Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM
First Round Predictions
The 2017-18 NBA Playoffs begin this weekend as 16 teams will look to capture the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Even though the latest future odds are leaning to a two-horse race between Houston and Golden State, many pundits believe the rest of the field is a toss-up.
Delving into the first round series odds deeper, the Rockets (-7000) and Warriors (-1500) have been installed as the largest series favorites over the Timberwolves (+2000) and Spurs (+900) respectively.
Our top NBA analysts (see below) don’t believe we’ll see any upsets for the top two seeds in the Western Conference but they may give up a game or two.
The other two series are interesting in the Western Conference and it’s fair to say you can make an argument for all four of the teams seeded between No. 3 and No. 6.
No. 3 Portland (-225) vs. No. 6 New Orleans (+190)
No. 4 Oklahoma City (-135) vs. No. 5 Utah (+115)
Tony Mejia and Chris David believe New Orleans will defeat Portland even though the Trail Blazers have homecourt for the opening round.
Mejia explained, “Anthony Davis injured his knee five minutes into his first encounter with Portland, missed the second matchup entirely and scored 36 points in each of 2018’s meetings, shooting 31-for-47. The Trail Blazers aren’t going to be able to stop him, so with CJ McCollum mired in a slump and guards Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday healthy and playing at a high level at both ends, I see an upset coming in a 3-6 series between teams that were separated by just a single game and split 2-2 head-to-head. Damian Lillard scored 36 points and dished out 10 assists without a turnover to help the Blazers beat the Jazz on Wednesday, so hopefully his ankle issues are behind him and he’ll be ready to roll in what should be a fantastic series.”
In the 4-5 matchup, VegasInsider.com NBA expert Kevin Rogers believes Utah will advance, "The Jazz really took a hit by falling from third to fifth in the Western Conference playoffs by losing the season finale at Portland. Although that defeat prevented them from grabbing home-court advantage in the first round, the killer loss was falling to Atlanta last month as 14-point favorites, which snapped a nine-game winning streak."
"Utah lost three of four times to Oklahoma City this season, but all four matchups came prior to Christmas. That was a different Jazz team, as they finished 29-6 to go from a non-playoff team in January to nearly closing as the third seed. The Thunder have gone through plenty of ups and downs this season and posted a 4-1 record down the stretch to capture the fourth seed. However, Utah won a Game 7 on the road against the Clippers last season in the opening round and I would trust them to do the same this time at OKC," Rogers added.
If you’re looking for upsets this postseason, all three of our analysts are expecting at least one bomb to drop in the Eastern Conference. The only shared opinion is on Philadelphia, who will meet Miami in the first round.
Rogers told us why he’s buying Philadelphia to advance to the second round. He said, "It’s hard to fade the 76ers at this point, who enter the playoffs with 16 consecutive victories. Although a majority of those wins came against non-playoff teams, Philadelphia is feeling good about itself and should get Joel Embiid back in the lineup sometime during the first round. Miami staved off Washington for the Southeast title as both teams limped to the finish line, as the Heat split its final 10 games. For the exception of routing Cleveland, Miami beat Atlanta twice, Chicago, and New York down the stretch, while knocking off a Toronto squad in overtime that had nothing to play for."
David added, “Even if Embiid misses a game or two, I can’t put stock into Miami especially when you look at its road record. The Heat closed the season with a 5-15 mark as a visitor and only one of those wins came against a playoff team (Bucks). I don’t believe Philadelphia will run Miami off the court knowing the pair split all four games this season, but they’ve been the more consistent shooting team and that will be the difference in this series.”
While Rogers believes the Wizards can shock Toronto in the first round, Mejia expects the Raptors to do what they’ve done all season and stop Washington in its tracks.
Mejia explained his position, “Washington point guard John Wall participated in his first win since Jan. 19 against Boston on Tuesday and looks fresh enough to give the Raptors issues in his first action against them all season. The Wizards will go as far as he’ll take them given their limited depth after they ran out of gas down the stretch. Wall and Bradley Beal have to be great to overcome Toronto’s many advantages, but the fact they have to open on the road against the team that tied Houston for the NBA’s top home record makes it difficult to get behind their ability to flip the switch and make the East’s 1-8 matchup competitive.”
Due to injuries, the Boston-Milwaukee matchup isn’t your typical 2-7 playoff encounter. The Celtics (-150) are barely favored over the Bucks (+130) on the series price and Mejia believes Milwaukee will advance in a very tight series.
“The Celtics are hoping to have Marcus Smart back for the conference semifinals but will have their hands full getting there without him. Kyrie Irving is done and Gordon Hayward isn’t coming back either, so Brad Stevens is going to have to rely on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in larger roles to flourish against a team that has a lot of length and talent on the wing,” Mejia noted.
“Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chance to take the next step in his development by dominating a series and getting past the first round for the first time. He averaged 33.5 points and shot nearly 54 percent in four regular-season meetings with Boston and now has Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon riding alongside him, plus Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe form a solid backcourt.”
The 4-5 matchups in the NBA are usually expected to be tight series yet the oddsmakers aren’t giving the Pacers (+480) much of a shot against LeBron James and the Cavaliers (-650).
Cleveland has burned bettors all season (30-49-3 ATS) and Chris David is buying the Pacers to knock off the Cavaliers and hand James his first ever defeat in an opening round playoff series.
David explained, “What LeBron has done throughout his career is remarkable and if he makes another trip to the finals with this cast, then hats off to him once again. While his production offensively has actually improved, the defense is lacking and it’s quite embarrassing to watch. The Cavaliers can’t stop anybody and they’re ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed and defensive field goal percentage. Indiana isn’t a great defensive team by any means, but it’s certainly better than Cleveland.”
“Statistically, both teams are all but even offensively and their shooting percentages from the field and 3-point land are neck-and-neck. Both clubs produced identical 21-20 road records and Indiana (23-23) was one win better than Cleveland (22-23) versus teams above. 500. The Pacers took three of four from the Cavaliers in the regular season and two of those wins came by a combined six points. I note that because Indiana went 11-2 in games decided by three points this season, the best percentage in the league. Also, they were 3-0 in overtime games. That confidence from those victories should go a long way and certainly help the Pacers pull off a first round shocker,” David added.
Below are each analyst’s predictions for all eight opening round series: