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Eastern Conference - 1st Round Preview

In a season that has been nothing short of entertaining, it took all 82 games for us to finally figure out who was playing who in the first round. The Toronto Raptors engineered a brilliant season to earn the top seed, while Cleveland fell all the way to fourth overall in large part due to the insurmountable push Philadelphia exported to finish the season.

Who do you like? Who should you like? Where’s the best bets? It’s all relatively straightforward to be honest. Don’t forget, the first round is usually where things go chalk. I’d look out west for an “upset” if I were you, depending on how you grade Celtics-Bucks considering the injuries. Speaking of which, let’s get to the breakdowns!

You can find the playoff series prices in the sportsbook, along with championship odds in the overall NBA Futures section.

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
NBA Playoff Series Price: TOR -650 over WAS +500

Sweet redemption is the only way I can really qualify this matchup. Toronto, which has largely been brushed off as a “cute contender”, gets to avenge the outright embarrassing sweep they experienced at the hands of these Wizards back in 2015.

This series is all about DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry proving that they’re a potent enough duo to really push a team over the edge. Both have been properly lambasted in the past for their awful shooting percentages, which is all fair except that it ignores just how well both shot the ball in the playoffs last year. The number’s aren’t important – your perception of this team is when betting on the NBA playoffs.

Whether you want to buy in to them or not, the Raptors have not only played like the best team in the conference, they’ve also produced like it. The only reason we doubt them is because we want to. Past playoff experiences have informed this mindset, but it’s not a completely honest and unbiased point of view. They don’t have the in-season weaknesses that Boston, Cleveland and other teams have shown. That part is fact. If you are wavering on whether to bet them as conference champions, that’s all fine and dandy but they are the most logical bet.

Lowry and DeRozan still have to do the heavy lifting for the Raptors, but this team overall is buoyed by far more depth than any other team in the Eastern Conference. VanVleet has turned in to what Toronto always wanted Corey Joseph to be, while Dwayne Casey has found prominent roles for the energetic Poeltl and the divisive skill set of Valunciunas. Thinning down the rotation has been focus for much of the second half, but the Raptors have the luxury of testing what got them to the dance and seeing if it works.

Washington is in shambles right now, and the haggard play of John Wall does not help. The team has to play him. There’s no choice. But they’ve been in a free fall since they lost him and can’t expect to truly recover now. Wall should work himself in to shape as the series progresses, but there’s no telling just how ready he is after just a handful of games on the court following a troubling injury.

I’m sure that the nerds out there could dig up ways in which Washington actually poses a threat in this series, but they’re a typically average team that’s only escape is the three-pointer, which they at shoot a top-5 clip league wide. There’s also a toughness inherent to the roster in Washington that will either bully Toronto or galvanize them.

Considering that Toronto still has something to prove even as a one seed, they’re going to attack this series with a ferocity that we probably didn’t expect from them. Vanquishing a ghost of playoffs past is imperative to their NBA futures odds as well.

Series Schedule: at Toronto (4/14), at Toronto (4/17), at Washington (4/20), at Washington (4/22) at Toronto (4/25)

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
NBA Playoff Series Price: MIL +130 over BOS -150

We’ve waxed sadness about a Boston season that could have been since Kyrie Irving was reported as out for the next four or five months. That doesn’t mean that they’re immediately dead in the water. Brad Stevens is a genius when it comes to basketball and has extracted as much meaningful play out of his tattered squad as it gets. He should earn Coach of the Year without question. There’s no reason for him not to as he hasn’t earned the “Popp” status of “being too good to be in the conversation”.

This is less a question of how much you appreciate Boston as a team that can threaten the Eastern Conference, and has much more to do with whether or not you think Milwaukee has the stones to see this thing through. They’re an astonishingly and agonizingly average team with the 15th best scoring average for and the 16th best against. There’s nothing that they do exceptionally, despite having one of the most tide turning players in the entire game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo went from an MVP candidate to an afterthought over the remainder of the second half. That’s seemingly fair to a certain extent. His team floundered in the post Jason Kidd firing, and Giannis’s best game were either against fledgling competition, or in losses. He posted 27-16 against the Lakers, 37-11 while losing to Cleveland in a game that was hardly ever close and 38-10 against Orlando…also unfathomably in a loss.

