Remember last year when the Western Conference playoffs looked like a bloodbath? It appeared to be the deepest field in years with any team capable of upsetting the other in the first round except for No. 8 New Orleans over No. 1 Golden State. This year? The West clearly has chasm between the top four teams and the bottom four. I'd be surprised if any first-round series goes past five games, with that one possibility being Clippers-Trail Blazers. The other three could be sweeps. But in the East, it wouldn't shock me if any team beat a first-round favorite in a series other than No. 8 Detroit over No. 1 Cleveland.
No. 7 Pacers at No. 2 Raptors (-6, 195)
Indiana missed the playoffs last season because star Paul George played in just six late-season games due to a broken leg. The Pacers clinched the No. 7 seed and avoided Cleveland with a home win over the Knicks on Tuesday and thus sat their starters in Wednesday's meaningless game in Milwaukee. Toronto also played with a skeleton lineup Wednesday at Brooklyn but won its fourth straight. The Raptors have set a franchise record with 56 wins. But they have flopped the past two seasons in the playoffs as favorites, losing in seven games to the Nets in Round 1 in 2014 and then getting swept by the Wizards in that round last year. These teams met to open this season and Toronto won 106-99 at home. The Raptors took three of four overall in the series, winning it for the second straight year. They have taken seven of the last eight meetings between the two clubs, including five in a row at home. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry averaged 24.3 and 23.7 points, respectively, in three games against the Pacers this season. They each sat out the most recent game on April 8. George played all four and averaged 16.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Key trends: The Pacers are 7-22 against the spread in the past 29 meetings in Toronto. The "over/under" is 4-0 in the past four there.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
No. 8 Rockets at No. 1 Warriors (-14, 226)
Houston was basically handed the final playoff spot in the West on Wednesday night as the Kings were in total quit mode without star DeMarcus Cousins (most everyone else of note as well) and with reports filtering out before the game that Coach George Karl would be fired (he was). It was no contest, with Houston rolling 116-81 for its third straight win and fourth in a row scoring at least 115 points. James Harden had 38 points to finish second in the NBA in scoring at 29.0 ppg. Harden set career marks in points per game, assists (7.5) and rebounds (6.1) to join LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 29 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a season. Golden State routed Memphis on Wednesday, 125-104 to set the NBA record with 73 wins. Steph Curry capped his second straight MVP season with 46 points to win the scoring title at 30.1 ppg. The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in last season's Western Conference Finals and swept this regular season.
Key trends: The Rockets are 4-9 ATS in the past 13 meetings. The over is 4-0 in Golden State's past four at home. The over is 24-9 in Houston's past 33 vs. the West.
Early lean: Might Warriors be a bit spent going for 73? Take the points. Go over.
No. 5 Celtics at No. 4 Hawks (-4.5, 207)
The seeding for these two was decided on Wednesday; they actually finished in a four-way tie with Miami and Charlotte at 48-34. Atlanta could have been the No. 3 but lost 109-98 at a Washington team going through the motions and playing backups. Boston ended a two-game losing streak with a 98-88 home win over Miami on Wednesday. The Celtics set a franchise record by rallying from a 26-point deficit. Yet Boston still won't have home-court advantage in most likely any series. An Atlanta win would've given the Cs the edge in a three-way tie between Boston, Charlotte and Miami. The Hawks won the season series with the Celtics 3-1. Atlanta won the most recent meeting 118-107 on April 9 at home. Atlanta has won four straight at home in the series.
Key trends: The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings. The Celtics are 3-14 ATS in their past 17 road games vs. teams with a winning home record. Against teams with a winning record, the over is 7-3 in Boston's past 10 and 5-1 in Atlanta's past six.
Early lean: Hawks and over.
No. 6 Mavericks at No. 3 Thunder (-12, 213)
Dallas' Rick Carlisle certainly deserves some Coach of the Year consideration with the Mavs back in the playoffs for the 15th time in16 seasons despite that whole DeAndre Jordan fiasco this summer and losing Chandler Parsons for the season a few weeks back. The Mavs lost their finale 96-91 at home to San Antonio even though the Spurs sat four starters. And the Mavs lost reserve forward David Lee to a heel injury; his status going forward isn't clear. Lee averaged 8.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in 24 games with the Mavericks before the finale. Oklahoma City sat Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in its meaningless finale Tuesday, losing by four in overtime. Westbrook had an NBA-high 18 triple-doubles this season. The Thunder are 18-0 in those games. Westbrook had an amazing season, averaging 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He might be MVP if not for Curry. Oklahoma City won all four meetings with Dallas this season.
Key trends: The Thunder are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. The underdog is 19-8 ATS in the past 27 meetings. The over is 5-1 in the past six meetings.
Early lean: Mavericks cover, go under as Dallas has been great on defense of late and slowing it down.
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