Today 4 series start and I will give you my preview of the series with suggested bets in each one.
Toronto Raptors – Washington Wizards
On paper, as most 4th vs. 5th seeds series, this one appears to be the closest one of this playoffs and with greatest chance for an upset.
But, looking deeper, we can see that Toronto swept this season’s regular series 3 – 0 and last year, they went 3 – 1, so with similar rosters, Raptors won 6 out of 7 games against the Wizards.
5 of them were really close, but that only proves that Toronto know how to close games against the Wizards as well and if one expected veteran ledearship from Pierce and other veterans, it wasn’t the case.
I’m not saying that this series has a clear favorite, but I’m saying that things don’t look as good for the Wizards, as they may seem to be, looking at rosters and forms of both teams.
Key for the Raptors:
The main key is the one that every analyst is pointing out and I won’t be any different. Toronto’s back court. Lowry and Rosen were second in the league only to Splash Brothers from Oakland scoring wise and Williams – probably 6th player of the year, not only having an amazing season, but scorched the Wizards, averaging 19.7 points against them this season, with no less than 49% shooting.
Wizards strength is also in the back court, so their only chance probably at winning the series, is by winning back court match up and in this case, it will be very hard.
Key for the Wizards:
Wizards can enjoy the fact that Wall is in top form and healthy and Beal is back from injury as well, while Raptors really struggled with back court injuries this season, losing DeRozan and Lowry to injuries that made them miss significant amount of time and Lowry returned just now and still not in full form.
Wizards can enjoy struggles that Raptors back court had lately, but still, it’s hard to count on it and anyway, it won’t be a knockout win for the Wizards.
What Wizards do have, is experience, especially in the front court.
Gortat, Nene and Pierce all had deep runs with their formar teams (Orlando, Denver, Boston) and in the playoffs, that matters.
Both teams reached playoffs last season, after missing it for a long time.
Last year, 4 out of 7 games Toronto had, before losing in Round 1, ended by 5 points or less and Toronto won 2 and lost 2 (including Game 7 loss).
Wizards also had 4 games (but in 11 games) decided by 5 ponts or less in last year’s playoffs.
More important, 6 out of 7 games of the Raptors decided by single digits and yes, if Raptors had more experience than the Nets, it could have easily went the other way last year and Wizards should use their experience to win 1 – 2 close games and win the series that way.
The fact that Wizards went to the second round, adds to the experience of the Wizards and lets not forget, Paul Pierce, a Wizard today, ended Raptors second round dream last season with last second block on Lowry in Game 7 and will like nothing more than to do that again.
On top of that, I like Wizards front court much more than this of the Raptors. Valancuinas is just not consistent enough. Bad defense with even worse timing on defense, decent offense, but not one that you can really rely on, in the playoffs. Amir Johnson is even more inconsistent and can easily have 20 and 10 game, but also 8 and 5.
In three games this season, Valancuinas averaged only 7 points and 5.33 rebounds against the Wizards. Amir Johnson averaged almost 10 points and also, 5.33 rebounds per game against the Wizards, but in two of the games scored 6 points only and one 17 points game is the one that drove up the stats.
Nene, Gortat and Gooden (and Humphries, Seraphin and Blair) are better and deeper than thin Raptors front court and proven that this is their big advantage.
Raptors swept the series against the Wizards, but needed Lu Will to average 19 points and their back court to have great games to do so. Can their slightly out of shape back court do that again? More important, Wizards played without Beal in 2 out of those 3 games, so Wizards can make it a close game against the Raptors and then, Wizards advantage in front court and in experience can make the difference for them.
Raptors are favorites and should be such, but they will depend yet again, on top performance from Raptors back court and home court advantage, as one of the best home teams in the league and their great fans, will surely go crazy.
Just to make the series even more interesting:
To make things more interesting, we can add that last year, Raptors GM was enticing the fans by screaming “F*ck Brooklyn” and got fined 25,000$ for that and this year, Pierce, last year’s Net and this year’s Wizards said that he isn’t worried about meeting the Raptors in the first round if it happens (it was before the season was over) and that they don’t have what it takes.
Ujiri’s (Raptors GM) response to that was:
“I honestly don’t have enough money to respond to him. I think if I did have enough money, everybody knows exactly how I would respond to it, and how the whole of Toronto would respond to it.”
I’m really curious to see how this one plays out.
Surprisingly, two outcomes that get the lowest odds, are Toronto to win 4 – 3 (4.35 odds) and Toronto to win 4 – 1 (5.05 odds) – so somehow, Raptors are expected to have or really easy life or really tough one.
I think that there is 50 – 50 chance for either Wizards winning this one 4 – 2 or Raptors winning this one 4 – 3 and you just got to love the odds on the Wizards to win the series 4 – 2 (protect the home court and steal one game out of three in Canada).
