NBA Odds: Conference Finals Game 1s Opening Line Report and Handicapping
by Alan Matthews - 5/16/2014
The cream usually does rise to the top, especially in the NBA where it's just so rare to have a big playoff upset. After a wild first two rounds of the postseason, where it looked like we might have several lower seeds advance, we are left with what was expected all along: Chalk. Top-seeded Indiana against No. 2 Miami in the East and No. 1 San Antonio against No. 2 Oklahoma City in the West. Chalk may be boring sometimes, but these are the best possible matchups.
Sunday's Game 1: Heat at Pacers (+2.5, 182.5)
It's the third straight season these two have met in the playoffs and the second in a row in the conference finals. There presumably is one big difference this time: Indiana finally has home-court advantage. It's something the Pacers made clear they wanted all season. However, Indiana has lost four times at home in these playoffs, just two fewer than the regular season. Is it possible the Pacers literally were overlooking the Hawks and Wizards a bit toward this matchup? I think there might be a little bit to that. When you know there's a bully around the corner, it's hard to get fired up for a couple of pansies you might face on the way.
I am fascinated to see what Roy Hibbert does in this series because he is 100 percent the one big matchup advantage that Indiana has. The Heat don't do well with a big center, and it's why they signed Greg Oden this offseason, simply to perhaps give 10 minutes a night against Hibbert in the playoffs. Oden has been inactive all playoffs, but I'm guessing he will be for this series if he can move even a little. Hibbert played pretty well in the series clincher against Washington with 11 points and seven rebounds (I projected 12 and nine). In last year's seven-game loss to the Heat, Hibbert was a monster, averaging 22.1 points (55.7 percent shooting) and 10.4 rebounds in 39.6 minutes a night. Frankly, Indiana might have won the series if Pacers coach Frank Vogel hadn't mysteriously taken Hibbert off the court at the end of Game 1, and LeBron James promptly scored the game-winning layup. Hibbert likely prevents LeBron from getting to the rim.
The teams split this regular season, with each going 2-0 at home. All but one was close. Let's just say Indiana has an edge at center, but the Heat do at power forward (Chris Bosh over David West), small forward (LeBron over Paul George) and shooting guard (Dwayne Wade over Lance Stephenson). The point guards are about even. Indiana should have a better bench, but it has played mostly lousy this season. In my mind, for the Pacers to win this series, Hibbert has to average around 15 and 10 a night. And Stephenson has to at least stay in Wade's zip code. Stephenson has been wildly inconsistent this postseason, probably costing himself millions as a free agent. He averaged 12.8 points and 5.3 rebounds during the season against Miami. Wade, who has looked very good these playoffs, averaged 21.3 points in three games vs. Indiana during the season.
Key trends: The Pacers are 1-7 ATS in their past eight following a win of more than 10 points. The Heat have covered four straight playing on at least three days of rest. The "over" is 7-1 in Miami's past eight playing on at least three days of rest. The "under" is 4-1 in the Pacers' past five. The home team has covered six of the past eight meetings. The under has hit in five of the past seven.
Sportsbook.ag series line: Heat -400, Pacers +320
Early lean: I'm reserving judgment on the series for now, although how can you not lean Miami? I do like Indiana to cover Game 1. I also expect the majority of the games to go under.
Monday's Game 1: Thunder at Spurs (-4.5, 208.5)
Let's start this series with two very important injuries to monitor. The first is to San Antonio point guard Tony Parker. He left the Spurs' Game 5 clincher over Portland with hamstring tightness. He says it's not serious, but I guarantee you that the Spurs were rooting for the Clippers on Thursday night to extend their series with OKC to a seventh game to get Parker a few more days of rest. Still, four days off between games should be enough. Watch Parker closely, however. The hammy has been bothering him for weeks, and if that flares up it could shift the series.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka left Thursday's Game 6 in Los Angeles with a calf injury in the third quarter and didn't return. As good as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are, the Thunder are not going to beat the Spurs without a healthy Ibaka. He's about the only big man the Thunder have. Kendrick Perkins is a statue, and while Steven Adams has been a pleasant surprise at times in these playoffs, he's still a rookie. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter could dominate if Ibaka is out/gimpy. And Parker will get to the rim.
The Spurs likely will let Durant and Westbook get theirs -- look for Kawhi Leonard to be the guy charged with stopping Durant -- and make the rest of the Thunder beat them. When OKC has lost in the postseason, the "other" guys haven't done much. Thus, Thunder sixth man Reggie Jackson could be the key player in this series. He was held to six points or fewer in three games against Memphis in the first round, and the Thunder lost them all. He was held to four and 10 points in OKC's two losses to the Clippers.
Oklahoma City swept San Antonio this season, winning each game by at least six. Parker played in all four and averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 assists. Duncan averaged 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. Durant averaged 26.3 points, Westbrook 21.3 (in three games) and, perhaps boding well for the Thunder, Jackson averaged 21.3. Ibaka averaged 14.0 points and 11.5 rebounds.
These teams last met in the playoffs in the 2012 West Finals. San Antonio won the first two games of that series, at home, and was on 20-game winning streak overall before then losing the next four.
Key trends: Oklahoma City is 4-1 ATS in its past five after a win. The Spurs have covered four straight at home. The over is 6-1 in San Antonio's past seven following a win. The Thunder have covered 10 of the past 12 meetings. The under is 6-2 in the past eight meetings.
Sportsbook.ag series line: Spurs -155, Thunder +135
Obviously, this depends on the injury status of the two guys mentioned above. For now, I like the Thunder to cover Game 1, and I give them a slight lean in
the series, although Miami proved against Brooklyn that the regular season doesn't matter. Totally flip the script if Ibaka misses any games. Parker is no
doubt going to play through his.
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