketball, and he produced more points per touch than anyone else with a comparable workload during the regular season. He hasn’t been particularly effective as a scorer during the first three games of this series — he’s shot just 29.7% from the 3-point line — so the fact that the Rockets have still managed to win two of the first three games is pretty impressive.
On the other hand, a heavier dose of Gordon might not be the best thing for the Rockets. He was abysmal in Game 3, but that didn’t stop him from putting up a whopping 24 shot attempts. Overall, the Rockets were outscored by -29 points with Gordon on the court.
This isn’t exactly a shock. The Rockets have decreased their Net Rating by -5.5 points per 100 possessions with Gordon on the court this season, which puts him in the 20th percentile among all NBA players.
Still, the Rockets really don’t have any choice but to lean on him with Westbrook out of the lineup. They’ve played just an eight-man rotation during the playoffs, and Gordon, Danuel House, and P.J. Tucker all logged more than 41 minutes in their last game.
I would prefer it if Gordon stopped chucking the ball 20+ times per game, but there is still reason to believe in some progression for the Rockets moving forward. They rank just 10th in eFG% during the postseason but first in expected eFG%. No team has launched a higher frequency of 3-pointers than the Rockets, yet they rank just 12th in 3-point shooting accuracy. They have awesome upside if a few more 3’s start falling for them.
The Rockets also fit one of my favorite postseason trends. They’re favored vs. a lower seed after losing in their previous game, and teams who fit that description have historically posted a record of 136-93-7 against the spread. This trend has already gone 5-2 during the playoffs this season, so I am definitely buying the Rockets in today’s contest.
The Pick: Rockets -3
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat (-6) — 216.5 total
We’re 2-2 in this postseason in terms of teams finishing off sweeps, and the Heat will look to make it 3-3 today.
That said, the Heat do have a few players on the injury report heading into today’s contest. Derrick Jones Jr. and Jae Crowder continue to be listed as questionable, but that hasn’t stopped either player from suiting up so far in this series. Andre Iguodala is also listed as questionable for Game 4, and he’s a new addition to the injury report. It seems like he’s in the most jeopardy of actually missing today’s contest.
The Heat have been very impressive on offense to begin this series, posting an eFG% of 57.2%. They’ve been red-hot from behind the arc in particular, shooting a blistering 43.0% from 3-point range.
Duncan Robinson continues to show why he’s one of the most important role players in the league. He’s drilled 11 of 20 3-point attempts during this series, and the Heat have posted a mark of +18 with Robinson on the court.
The decision to bench Kendrick Nunn and insert Goran Dragic into the starting lineup has also paid off handsomely for head coach Erik Spolestra. Dragic has averaged 22.7 points per game while shooting 48.1% from the field and 47.8% from 3-point range.
The Heat were already one of the best offensive teams in basketball during the regular season, but this decision to play Dragic over Nunn increases their scoring potential even more.
Betting on teams to take care of business in sweep situations has historically been a profitable endeavour. Teams have posted a record of 35-26-4 against the spread since 2006 when looking to close out a sweep, which is good for a +11.7% return on investment. The Celtics were not able to cover the spread in their sweep vs. the 76ers, but the Raptors did vs. the Nets.
The Pick: Heat -6
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-7.5) — 224.5 total
The final game of the night features a showdown between Damian Lillard and the Lakers’ big two of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Dame was able to land the first blow in this series, but it’s been all Lakers over the past two contests.
The Lakers’ defense has been incredible during this series, limiting the Blazers to an offensive efficiency of 98.9 points per 100 possessions.
They’ve done it by taking away the 3-pointer from the Blazers, which is an excellent strategy. Portland has posted the sixth-lowest frequency of shots from behind the 3-point line, and they rank merely 10th in accuracy from behind the 3-point line. Lillard was draining bomb after bomb during the seeding games, so forcing the Blazers to get the ball out of his hands has worked wonderfully.
Instead, the Blazers have had to live in the dreaded midrange. They’ve posted the third-highest frequency of shots from the midrange during the playoffs, including the second-highest mark from the “long” midrange.
Add it all up, and the Blazers rank 15th in eFG% and 14th in expected eFG% during the postseason.
Portland tried to shake things up in Game 3 by inserting Hassan Whiteside into the starting lineup, and the experiment did not end well. He played 15 minutes alongside Jusuf Nurkic, and the Blazers posted a Net Rating of -6.4 points per 100 possessions over those minutes. Playing two traditional centers together just does not work in 2020.
I will be interested to see if they try that again in Game 4 or if they look to go in a different direction. Wenyen Gabriel started the previous two games of this series, but he played just 4.5 minutes in Game 3. If Whiteside does come out of the starting lineup — and he definitely should — don’t be surprised if Gary Trent Jr. takes his place instead of Gabriel.
As for the Lakers, their offense has finally started to turn things around. They were dead-last in offensive efficiency during the eight seeding games, and they left a ridiculous amount of points on the board in their Game 1 loss:
They’ve posted an eFG% of 55.9% over their past two games, which is in line with their expected eFG% based on their shot profile (55.3%). Basically, what the Lakers have done in the past two games on the offensive end of the court should be the norm for them. That does not bode well for the Blazers moving forward.
It should be noted that the Blazers do fit the same trend I mentioned previously for the Magic — they’ve lost two straight games against the spread — but I don’t see the same value with them. They’re obviously much smaller underdogs, and it’s harder to make the case that the Lakers have gotten lucky from a shooting perspective.
I did look into playing the Lakers to win this series in five games, but it doesn’t check out from a math standpoint. They’re currently -315 on the moneyline, and you would expect them to be around a similar number in Game 5. The true odds on a two-team parlay with two -315 favorites is around -135, but the odds for the Lakers to win the series in five games is -167. That’s too big of a gap to make that a viable bet.
The Pick: Pass