We’re getting deeper into the playoffs now, and the second-round is starting to take shape. Three teams have already punched their tickets in the East, and the Bucks are just one win away from joining them. Things are a little more complicated in the West, but the Lakers and Jazz both hold 3-1 leads in their series. That leaves just the Mavericks/Clippers and Rockets/Thunder as the only matchups that are still up in the air.
We’ll get a little more clarity in one of those series today. The Mavericks and Clippers will play a decisive Game 5, and teams that take a 3-2 series lead go on to win the series at nearly an 85% clip. The importance of this matchup can’t be overstated.
Who will grab the edge in that series? And can the Nuggets fight back vs. the Jazz? Let’s break down Tuesday’s action and try to identify some betting value.
Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (-3) — 221.0 total
The big theme in the playoffs this season has been shooting, and this series has personified that more than any other.
The league-wide shooting stats are insane. Teams have posted an effective FG% (eFG) of 47.21% on off the dribble shots and have shot 55.58% in catch-and-shoot situations, both of which would represent the highest marks in the history of the league. Considering that these playoffs don’t even include the Warriors — who possess arguably the greatest shooting backcourt of all time — that is insanity.
The Jazz in particular have absolutely eviscerated the Nuggets’ defense. Nikola Jokic does not have the footspeed to hedge against Donovan Mitchell, so he’s been forced to drop and let Mitchell shoot. Mitchell has been more than happy to oblige, and his numbers are bonkers: 39.5 points per game on 56.3% shooting from the field and 51.4% from 3-point range. He has already eclipsed 50-points in two separate contests during this series after accomplishing that feat zero times previously during his career.
It hasn’t just been Mitchell either. The Jazz, in general, have posted an eFG% of 63.8%, which is nearly 10 points higher than their expected eFG% (54.6%). I would normally think that means they’re due for regression, but I’m not so sure against a poor defense inside a perfect shooting environment.
Utah’s offense has been ridiculous, but Denver has also been one of the best offensive teams in the bubble. Their eFG% of 57.9% ranks fourth among playoff teams, and they’ve posted an offensive efficiency of 122.1 points per 100 possessions. That pales in comparison to the Jazz’s mark of 135.0, but it would still be more than enough to lead the league during the regular season. Remember, defenses are supposed to get better in the playoffs, not worse.
It’s time to stop fighting all of these crazy shooting performances in this series and start embracing them. These two teams have combined for at least 229.0 points in three of four games, and the only exception was when the Nuggets could only score 87 points in Game 3. As long as they can score around 105 points — and there’s no reason to believe they can’t — the Jazz should do more than enough to push this total over.
The Pick: Over 221.0
Los Angeles Clippers (-6.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks — 235.5 total
Luka Doncic is incredible. There is really nothing left to say about him at this point.
The Mavericks were without Kristaps Porzingis in their last game, so Luka put the team on his back. He finished with 43 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists, and he did it on just one good ankle. That put him in some pretty impressive company:
The craziest thing is that this kind of performance isn’t even surprising anymore. Doncic has been putting up ridiculous stat lines like this all season, and he only figures to get better at just 21 years old. It’s obviously early, but he could end up going down as one of the all-time greats.
On the other side, Paul George is basically the only player in basketball who isn’t shooting well in the bubble. He’s shot just 29.0% from the field and 22.2% from 3-point range through the first four games of this series, which is just absolutely dreadful. George shot over 41% from 3-point range during the regular season, so that represents a huge decline in production.
George has caught a lot of heat for his lackluster performances, but I’m expecting him to bounce back at some point. I find it highly unlikely that he just forgot how to shoot all of a sudden, and it’s not like he hasn’t found success in the playoffs in the past. He’s shot over 40% from 3-point range during the playoffs in three previous seasons, and he’s a career 35.1% shooter during the playoffs. That’s obviously not as good as his mark during the regular season, but it’s still pretty darn good.
If George can improve in that department moving forward, it bodes well for the Clippers’ success moving forward.
The Clippers are going to need a better game from PG in Game 5 in particular since Patrick Beverley is unlikely to suit up yet again. He’s currently considered doubtful, and his absence has definitely been felt during this series. It’s forced Landry Shamet into a much bigger role, and Shamet has been a major negative for the Clippers when on the court. He was better when playing with the starters in Game 3, but he’s posted a mark of -12 or worse in each of the other three games.
Beverley coming back should mean less Shamet moving forward, but they’re going to have to survive against the Mavericks for that to actually happen.
I was pretty bullish on the Clippers heading into the playoffs, and I’m not ready to start selling them now. They also fit two nice trends for Game 5.
First, they are favored against a lower seed after losing their previous contest, and teams in that situation have historically posted a mark of 136-94-7 against the spread in that situation. That’s good for a +14.7% return on investment over a large sample size. The Rockets lost in that situation on Monday, but that trend has still gone 5-3 during the playoffs this season.
Second, No. 1 and 2 seeds have historically been excellent investments in Game 5 during the first round. Those teams have posted a record of 24-15-2 against the spread, which is a 61.5% cover rate.
Add those two trends to the fact that George is due for some progression and I’m fine with backing the Clippers as small favorites in this contest.
The Pick: Clippers -6.5