Free NBA Picks: Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 1s Opening Line Report and Handicapping
Are the Golden State Warriors still likely to win a third straight NBA title? Yes. They remain heavy -185 favorites to do so at Bovada . However, I might start to worry just a bit if I'm holding one of those tickets. The Warriors had a chance to close the Clippers out in Game 5 in Oakland on Wednesday night but were stunned 129-121 to force a Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Friday. I'm sure the Warriors win that and all is well. That said … it's only the second time under Steve Kerr that the Warriors lost two playoff home games in a series. The other was the 2016 NBA Finals against Cleveland, which remains the only series overall loss under Kerr. In addition, now the Houston Rockets get a couple of extra days of rest and to game plan for the Warriors in the West semifinals. Finally, any extra game a team has to play means that much better a chance a key player suffers an injury. So, while it's not panic time for Warriors fans, I'd at least be a bit concerned.
Because Golden State's loss messed up the schedule the rest of this weekend, we will instead look at the two Game 1s in the Eastern Conference even though they are on different days. We also don't know as of this writing whether there will be a Game 7 on Saturday between the Spurs and Nuggets back in Denver.
Saturday: No. 3 76ers at No. 2 Raptors (-6, 222.5)
This tipoff time is dependent (either 7:30 or 8 p.m. ET) on whether there's a Spurs-Nuggets Game 7, but it will be televised on TNT. On the series line, the Raptors are -260 and the Sixers +220. It's the first playoff meeting between the teams in 18 years. I might recommend Philadelphia on the series line if you could guarantee me that 76ers star center Joel Embiid wouldn't miss at least one game with his troublesome knee as he did in the first round against Brooklyn. That, obviously, would be a series-changer because the Sixers aren't winning this series if Embiid even misses one game, in my opinion. Philadelphia has the better starting five but the Raptors are much deeper.
In the regular season, Toronto took three of four and has won 13 straight at home vs. Philly - the Sixers' last win north of the border was Nov. 10, 2012. In addition, dating to his Spurs days, Kawhi Leonard has never lost to the Sixers in his NBA career, going a perfect 13-0. Leonard played in three of the four during this season and averaged 30.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. In addition, one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders forced Ben Simmons into a whopping 24 turnovers in those three games. Embiid played in all four games and averaged 26.3 points and 11.8 rebounds. One of the reasons the Raptors made the big trade for Marc Gasol around the deadline was because he's such a good defender and the Toronto brass knew it likely would have to get through Embiid at some point. Gasol wasn't a member of the Raptors in any of the 76ers games.
Key trends: Toronto is 6-4 against the spread in the past 10 meetings and the "over/under" is 6-4 in those.
Early lean: Raptors and over.
Sunday: No. 4 Celtics at No. 1 Bucks (-7.5, 223.5)
A 1 p.m. ET tip on ABC. On the series line, Milwaukee is -265 and Boston +225. Seems to me that too many "experts" are simplifying this series way too much: Giannis Antetokounmpo against the much-deeper Celtics - Boston has arguably the deepest roster in the NBA. That doesn't seem fair to the Bucks as they have a few other very fine players like All-Star Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez. It sounds as if former NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon also will be ready at some point this series. He hasn't played since mid-March when he suffered a mild plantar fascia tear in his right foot. Brogdon was originally ruled out 6-8 weeks. That said, Brogdon might not be ready for the first couple of games.
The Greek Freak was spectacular in the Round 1 sweep of the Pistons, perhaps officially taking the mantle of the NBA's best player. The Bucks had lost eight straight playoff series prior to Monday's clincher. Detroit was hardly a challenge as the Bucks tied the 1986 Lakers for the second-highest point differential in a series sweep in NBA history. Milwaukee was also the second team in postseason history to win their first four playoff games by at least 15 points, joining the 1980 Celtics. This year's Celtics also had little trouble in the first round, sweeping the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers. Considering the lack of competition, hard to read much into either sweep. Milwaukee was 2-1 vs. Boston this season, with the teams last playing Feb. 21. They met in the first round of last year's playoffs and the Celtics won in seven - the home team won every game. That wouldn't shock me again.
Key trends: The Celtics have covered seven of the past 10 in the series, including playoffs, and the O/U is 7-3.
Early lean: Celtics to cover & under.
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