Wizards to win the series 4 – 2, 5.7 odds – 6 units play
Raptors to win the series 4 – 3, 4.35 odds – 4 units play
Golden State Warriors – New Orleans Pelicans
I was rooting for the Thunder, because I’m a huge Russel Westbrook fan, but series wise, I’m really exciting about this one and I predict that Warriors – Pelicans series would be a lot closer than Warriors – Thunder would have been and much closer than bookies predict.
I (like everybody else), just love Davis. I’m rooting for Causins to either move or Kings to become a good team and to have Cousins – Davis WC Finals match up at least 3 – 4 times in the next decade.
Many people look at the record and at the way that Pelicans got to the Playoffs (by winning and look at Warriors record, but that would be wrong (partially) I believe.
Jrue Holiday played only 40 games, Eric Gordon 61 games, Ryan Anderson 61 games, Davis 68 and Evans 79, but both played a lot of games really injured (especially Evans).
On the other side Warriors missed Lee for a lot of games, but many would say that it was actually good for them and not bad. Other than that, Barnes played all 82 games, Thompson played 77 games, Curry 80 games and Green 79 games. Bogut played 68 games, but most of them were mostly Warriors being caution, so they chose the games where they could sit him out and weren’t forced to do so.
I’m not saying in anyway that teams would have had similar records if they both were healthy, but if things would have been reversed health wise, the records would have been a lot closer one to the other.
Key for the Pelicans:
It’s pretty obvious and easy to say Davis, but Davis alone won’t be enough. Obviously, if he plays poorly, Pelicans don’t have a chance to even win a game, not to mention the series, but for the to do something more than just to appear, they will have to do a lot more and it comes to few aspects:
Holiday is by far, Pelicans best defender and his absence hurt NO a lot. Evans is a mediocre defender, but it’s mostly due to lack of effort many times. When he wants to, he can do pretty decent job on defense and with them in the back court and with Asik and Davis in the front court, Warriors can struggle on offense I believe.
Defense is the crucial element for the Pelicans I believe. If Warriors reach 110 – 120 points each game, it will be very hard to Pelicans to do anything against that, since Warriors have one of the best defenses in the league.
But, if Pelicans manage to stop the Warriors on 95 – 105 points, Pelicans are capable of scoring 95 – 100 points and make it a series against the Warriors.
Key for the Warriors:
Just to play their game. The level of talent and depth on both sides of the floor is higher than the one of the Pelicans, so as long as Warriors manage to carry their plan out, they will come as winners in 4 out of 7 games series and probably in a lot less than 7 games.
As the clearest favorites of the first round (as 1st against 8th place should be), they don’t need to get too creative, just to carry out the things they do best.
It’s very exciting to see Davis play playoff baksetball for the first time in his career (but not last).
Pelicans have much more playoff experience than some realize, since Jrue was in hte playoffs with Philly, Anderson with Orlando, Asik with both Rockets and Chicago and Poindexter with Memphis.
There will be games, where Warriors pure talent will burst and with Pelicans poor game, it will end with 25 – 30 points loss, but there will be games, where Pelicans will be able to play good defense and will force Warriors to give 110% to have a chance.
I like the Pelicans and their roster and think that with them finally being healthy, they can do some damage, even to machine like the Warriors.
Last time that a team won 67 games and finished first were the Mavericks and they exited the first round already, against the Warriors and now, the Warriors themselves will try to avoid similar faith.
I believe they will succeed, but not without a fight.
Warriors to win the series 4 – 2, 5.7 odds – 6 units play – Pinnacle
Chicago Bulls – Milwaukee Bucks
This is a derby of kind, since it takes only 90 minutes to drive from Chicago to Milwaukee. Chicago played in Milwaukee two weeks ago and most fans in the arena were actually Bulls fans (or at least they were much louder).
Both teams know each other really well and in the last wo seasons, Bulls won 3 – 1 each season, with the winning team also covering in 7 out of 8 such games.
Milwaukee’s key to the series:
Bucks won only one game this season against the Bulls, but it was also the only game that MCW played in.
With him on the floor, Bucks have three tall defenders with long arms span (Middleton, Giannis and MCW).
But in my eyes, the key is Bucks offensive abilities.
Bucks are a great defensive team and can hold the Bulls around 90 – 95 points, but in four games this season, Bucks scored 84.75 points on average against the Bulls, while allowing 92 points.
In the lone win this season, Bucks scored 95 points, while allowing 91 points and that’s the key here.
Bucks won’t be able to hold the Bulls on 85 points. Bulls big man are too good to allow that. But, if they will be able to score 90+ points, Bucks have a real shot in this series.
Chicago’s key to the series:
Chicago’s big man owned the Bucks this season.
Gasol averaged 24.3 points and 13.3 rebounds against them (18.5 & 11.8 season stats)
Gibson averaged against the Bucks 13.7 points and 6.7 rebounds (10.3 & 6.4 season stats).
