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NBA Playoffs Preview, Odds, Series Picks

NBA Playoffs Preview, Odds, Series Picks 

 

Welcome to playoff basketball which is a whole different animal from what we watched over the last 82 games. With so much rest in between games and a win or go home mentality, teams who built gaudy regular season records by taking care of business against the bottom of the league, teams who had better depth and feasted off defenses taking short cuts are often exposed. The start of the NBA playoffs also means that your daily fantasy league is about to get a lot more difficult. If you have been doing well with your Fan Duel DFS lineups all year it is about to get a lot more competitive. Don’t be afraid to enhance your DFS rosters by using our fanduel nba lineup optimizer because if the players are taking their game to the next level for the playoffs you should be too!

 

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Detroit Pistons

Milwaukee Net Rating: 8.6, Offensive Rating: 113.5, Defensive Rating: 104.9

Detroit Net Rating: -0.4, Offensive Rating: 108.3, Defensive Rating: 108.6

 

The Bucks were the best team in the regular season and should face little resistance in the first round against a Detroit team who’s greatest asset — interior offensive play — is what Milwaukee excels at negating.

 

Blake Griffin really expanded his game this season and when the Pistons were at their best, the offense was running through him. Griffin’s knee is not right as he’s looked like a shell of himself when available down the stretch and he wasn’t able to take the floor for a must win season finale in New York after giving it a go in Chicago the night before.

 

Milwaukee’s missing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, but both should be back for the second round where they’ll be necessary.

 

For Milwaukee to win: they just need to show up and play to their talent level.

 

For Detroit to win: Blake Griffin needs to be healthy and white hot from downtown. They also need the Greek Freak to miss multiple games to have any shot.

 

The bottomline: This one’s a foregone conclusion and the Bucks should win in a sweep or a gentleman’s sweep.

 

 

 

#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Orlando Magic

Toronto Net Rating: 5.8, Offensive Rating: 112.5, Defensive Rating: 106.8

Orlando Net Rating: 0.6, Offensive Rating: 108.1, Defensive Rating: 107.5

 

The Magic ended the east’s longest playoff drought in securing the seventh seed, but this sets up to be a quick exit. Orlando might be able to challenge Toronto on the defensive end, but I have no confidence in their ability to consistently score against a stout Raptors defense that will have all hands on deck.

 

For Toronto to win: The Raptors just need to show up and not do anything reckless like trying to steal entire games of rest for Kawhi Leonard.

 

For Orlando to win: Nikola Vucevic needs to go nuts, particularly from deep. Orlando can defend 2-5 and should be able to get stops for stretches of time, but Toronto should be able to effectively shut down the Magic’s wings so Vuc needs to play like superman to even steal a game or two.

 

The bottomline: Toronto in five.

 

 

 

#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets

Philadelphia Net Rating: 2.6, Offensive Rating: 111.5, Defensive Rating: 108.9

Brooklyn Net Rating: -0.1, Offensive Rating: 108.8, Defensive Rating: 108.9

 

This series could be deceptively difficult for Philadelphia. Their starting five is better than Brooklyn’s across the board, but the Nets have the better bench and a better strategic coach to counter what Philly will initially try to do in a series that may shift more from one game to the next than many others. Another complication for the Sixers is that D’Angelo Russell has looked damn near unstoppable at times against conventional pick and roll defense and none of the 76ers big men really work in a switching scheme.

 

Joel Embiid’s knee has been giving him fits over the last couple of months as he missed 14 of the Sixers’ final 24 games and Elton Brand’s comment that he’s “optimistic” the Process will be ready for game one doesn’t exactly reek of confidence. Brooklyn has no defensive answers for Embiid, but if he’s limited or his conditioning is severely degraded due to the past several weeks…

 

For Philadelphia to win: The Sixers need a fully healthy Embiid or hero by committee as Ben Simmons or Jimmy Butler can absolutely take over a game and win it. JJ Redick or Tobias Harris could also steal a game for the Philly crew if they get red hot for a night. They also need to protect the ball as we’re like to see at least one game swing in Brooklyn’s direction due to careless turnovers.

