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A Look Ahead to the NBA Conference Semifinals

A Look Ahead to the NBA Conference Semifinals

A Look Ahead to the NBA Conference Semifinals
By Teddy Covers

The first round of the NBA Playoffs is in the books; a near perfect storm for underdog bettors.  Dogs emerged victorious in three series: Portland over Houston, Washington over Chicago and Brooklyn over Toronto.  The underdog – Dallas in every game – went 6-1 ATS in the Spurs – Mavs series.  Other series losers like Atlanta, Memphis and Golden State proved to be feistier than expected.  Put it all together and we saw dogs go 32-15-3 ATS for the full 50 games played in the first round.

Should we expect Round 2 to follow the same path?  All four series certainly look competitive on paper, although top seeds Miami and San Antonio are both significant favorites to knock off Brooklyn and Portland respectively.  The series prices for Washington – Indiana and LA Clippers – Oklahoma City are certainly indicative of tight battles to come.  In this week’s Vegas Wiseguy Report I’ll examine all four of these second round series, looking for potential matchup edges that could offer ATS value as the series progress.

Indiana was lucky to survive their first round test against Atlanta.  The Hawks gave away Game 4 at home down the stretch, then did the exact same thing in Game 6; suffering a major meltdown over the final three minutes of the game.  That being said, the Pacers finished the series with a winning ATS mark over the seven games along with a significant confidence/momentum boost from the way they stepped up with their season on the line in Game 7.

Washington wasn’t lucky to knock off Chicago – they were good.  That being said, the Bulls blew multiple games due to fourth quarter shooting woes and didn’t resemble the mentally tough, defensively tough squad that won 48 regular season games.  And this is rarified air for a Wizards team that hadn’t won a playoff series since 2005.

The Wizards dominated the only post- All Star Break regular season meeting; winning by double digits as home underdogs despite hitting less than 40 percent from the floor and playing without injured (at the time) center Nene.  The key to that victory was the same key to their series win over Chicago – Washington owned the paint, didn’t give open looks from three point range and forced turnovers in bunches on the perimeter.

In my mind, the key to this series is Roy Hibbert.  Hibbert was arguably the single most disappointing player of the first round. Benched for extended stretches against a Hawks team that concentrated on their perimeter game, the Pacers won’t be able to hide him here if he can’t score, rebound or defend.   Hibbert had his best game of the first round in Game 7 – he’s not a lost cause right now, and neither is Indiana.

Brooklyn was the only team to dominate Miami in the regular season, although ‘dominate’ really isn’t an appropriate word.  The Nets went 4-0 SU and ATS in their four battles with the Heat.  And that can’t be a surprise – this team was built last offseason specifically to beat Miami.  But don’t overstate the level of success Brooklyn enjoyed during the regular season.  The four wins came by a grand total of three points in regulation – three one point victories, with the fourth win coming in OT.  That’s not dominance – period.

Brooklyn certainly is battle tested when it comes to winning tough games in the postseason.  As a team, they had 27 previous Game 7’s between them prior to their gut-it-out Game 7 win at Toronto.  Paul Pierce has given LeBron James fits over the years and Brooklyn is no pushover on either floor; dominant at home over the back half of the season and more than capable of stealing a road win or two.

But the two-time defending champs don’t look all that vulnerable these days.  Unlike the Celtics, Miami’s veterans will have had a week off to recuperate between the first two rounds; a legitimate difference maker, especially as this series drags on.  Brooklyn is going to need Joe Johnson to stay hot from the perimeter, Deron Williams to control the game flow and the Kevin Garnett/Andray Blatche/Mason Plumlee trio to win the battle in the low post.  Frankly, I don’t think they can do it.

San Antonio covered only one pointspread in seven tries against Dallas in the first round, but that one ATS cover was a thing of beauty:  a dominating Game 7 performance.  It was clear that the Spurs were priced wrong in that series, asked to lay pointspreads that were a notch or two too high against a quality foe that hung very tough for the first six games.  And the potential for San Antonio to remain overvalued here in Round 2 is very real, because they’re still laying high prices and because Portland  isn’t going down without a fight.

The Spurs didn’t have an easy time against the Blazers in the regular season, a 2-2 series split (both SU and ATS) with each squad winning once on their opponent’s home floor.  It’s surely worth noting Portland’s high scoring ways in those matchups, hanging 109+ three times in the four meetings, utilizing the same inside/outside balance that gave Houston so much trouble in the first round.  It’s also worth noting that LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t play in San Antonio’s two point win at Portland.  With the Spurs offensive execution in stellar form and Portland’s defensive acumen lacking for extended stretches of the first round, I’ll take taking a long, hard look at betting some Overs in this series.

The Clippers and Thunder split the four regular season meetings as well, each team winning and covering once at home and once on their opponent’s home floor.   Frankly, I was surprised to see the Thunder open as -200 favorites in the series.  That number was clearly influenced by the likely support for OKC in Game 1 against a Clips squad that the markets expect to be physically and emotionally exhausted.  And that number is also affected by Chris Paul’s lingering hamstring injury, just one of his many nicks and bruises.

But Doc Rivers can coach circles around Scott Brooks, both as a motivator and as an X’s and O’s guy.  The Thunder take an extraordinary number of bad shots, relying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s talent more than exemplary execution and well-designed sets.  And the Clippers have certainly proven to be mentally tough – their series win over Golden State would have been a series loss for any lesser squad.  If the Clippers can find ways to keep Paul in front of Westbrook and if they continue to get solid production from their bevy of veteran wings, they’re very live to win the series and move on to the Western Conference Finals.

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