The NBA Playoffs are here and it's the best basketball of the season, but I want to address the regular season one last time and say that Commissioner Adam Silver MUST do something about this ridiculous resting of players that is becoming prevalent by NBA teams. The Cavaliers basically gave away the East's top seed by sitting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving the final two games. That I can understand because they were already in the playoffs. If the Cavs don't want the top seed, that's their choice. But explain to me why the Brooklyn Nets rested three of their healthy guys on Wednesday in Chicago? The freaking offseason started the next day. The Miami Heat players and fans certainly weren't happy with that as the Heat needed the Bulls or Pacers to lose on Wednesday to have a shot at making the playoffs. Chicago basically played the D-League Nets and crushed them, while the Pacers had little trouble with the Atlanta Hawks, who rested their top guys. Totally ridiculous. Here's a look at Saturday's playoff openers with odds from 5Dimes.
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No. 7 Pacers at No. 2 Cavaliers ( -8.5, 213.5)
Series line: Cavaliers -1350, Pacers +650
A 3 p.m. ET tip on ABC. LeBron clearly doesn't care about being the East's top seed because he has reached the NBA Finals a handful of times as the No. 2. I do think it was wise to rest him and Irving the final two games with the heavy minutes both played. The final straw to concede was Cleveland's 126-125 OT home loss to Atlanta last Sunday when the Cavs blew a 26-point fourth-quarter lead. The team enters the playoffs on a four-game skid. Can LeBron and Co. flip a switch? I tend to think so as the last game that mattered big time for this team was a 114-91 rout of the Celtics in Boston on April 5.
Could this be the final series in a Pacers uniform for Paul George? It's no secret that he wants to play for his hometown Lakers after he hits free agency after next season. Team president Larry Bird could opt to simply deal George there this offseason if the Pacers go out in whimper here. If they push the Cavs, Bird might keep the band together in hopes of contending next year and convincing George to stay. George vs. LeBron is the clear individual matchup to watch in the first round of the East playoffs. It's the first time they have met in the postseason since 2014. The Cavs were 3-1 vs. Indiana this year and James averaged 32.3 points.
Key trends: The Pacers are 8-2-1 against the spread in the past 11 meetings. The "over/under" is 7-0 in Indiana's past seven on the road. It's 10-1 in Cleveland's past 11 on Saturday.
Early lean: Pacers (cover not win) and over.
No. 6 Bucks at No. 3 Raptors (-6.5, 203.5)
Series line: Raptors -410, Bucks +290
This tips at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. This series will definitely be banished to NBA TV most nights as it's probably the least appealing to the TV networks with the small-market Bucks and the lone non-American team. It's worth watching simply for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led his team in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.9). He became the first player in NBA history to finish in the Top 20 of all those categories in a single season. The Greek Freak is simply a marvel. The Bucks aren't very good offensively and can't rebound a lick, but they are long and athletic on the defensive end and could give the Toronto All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan some trouble.
The Raptors couldn't win the Atlantic Division for a fourth straight year as Boston took care of that. Toronto reached the East Finals last year for the first time, losing to Cleveland in six, despite both Lowry and DeRozan shooting well under 40 percent from the field overall in the postseason. DeRozan was under 20 percent from 3-point range. Was that a fluke or have teams figured out how to guard those two when it matters? The Raptors won three of four meetings vs. Milwaukee, but Khris Middleton (Bucks), Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker (Raptors) played in only the most recent one. The Bucks also had Jabari Parker for the first three - and lost those.
Key trends: The Bucks are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 8-2 in the previous 10.
Early lean: Raptors and under.
No. 7 Grizzles at No. 2 Spurs (-9, 194)
Series line: Spurs -1500, Grizzlies +700
An 8 p.m. ET start on ESPN. This one is likely to be the lowest-scoring series of them all as you can probably tell by that total. These teams met in the first round last year as well and the Spurs destroyed the Grizzlies in a sweep. Memphis was really banged up then and scored more than 87 points just once. Expect more of the same as the Spurs ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency this season in allowing 100.9 points per 100 possessions, while Memphis allowed 104.5 (sixth).
Frankly, the key thing here for a veteran San Antonio group is to get this over as fast as possible and rest up for the fast-paced Houston Rockets, whom I project will beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first-round matchup. The Grizzlies and Spurs split four meetings, each sweeping at home. Kawhi Leonard averaged 24.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games.San Antonio has posted an all-time record of 14-4 against Memphis in the postseason, sweeping three of four series and losing as a No. 1 seed vs. the No. 8 Grizzlies in 2011.
Key trends: The Grizzlies are 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings. The under is 7-2 in the previous nine.
Early lean: Grizzlies and under.
No. 5 Jazz at No. 4 Clippers (-5.5, 202.5)
Series line: Clippers -210, Jazz +160
Tips at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Both the Jazz and Clippers had to play their key guys Wednesday night with the fourth seed and home-court advantage up for grabs. Utah could have made it easy on Clippers coach Doc Rivers by losing in a 9 p.m. ET tip to San Antonio, but the Jazz didn't. So Rivers had to play Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, etc., long enough to ensure a win over Sacramento in that 10:30 p.m. ET tip. That was L.A.'s seventh straight win, the longest current streak in the NBA. The Clippers won 50 or more games for the fifth straight season, joining San Antonio as the only teams to do so.
This series fascinates me because if could be franchise-changing on either side. Utah's best player, Gordon Hayward, is set for free agency as are Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick. A first-round ouster could alter whether those guys decide to return to their teams, although Paul already said he was going to. The Clippers won the season series 3-1 to earn the tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed. Utah has had all five starters available in a game just 13 times this year due to injury and is 11-2 in them. The Jazz haven't won a playoff series or game since 2009-10 and haven't played extra basketball since 2012.
Key trends: The Jazz are 1-5 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven in L.A.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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