 

For Brooklyn to win: The Nets will be looking for multiple D’Angelo Russell ceiling games, Kenny Atkinson using his advantage in roster slots 6-9 to force Brett Brown away from his game plans – I’m particularly curious to see how much zone the Nets are willing to use in an attempt to force anyone but Harris or Reddick to beat them from outside the paint.

 

The bottomline: While the difference in talent on these two rosters isn’t dramatic, Philadelphia’s starters are better than any five players the Nets can put on the floor by a wide margin. Top line talent is what usually carries the day in the postseason.

 

The Sixers in six.

 

 

 

#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Indiana Pacers

Boston Net Rating: 4.2, Offensive Rating: 111.2, Defensive Rating: 107.0

Indiana Net Rating: 3.4, Offensive Rating: 109.3, Defensive Rating: 105.9

 

Marcus Smart will miss this series with the oblique avulsion, but with Victor Oladipo on the shelf it’s unlikely to matter much. The Pacers profile as a team that should be worse in the playoffs than their regular season record suggests as much of their success was due to bench play and taking care of business against the bottom half of the league.

 

The Celtics look to be a team who will be better in the playoffs as they’ve struggled when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were off the floor, but they’ll both be on the court for 40 or so minutes a night.

 

For Boston to win: They need to hit their shots. The Celtics offense has been prone to stalling all season. If Kyrie Irving has an off night they have a bunch of secondary option who can step up — Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown — but none that can be depended upon to do so.

 

For Indiana to win: Get the series of Bojan Bogdanovich’s life. The Celtics have a ton of wings to throw at Bogdanovich, but none are as talented as Smart. For the Pacers to win this series they’ll need their sharpshooter to put up at least 35 points in multiple games.

 

The bottomline: For all of the Celtics’ inconsistencies on the year, they’ve played well against good teams and I wouldn’t bet against Brad Stevens in playoff series unless he’s at a severe talent deficiency.

 

I expect Boston to win in six games with a five game gentleman’s sweep being more likely than a seven game series.

 

 

 

 

#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Los Angeles Clippers

Golden State Net Rating: 6.4, Offensive Rating: 114.9, Defensive Rating: 108.5

Los Angeles Net Rating: 1.1, Offensive Rating: 111.3, Defensive Rating: 110.2

 

The Clippers have no way to slow down the Warriors who are entering the postseason the healthiest they’ve been in years. The Warriors defense was lackadaisical during the regular season, but when they focus and put they clamps down they are absolutely ridiculous.

 

For the Warriors to win: Avoid a plane crash?

 

For the Clippers to win: If the entire Clippers team entered NBA Jam Fire mode they might be able to push the series to seven, but I doubt it.

 

The bottomline: The Warriors in four and I’d expect them to make a statement in the process.

 

 

 

 

#2 Denver Nuggets vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs

Denver Net Rating: 4.0, Offensive Rating: 112.1, Defensive Rating: 108.0

San Antonio Net Rating: 1.6, Offensive Rating: 112.2,  Defensive Rating: 110.5

 

The Nuggets have a good defense team that’s built more on intelligence and execution than tremendous athletic ability, so a matchup against a Spurs team that isn’t terribly athletic and doesn’t start their best distance shooters is an absolute gift.

 

There are intangible concerns for the Nuggets — Mike Malone and his players have almost no postseason experience, how will one of the league’s deepest teams respond to playing a tighter rotation and will their late season struggles continue into the playoffs — but they won’t face a team equipped to attack their glaring weaknesses until the Western conference finals.

 

For Denver to win: The Nuggets need to play their game. This is the first playoff experience for most of the team and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are emotional players, but if their leaders are able to remain calm and execute their game plan they should win.

 

For San Antonio to win: The Spurs will need to rattle Nikola Jokic and be willing to give extended minutes to bench players like Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans when they get hot which isn’t a given as the most common criticism of hall of game coach Gregg Popovich is a reluctance to deviate from his regular season strategy when pushed in the postseason.