Bulls average 99.8 points this season (in regulation – not counting OT), but against the Bucks drop to 92 points only. If Bulls front court won’t be as dominant at least, they can struggle to get to 90 points and then, even with Bucks very slow pace and mediocre offense, they can be a very dangerous rival.
One more important point, is how Bulls adjust to being healthy (or almost healthy).
Mirotic shined when Gibson was injured and with Taj return, gets minutes in SF. Rose missed a lot of games and now he is healthy again and I can go on.
Bulls, due to the nature of the team and their coach, managed to overcome all the injuries, due to other players each time stepping up and delivering.
Tibs likes his rotation short, his rookies on the bench and his stars tired and on a verge of an injury.
His ability to use the 7th, 8th and 9th players to get them going and get good production out of them can determine the outcome of this series and probably the next one as well.
Bulls on paper are too experienced to lose in the first round with healthy roster, but on the other hand, Bucks are hungrier, just as talented and this is a series between two teams that like the underdog position and really don’t like the favorites role and Bucks being the obvious underdogs, with good coach and good defense, will find themselves in much more familiar sutiation than the Bulls.
I can easily see Bulls, having the better experience and best 2 – 3 players on the court and enjoying the fact that this is a 7 games home series for them, since in Chicago they will have as much fans as the Bucks, if not more, sweeping the young Bucks.
But, if they are not careful, Bucks, with their great defense and 1 – 2 players stepping up on offense, can do what Wizards did to the Bulls a season ago. Win a game or two in Chicago and finish the series before it even started.
Houston Rockets – Dallas Mavericks
If Bulls – Bucks was East Conference derby, this one is the West Conference derby. Texan derby.
There are many rivalries in the NBA, but this one probably the biggest one.
Not only are the two teams from the same state, but Morey, Rockets GM and Cuban, Mavs owner, hate each other deeply and never miss a chance to poke one another.
This summer Cuban spoiled Morey perfect plan, that would have allowed him to both sign Bosh and resign Parsons and since then, Morey and few Houston players send few arrows in to Parsons, claiming that he wasn’t a big deal for them anyway.
Teams met each other 4 times this season and Rockets won the match up 3 – 1 (with all four games going Under).
Rockets key to the series:
Rockets won the regular season series 3 – 1 simply by going small. In all four games, the starting Center, didn’t reach 20 minutes of game and watched Smith, Jones and Matajunas getting his minutes, forcing Chandler, best and before getting Rondo, only defender, to go outside his comfort zone, forcing him to chase three point shooting forwards around the arc.
They need to do the same, but also to find way to integrate Dwight, their best defender, especially with Beverly having season ending injury.
Another key is stopping Dallas on defense. In three wins, they stopped Mavs (one of the top offenses in the league) on 92, 94 and 101 points. In the lone loss, Dallas scored 108 points on them.
Balancing between the desire to bring Dallas score down (with Dwight) and forcing Dallas out of their comfort zone (by playing small ball) may be the thing that will decide the series.
Dallas key to the series:
Rick Carlisle & Portland. Portland shown the formula on how to beat the Rockets last year.
Dallas and Portland are similar teams. Both live on mid range shots – the exact ones that Morey’s team believes it should allow rivals to shoot. Both have star PF, that live on that mid range shot.
Cuban was right to say that Rockets are too one sided and if you find the formula how to play against them, you can stop them.
It’s one thing to face a good, but one sided team in a 82 games season, with no time to prepare, sometimes playing B2B (Dallas played all 4 games against the Rockets this season in B2B spot) and it’s another, having 7 games series against them, with no B2B and focusing solely on them.
Carlisle found the right formula against the Spurs, but Pop is amazing coach and has versatile team that allowed him to make the right adjustments and win the series in 7 games. Houston aren’t the San Antonio. Not coach level wise, not players level wise (last season) and not versatility wise.
Another key, though one that maybe Dallas can less control is how Rondo will appear in the playoffs.
In Boston, Rondo of regular season and playoff’s Rondo, were two different animals, with Rondo playing much much much better and at true Super Star level.
If Rondo can elevate his game in the playoffs, both guarding Harden and carrying the offense, I honestly don’t see any answer from the Rockets.
Dallas before Rondo’s trade was better team than after the trade and no doubt that this trade stopped a well oiled machine.
On the other hand, Rondo and Carlisle both great basketball minds, both say that the other does what ever he can to find the right way to fit Rondo in to the team and I believe them.
Rockets are amazing team and Harden maybe deserves the MVP more than Curry, but they really much easier to read than they would like and with amazingly high basketball IQ like Dallas team, I can see them taking Rockets to the full.
If Dallas won’t find the way to stop the machine, this one will be over and fast.
Dallas to win the series, 3.11 odds – 9 units play
Rockets to win the series 4 – 1, 4.25 odds – to win 9 units (about 2.5 units play).
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Best of luck everybody!!!