It’s safe to say that Antetokounmpo is an undeniable, next level talent, but I don’t know if even he’s enough to get past Boston. We just don’t have any evidence of it. The Celtics play terrific, lock down defence despite the loss of so many important players.

That being said, Boston isn’t healthy and are dead fortunate to have the depth that they do. For the most part, they need explosive performances from their roster and there’s a lot to admire from Tatum to Rozier. However, the first round is all about having the best player in the series, and Giannis has obviously been properly paced to have an absolutely disruptive first round. An upset has to happen somewhere and the first round playoffs is where the best truly shine.

With Kyrie, the Celtics had the scoring touch and offensive dynamics to simply outplay the Bucks. Without him, they’ll be desperately searching for points as Giannis takes over in a hostile way.

Series Schedule: at Boston (4/15), at Boston (4/17), at Milwaukee (4/20), at Milwaukee (2/22), at Boston (4/24)

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
NBA Playoff Series Price: PHI -470 over MIA +395

Grading great teams is an easy exercise for the basketball nerd, but this series is anything but simple. Philadelphia has unearthly momentum heading in to the playoffs, having won 15 straight games while going while winning the last eight without Joel Embiid. He won’t be ready for Game 1 but he’ll come back eventually and that’s bad news for Hassan Whiteside.

Where Philadelphia grades out so damn well is on the defensive side, where they led the league in opponent field goal percentage. Luckily, they play a team like Miami which relies on perimeter shooting more than anything else. Philadelphia is a very strong team, and you can easily talk yourself in to Miami because of experience, coaching and Dwyane Wade.

But Philly has elevated recently in a way that is downright scary for the entire conference. From a sheer value standpoint, Miami is meant to tempt you but they really shouldn’t. There’s just nothing about them that excites me, and the odds here are what they are for a good reason.

It’ll be a better series as Philadelphia takes their lumps from a strong contender, but the Sixers earn the playoff series win and advance.

Series Schedule: at Philly (4/14), at Philly (4/16), at Miami (4/19(, at Miami (4/21), at Philly (4/24)

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
NBA Playoff series Price: CLE -650 over IND +500

Of all the teams that the Cleveland Cavaliers could’ve faced in the first round, the Pacers are probably the best matchup. Oladipo will have to try to overcome the defensive Kraken that is LeBron James, and then somehow hope that the rest of his team can emerge with enough points to compete in this series.

That isn’t happening.

Indiana ranks 17th overall when it comes to points in the paint, which is the well known flaw of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I love Myles Turner from a long view, but he’s not a game changer in the paint. Not yet, anyways. Domantas Sabonis is also not his father, and that’s not a fair comparison considering that he’s the son of one of the greatest big men of all time, but the point is that he doesn’t have the raw physical tools to outmuscle Tristan Thompson or even Kevin Love.

I’ve sung the praises of the Indiana Pacers heading in to the playoffs but this is nightmare matchup for them. As one of the leading spread busters in the league, there’s merit to betting the Pacers as a cover team, but the long term outlook of this series is pretty simple.

All this being said, if you’re the type that loves betting against LeBron then by all means. Those +500 odds Indiana are carrying are easy to root for, especially if you believe that this Cavaliers team isn’t mentally prepared for what’s about to come their way. Let’s remember – they were cobbled together using duct tape about two months ago.

Then again…George Hill revenge series?

Series Schedule: at Cleveland (4/15), at Cleveland (4/18), vs. Cleveland (4/20), vs. Cleveland (4/22) at Cleveland (4/25)

· Rogers: Tuesday's Tip Sheet
· Akins: Hoop Trends - Tuesday
· Bookmaker: Lakers at Bucks
· BetDSI: Pacers at Clippers
· News: Win Total Betting Update
· Spurs top Warriors, win streak at nine
· Nuggets dump Celtics, clinch playoff spot
· Heat get past Westbrook-less Thunder
· Blazers prevent Pacers from clinching
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