Just one NBA game on Saturday this week and I don't write Sunday for Monday -- we all need one day off -- so I'll switch up a bit here in my Opening Line Report and look at the series opener on Saturday between Oklahoma City and San Antonio and Monday's Game 1 between Atlanta and Cleveland. Entering Friday, those are the only two second-round matchups that are locked in; I expect two first-round series on Friday to conclude but think the third, Raptors-Pacers, will go to a Game 7 on Sunday. As for these two series, I believe one will be highly entertaining and go at least six games and the other to maybe last five. I'm guessing you know which is which.
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No. 3 Thunder at No. 2 Spurs (-6.5, 201)
Think about what's on the line here. I don't even really mean this season and an expected matchup with Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Both the Spurs and Thunder could look very different next season with a series loss here. I'm not sure Kevin Durant re-signs with OKC as a free-agent-to-be if the Thunder lose this series. It probably takes at least a trip to the NBA Finals for Durant to be assured of at least signing a one-year deal and locking his future to Russell Westbrook's after next season. The Spurs, meanwhile, could be saying goodbye to likely future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili if they lose this series. But might both put off retirement if the Spurs win the NBA title? After all, the team has yet to repeat. Interesting questions. It's the third time these two have met in the playoffs, and the previous two were in the West Finals. OKC won in 2012 and San Antonio in 2014.
San Antonio destroyed the injury-ravaged Grizzlies in Round 1 in a four-game sweep with a point differential of plus-88. That's one of the highest in NBA history for a sweep. The Thunder lost one game to Dallas when Durant and Westbrook really struggled -- OKC scored just 84 points in that loss but at least 108 in every other game -- but otherwise won each by at least 11 points. Both the Spurs and Thunder are very well rested and healthy. Can't wait to see two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard draped on Durant all series. Durant shot only 39 percent against the Spurs with Leonard on the floor during the regular season and 58 percent when he wasn't on the court. The Spurs and Thunder split four meetings. Throw out the most recent two as key players were rested on one side in each. The first meeting was the season opener and the second in a back-to-back setting for OKC. There's little question the Spurs are the better overall team, so this series will depend largely on what Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter are going to do. With Leonard suffocating Durant and the Spurs to swarm Westbrook when he's in the lane , that means there will be open shots for everyone else. If the Thunder get to 100 points against the NBA's top defense, they probably win. If not, Spurs do.
Series line (BetOnline): Spurs -300, Thunder +250
Key trends: The Thunder are 4-0 against the spread in the past four meetings. The "over/under" has gone under in four of the past five.
Early lean: Spurs and under.
No. 4 Hawks at No. 1 Cavaliers (-7.5, 201)
These teams met in last year's East Finals and the Cavaliers swept, with really only one game that close. It should be noted the Hawks were a bit beaten up then, specifically Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, who is now in Toronto. Then again, the Cavs didn't have Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving played in only two games and was very limited in them. LeBron James killed Atlanta in that series, averaging 30.3 points, 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists. A whopping 60.9 percent of his baskets came within five feet of the basket while he shot just 32.1 percent outside of that range. This Hawks team is much better defensively -- it entered the playoffs ranked first in the NBA in points allowed per possession since Dec. 15 -- if not quite as good offensively. But clearly the goal will be to make LeBron a jump-shooter again.
Atlanta surprised me with how thoroughly dominant it was in finishing off the Celtics in Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night, 104-92. It was the Hawks' first playoff series win over Boston since the St. Louis Hawks beat Boston in the 1958 Finals. Atlanta blew it open with a 39-point third quarter in which it shot 74 percent from the field. I still wonder how different that series might have been if Boston guard Avery Bradley hadn't gotten hurt. The one concern for Atlanta was that point guard Jeff Teague rolled his ankle but did play through it if not quite 100 percent.
Perhaps the Hawks can steal Game 1 since the potentially rusty Cavaliers have been off since sweeping out Detroit last Sunday. The Hawks were swept by Cleveland this season, dropping the three meetings by an average of almost 10 points (109.3 to 99.7). The Cavs scored 109 or more in each and outshot the Hawks 45.1 percent to 40.7 percent.
Series line: Cavaliers -450, Hawks +375
Key trends: The Hawks were 20-20-1 ATS on the road this season and 19-22 O/U. The Cavs were 20-21 ATS at home during the season and 22-19 O/U. The Cavs were 3-0 ATS vs. the Hawks in the regular season and 2-1 O/U.
Early lean: Cavaliers and over.
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