 

The bottomline: The Spurs overachieved relative to their available talent in the regular season thanks to Popovich pushing the right buttons in the regular season, but this shouldn’t been a daunting task for the Nuggets. Denver in five or six.

 

 

 

 

#3 Portland Blazers vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder

Portland Net Rating: 4.1, Offensive Rating: 113.6, Defensive Rating: 109.5

Oklahoma City Net Rating: 3.4, Offensive Rating: 109.8, Defensive Rating: 106.4

 

The Blazers limped into the playoffs without Jusuf Nurkic. If Portland wants to pull the upset, Moe Harkless needs to be a full go and slow down Paul George.

 

George’s shoulder injury partially derailed what was initially shaping up to be an MVP-caliber season. He’s been good when available down the stretch — including hitting the game winner against Houston in the regular season’s penultimate night — but his unavailability in pivotal games is a signal that the shoulder is a serious issue.

 

Were Playoff Paul at full strength I’d have expected Billy Donovan to deploy him on Damian Lillard in the way Alvin Gentry used Jrue Holiday to make Dame’s life miserable in last year’s playoffs, but with Nurkic out of the picture I don’t anticipate Donovan will have any shortage of defensive alternatives to slow a guard-dependent Blazers offense who may face the same difficulties that led to an early exit in the 2018 postseason.

 

For Portland to win: Zach Collins will need to emerge from the shadows and fulfill his promise as a stretch five to force Jerami Grant and Steven Adams away from the rim allow Lillard and CJ McCollum some room to operate. They’ll also need to put the clamps on George and hope that Russell Westbrook throws up multiple inefficient statlines of the 4-20 variety.

 

For Oklahoma City to win: The Thunder need to force the ball out of Lillard and McCollum’s hands dare anyone else on Portland to beat them. They also need Westbrook to defer to George on the nights his shot isn’t falling.

 

The bottomline: Oklahoma City in five or six.

 

 

 

 

#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Utah Jazz

Houston Net Rating: 4.8, Offensive Rating: 114.8, Defensive Rating: 110.1

Utah Net Rating: 5.0, Offensive Rating: 110.2, Defensive Rating: 105.2

 

This is a rematch of last season’s conference semi-finals which the Rockets won by suffocating the Jazz offense with a switching defensive scheme that it’s not clear they’ll be able to execute this season with the loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute at the wing. Additionally, Ricky Rubio missed last year’s series due to injury and the Jazz have added a desperately needed shooter to help space the floor in Kyle Korver.

 

Much has been made about the Rockets late season resurgence and it’s true — since February 1, Houston’s been the second-best team in net rating, outscoring teams by an average of 10.2 points per 100 possessions outside of garbage time. What’s less spoken of is that the Association’s best team over the same interval has been the Jazz at +11.1.

 

The Jazz had a good plan to contain last season — staying on Harden’s left, forcing him to drive or use his less effective right hand — but didn’t necessarily have the personnel to carry it out. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have both improved over the last year, but they’ve also added defensive liability Korver to the mix.

 

These are the second and third best teams in the west. Utah has a much better chance at pulling the upset than the casual fan would expect given their defense is the best in the league by some measures, but they’re still the decided underdog.

 

For Houston to win: James Harden can’t run out of gas the way he has in previous playoff runs — his minutes and usage have been at the top of the league for years and his ability to maintain that level of play in the postseason is vital to the Rockets chances.

 

For Utah to win: Quin Snyder needs to find rotations that will be able to simultaneously contain Harden and score consistently.

 

The Bottomline: For Utah’s offense to put enough points on the board to win they’re going to need Joe Ingles and Korver on the floor for extended minutes, but Houston’s offense is so good at hunting and isolating mismatches that the very personnel who can keep the Jazz in it on the offensive end are likely to be the same folks who will let them down on defensive side of the ball.

 

Houston should win the series in six.

 

 

Has a late scratch sent you scrambling for answers? Looking for a sharp GPP pivot or want to debate a matchup? Reach me on Twitter (@TheHyperCritic) for the advice you need to be profitable.

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