Two of the four conference semifinals in the NBA begin on Sunday and Monday, and it will be total chalk as West No. 5 Memphis (but had first-round home-court advantage) will visit top-seeded Golden State on Sunday and East No. 3 Chicago is at No. 2 Cleveland on Monday. That Bulls-Cavaliers matchup is probably the most anticipated series of any possible matchup before the NBA Finals. Spurs/Clippers vs. Warriors in a potential Western Conference Finals would be second in my opinion. But I'm not sure that Saturday's Game 7 winner between San Antonio and Los Angeles (Saturday's crazy day just got better!) beats Houston in the conference semifinals. Odds from BetOnline.
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Grizzlies at Warriors (-9.5, 197.5)
The opener is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. This is the whole rest vs. rust argument. Golden State hasn't played since sweeping out New Orleans on April 25, while Memphis finished off Portland in Game 5 on Wednesday. The Warriors really are catching a huge break for the second straight series. The Pelicans had a point guard who wasn't healthy in Jrue Holiday, and he played only sporadically in that series and wasn't much of a factor. Here the Warriors will get a Memphis team without point guard Mike Conley, who is much more important to his team than Holiday is. Conley suffered facial fractures in Game 3 against the Trail Blazers and missed the final two. The team has been really quiet about his status going forward after he had surgery on Monday, but if you saw his face during the telecast on Wednesday then there's no way he is playing for a while after having plates inserted in several places surrounding his left eye. Conley said he was optimistic he would play in this series. Not sure if you know, but the Warriors have two pretty good guards in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. And you are telling me that a starting Memphis backcourt of Courtney Lee and Nick Calathes has a chance here? TNT analyst Kenny Smith said Memphis has zero chance of winning without Conley. I agree.
These teams are totally different, much like Blazers-Grizzlies. Golden State is obviously guard-oriented and wants to push the tempo. The Warriors averaged 22.5 fast-break points in the sweep of New Orleans. Memphis wants to slow it down and dump the ball into the post to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. I'm just not sure how the Grizzlies can score enough. The Warriors led the NBA in scoring at 110.0 points per game and Memphis was just 20th at 98.3. If Golden State gets a 15-point lead in this one, forget it. The Warriors are 47-0 this season when taking that big of a lead at any point. Golden State won two of three during the regular season.
Series line: Warriors -900, Grizzlies +675.
Key trends: Memphis was 20-21 against the spread during the regular season on the road and 21-19-1 "over/under." In playoffs it is 1-1 ATS and 1-1 O/U. The Warriors were 26-14-1 ATS at home and 22-19 O/U. In playoffs they are 0-2 ATS, 0-1-1 O/U.
Early lean: Warriors and under.
Bulls at Cavaliers (-5, 196)
Game 1 is Monday night at 7 p.m. on TNT. I picked the Bulls to cover the 3.5 points in Game 6 on Thursday night at Milwaukee, but wow! They came out with a totally higher level of intensity than any game this season, and the young Bucks were like a deer (pun intended) caught in the headlights in a 120-66 destruction, nearly the biggest playoff margin of victory ever and setting a record for such in a clinching game. If you are wondering, the overall record for playoff margin of victory was Minnesota's 133-75 win over St. Louis on March 19, 1956. I took the Lakers and gave the points in that one. I mentioned in my preview of Thursday's game that Derrick Rose has been so much better this season with more than a day of rest, and he was in Game 6 with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds in just 25 minutes. The Bulls were a crazy plus-41 with him on the floor. Thus, it's obviously a great thing for the Bulls that this series didn't start on Saturday.
The Cavs will be plenty well-rested, having finished their sweep of Boston last Sunday. Of course, that Game 4 was very costly as Cleveland lost Kevin Love for the rest of the season to a separated shoulder. Will he ever play another game in a Cavs uniform? Love clearly wasn't very happy as a third wheel. Still, you can't argue Love's talents as a player -- he played really well vs. Boston -- as he helps space the floor. His likely starting replacement, Tristan Thompson, is Love's equal as a rebounder but has no range at all. Thus, expect the Bulls to really pack the paint, especially the first two games because Cleveland is also without its top 3-point shooter in J.R. Smith, who is suspended two games for whacking Boston's Jae Crowder in Game 4. Really, things couldn't have worked out better for Chicago and it has to take at least one of the first two games in Cleveland before Smith returns.
I know this is the matchup the Bulls players wanted as they are tired of losing in the postseason to LeBron. Chicago is as healthy as it has been all season. Cleveland won the season series with Chicago 3-1. The first win was way back on Halloween, so I take nothing from that. The next was Jan. 19 when the Bulls didn't have Joakim Noah and the Cavs were at full strength. Chicago's win came at home on Feb. 12 in which Rose went off with 30 points. Love was out, but so was Jimmy Butler. Finally, the teams met April 5 in Cleveland, a five-point Cavs win. Rose missed that one and the Cavs were at full strength.
Series line: Cavaliers -220, Bulls +190.
Key trends: Chicago was 20-21 ATS on the road and 17-23-1 O/U during regular season and 2-1 ATS and 1-2 O/U in playoffs. Cleveland was 21-20 ATS at home and 15-26 O/U during year and 1-1 ATS and 1-1 O/U in playoffs.
Early lean: Bulls and over.
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