By Brian Edwards
**No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Chicago**
Series Price: Boston -550 Houston +375
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
Skinny: Boston was hoping for better circumstances as it gets poised to defend its title by facing Chicago in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Less than 48 hours before Game 1, head coach Doc Rivers announced that Kevin Garnett “may” miss the entire postseason. Now I’m not buying that KG can’t possibly contribute a month from now, but it appears very unlikely that he’ll touch the court against the Bulls. In addition, General Manager Danny Ainge suffered a heart attack Thursday that’s expected to keep him hospitalized until Sunday (although Ainge is expected to make a full recovery).
Once Garnett was lost for an extended period of time, Cleveland pulled away from Boston for the top seed in the East. On the bright side, the Celtics beat out Orlando for the No. 2 seed and will therefore have home-court advantage over the Magic in a potential second-round showdown.
With KG out (for now), who needs to step up for the defending champs? In short, everybody does. But most importantly, second-year power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis needs to continue to play as well as he did down the stretch in Garnett’s absence. Also, Rajon Rondo can compensate for some of KG’s lost scoring by being more aggressive off the dribble. And obviously, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will be leaned on more heavily at crunch time.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t really worry about Boston missing KG’s scoring. It’s on the defensive end where I feel like his absence will be most telling.
Chicago appeared to be a team on the rise when it performed well in the 2007 playoffs. However, the Bulls went into complete disarray last season and have just now in the last month or so turned things around. They made a strong late-season push with 12 wins in 16 games to garner the No. 7 seed in the East.
Without a doubt, the Bulls have plenty of offensive firepower with prolific scorers like Ben Gordon and rookie point guard Derrick Rose. And you won’t find many guards coming off the bench that are better than Kirk Hinrich. However, Vinny Del Negro’s team lacks a go-to scorer in the post.
Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah are excellent defensive players and both can run the floor and finish strong, but neither has much to offer in terms of back-to-the-basket moves on the blocks. That makes John Salmons role even more pivotal. On nights when he provides a solid third-scoring option, the Bulls can pose problems for the C’s.
Gambling Notes: Most books are listing the Celtics as 8 1/2-point favorites for Saturday's Game 1 at 12:35 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The total is 196 1/2 and the Bulls are plus-325 on the money line (risk $100 to win $325).
Boston has taken the cash in seven of the last eight head-to-head meetings between these teams. With that said, Chicago captured a 127-121 victory as a 1 ½-point home underdog in the most recent meeting when KG was out of the lineup.
The ‘over’ is 43-37-2 overall for the Bulls, 23-17-1 in their home assignments. When it comes to Boston totals, the ‘over’ has been the play in its home games, cashing at a 26-14-1 clip. When the Celtics go on the road, they have watched the ‘under’ post a lucrative 26-15 record.
Outlook: Even without KG, I like the Celtics to advance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls stretch the series to six games or cover some numbers as rich underdogs on the road, but they won’t be pulling a shocker to advance to the second round.
Future Bets: The Celtics are now at least plus-300 underdogs (risk $100 to win $300) to win the East, but they don’t have much of a shot in a potential East finals against the Cavs if Garnett isn’t ready by then (if they get that far). Therefore, I think you pass on future bets with the Bulls and/or C’s.
As for this series, Boston is too expensive (-550) and I just don’t see the Bulls beating the Celtics four times.