Eastern Conference Playoff Preview, NBA Odds & Analysis
The Cleveland Cavaliers struggled mightily down the stretch run portion of the regular season, but the question remains the same as it has for the last half-dozen seasons in the Eastern Conference. Can anyone stop LeBron James from making a mind-boggling seventh consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals?
Also, the top-seeded Boston Celtics and fourth-seeded Washington Wizards both have legitimate hopes of beating the Cavs this postseason, but before they can even attempt that, they’ve got to win their respective first round playoff matchups. Let’s get stated with an NBA odds preview, game info and betting analysis on the 4 first round playoff matchups for all participant in the Eastern Conference.
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers
- Cleveland -550
- Indiana +425
Game 1: Saturday at Cleveland, 3 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Monday at Cleveland, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Thursday at Indiana, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Apr. 23 at Indiana, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5*: Apr. 25 at Cleveland
Game 6*: Apr. 27 at Indiana
Game 7*: Apr. 29 at Cleveland
The Pacers won their final five games of the regular season and have a legitimate superstar in forward Paul George (23.7 ppg). Indy’s often electrifying all-star has scored at least 30 points five times over his last 10 games while scoring 35 or more in four of those contests.
You might not know it, but the Pacers finished the regular season ranked 10th in field goal shooting percentage, a stellar fourth in three-point shooting (37.6%) and even more impressive second in free throw shooting (81.0%). Indiana won one of their four regular season meetings against Cleveland while losing their last meetings by five points and another by nine. Last but not least, Paul George has repeatedly shown that he has absolutely no fear of LeBron James whatsoever and that is absolutely huge.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers want to get back to playing good basketball after dropping four straight and six of 10 to close out the season. Still, the Cavs will rely on their Big three of LeBron James (26.4 ppg, 8.7 apg, 8.6 rpg), Kyrie Irving (25.2 ppg) and Kevin Love (19.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg), not to mention a handful of experienced veterans in Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. Not only that, but the Cavs also have the edge in postseason experience and an offense that ranked fourth in scoring during the regular season (110.3 ppg). LeBron James has gone 11-0 in first round series in his career and stunningly, hasn’t lost a first-round game since 2012. The Cavaliers also set a franchise record for made three-pointers in a season with 1,057.
From where I’m sitting, I just can’t see the Cavaliers losing more than one game at most before dispatching an Indiana Pacers team that was mostly mediocre during the regular season. The Cavs win and advance 4-1.
Pick: Cleveland 4-1
No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
- Toronto -270
- Milwaukee +230
Game 1: Saturday at Toronto, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 3: Thursday at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 4: Apr. 22 at Milwaukee, 3 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: Apr. 24 at Toronto, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 6*: Apr. 27 at Milwaukee
Game 7*: Apr. 29 at Toronto
The Bucks beat Toronto 101-94 the last time they met on March 4 to cash in as a 1-point home favorite that day and have a genuine superstar they will rely on in the still-blossoming, do-it-all forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.9 ppg, 5.4 apg, 8.7 rpg). Milwaukee hits the postseason playing decent basketball by winning two of their final three regular season games and seven of their last nine overall. The Bucks are also the better shooting team in their first round series and are one of the better defensive teams in the league after finishing the regular season ranked ninth in points allowed (103.8 ppg).
The Raptors are a great bet to win their first round series seeing as how they hit the postseason with some impressive momentum after winning four straight and six of seven to close out the regular season. Toronto also has a pair of all-stars in point guard Kyle Lowry (22.4 ppg) and DeMar DeRozan (27.3 ppg) and a trio of very good frontcourt players in Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. The Raptors also took three of four from Milwaukee during the regular season and recorded a solid 28-13 SU mark at home.
I think it’s quite possible that Milwaukee wins two games, but I’m thinking the more likely outcome is that they win one against a Toronto team that appears to have some unfinished business they want to take care of this postseason. The raptors win their opening series over Milwaukee 4-1.
Pick: Toronto 4-1
No. 5 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 4 Washington Wizards
- Washington -190
- Atlanta +165
Game 1: Sunday at Washington, 1 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Wednesday at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 3: Apr. 22 at Atlanta, 5:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Apr. 24 at Atlanta, 8 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: Apr. 26 at Washington
Game 6*: Apr. 28 at Atlanta
Game 7*: Apr. 30 at Washington
Maybe it’s me, but I believe it is the Washington Wizards (49-33 SU, 42-39-1 ATS) that present the biggest challenge to Cleveland’s conference dominance this postseason. The Wizards have a pair of gifted guards in John Wall (23.1 ppg) and Bradley Beal (23.1 ppg) and a quartet of other veteran players that all average double figures in Markieff Morris, Otto Porter Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic and Marcin Gortat. While Washington’s bench isn’t very deep, the Wizards do have some capable players in Kelly Oubre, Jason Smith, Ian Mahinmi, Trey Burke and Brandon Jennings. The Wizards can score the ball as they finished ninth in scoring (109.2 ppg), but they’ll need to improve on the defensive end of the floor of they want to beat the Cavs after ranking an uninspiring 21st in points allowed (107.4 ppg).
While I believe this first round Eastern Conference pairing is going to be pretty tight because these two teams are very evenly matched, in the end, I like the Washington Wizards to win 4-2 and advance against an Atlanta team that doesn’t have much quality depth – or mental toughness – at all.
Washington has the look of a team that wants to face the Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason and beating the Hawks is the first step toward getting there.
Pick: Washington 4-2
No. 8 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 1 Boston Celtics
- Boston -400
- Chicago +325
Game 1: Sunday at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Tuesday at Boston, 8 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Apr. 21 at Chicago, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Apr. 23 at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: Apr. 26 at Boston
Game 6*: Apr. 28 at Chicago
Game 7*: Apr. 30 at Boston
Analysis: the Bulls (41-41 SU, 42-40 ATS) have been a dysfunctional mess this season, but they also have some nice talent starting first and foremost with scoring leader Jimmy Butler (23.9 ppg) and future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade (18.3 ppg). While Chicago ranked just 23rd in scoring (102.9 ppg) they also have a very good defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed (102.4 ppg).
Chicago also has some quality depth with eight players all averaging between 5.1 and 10.6 points per game and every player on their roster averaging at least 4.4 points per contest. If you didn’t know the longshot Bulls beat the Cavs in all four regular season meetings and that alone tells me they’re a great longshot pick to upset the entire Eastern Conference apple cart.
The Celtics (53-29 SU, 40-40-2 ATS) have had a phenomenal campaign in nearly recording 60 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but still, there’s a reason the C’s aren’t favored to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. Yes, Boston ranked a solid seventh n scoring (108.0 ppg) and has an MVP caliber superstar in the diminutive Isaiah Thomas (28.9 ppg, 5.9 apg), not to mention, four other double-digit scorers in Avery Bradley, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart.
However, I believe the C’s are lacking in the heart department, particularly when it comes to facing James and the Cavs. Case in point…while Boston won three straight and seven of their last 10 games, they also laid down in their biggest game of the season by falling to Cleveland 114-91 at home no less, on April 5. That rout in particular tells me that Boston is still another player or two away from beating the Cavs. While I like Boston to get past Chicago, I don’t think the C’s are going to have a cakewalk series victory against a Chicago team that still has some talent and veterans with pride.
The Celtics are however, the more cohesive and well-coached team, not to mention they have a player in Isaiah Thomas that simple can’t be stopped these days. Boston wins in six – if not seven.
Pick: Boston 4-2