Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM
First Round Predictions
Playoff Trends to Watch
The 2018-19 NBA Playoffs begin this weekend as 16 teams will look to capture the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy this June.
Golden State opened the season as the odds-on favorite and it will enter the postseason as the top betting choice as well. The Warriors (-50000) have been installed as ridiculous favorites over the Clippers in their first round series matchups. If you believe Los Angeles can pull off the largest upset of all-time in the NBA Playoffs, then you can receive a return of 150/1 odds.
After Golden State, the Milwaukee Bucks (-10000) are laying the next largest series price as the top seed in the Eastern Conference to the Detroit Pistons.
As expected, our NBA analysts (below) don’t believe we’ll see any of the top two seeds fall in either conference but there is disagreement in two opening matchups in the Western Conference and both of them have tight odds.
No. 2 Denver (-240) vs. No. 7 San Antonio (+200)
No. 3 Portland (+110) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City (-130)
In the 2-3 matchup between the Nuggets and Spurs, both Kevin Rogers and Tony Mejia believe we’ll see the second-seed fall while Chris David is backing Denver.
Rogers explained his stance on San Antonio, “The home team won all four meetings this season between the Spurs and Nuggets. Denver hasn’t had much luck at AT&T Center by dropping 13 straight visits to San Antonio dating back to 2012. Denver was strong at Pepsi Center this season by owning the league’s best home mark at 34-7, but the Nuggets have not been to the dance since 2014. In fact, Denver has advanced past the first round only once since 1994, which was the massive 1/8 upset over the SuperSonics in five games. Both the Nuggets and Spurs finished with 33-19 records in their final 52 games of the season, while DeMar DeRozan has not lost a playoff series to a non-LeBron James led team since 2015.”
David countered, “If this was a one-game elimination, you could perhaps give the edge to the Spurs based on their playoff pedigree but this is a completely different San Antonio squad and it’s one that can’t win on the road. The Spurs own the second-worst mark (16-25) as visitors among playoff teams, while Denver has dominated everybody at home. Expecting things to click all of a sudden for San Antonio is a reach, especially against a team that’s younger and deeper. I do believe it will be a long series and we’ll see some tight games but that advantage goes to the Nuggets as well with Mike Malone’s team going 13-3 this season in games decided by three points or less.
In the 3-6 matchup in the West, Oklahoma City is the only lower seed in the NBA Playoffs that is favored in the first round despite not having homecourt advantage. Tight series are usually longer one and two of are experts are predicting a Game 7.
Rogers is siding with the underdog at home in a decisive matchup. “The Blazers swept the Thunder in the regular season in 2017-18, but Oklahoma City returned the favor this season by capturing all four meetings. One of those wins came by two points and another in overtime, both at the Moda Center. Portland is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself after getting swept as a third seed last season against New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder have not advanced past the first round since Kevin Durant bolted for the Warriors three seasons ago, losing to Houston and Utah the last two seasons in the opening round. The Blazers finished 32-9 at home this season, which was tied for the third best home mark in the NBA,” he said.
David believes the Thunder will win the series in Game 6 at home but Mejia is expecting OKC to pull off a rare feat of winning a Game 7 at the Moda Center. He explained, “The Thunder need Paul George’s shoulder to respond to treatment, but should be able to pull out this first-round series if he’s healthy. Portland made a huge blunder rallying from 28 points down in a game it didn’t intend to win and got itself in a series Russell Westbrook can swing with his activity. It will also help to have Steven Adams around to defend Enes Kanter, something he has plenty of experience with. Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson have made enough strides to trust them to respond in a potential Game 7 on the road.”
In the Eastern Conference, all of our experts believe the higher seeds will advance to the conference semifinals and that’s where the fun will start.
Of the first round series in the East, Mejia believes the 4-5 matchup between Boston and Indiana is the most interesting pairing.
“The Pacers will benefit from not having to face Marcus Smart, who would have made life far more difficult on Bojan Bogdanovic than the combination of Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown will. I don’t see the Celtics steamrolling Indiana, whose defense and rebounding will make most games challenging, but I also don’t see them faltering. If we’re looking big picture, Boston needs this to be the series where Hayward, squaring off with his hometown team, becomes the piece he was acquired to be. If he and Irving can consistently get into a groove simultaneously, the East can be won,” he said.
David isn’t buying any of the bottom four clubs but he wouldn’t be surprised if Orlando put a scare into Toronto. He explained, “These teams split the regular season series and the Magic racked up a pair of double-digit results in their victories. Orlando is playing its best basketball of the season and it’s gone 15-8 since the All-Star break, which includes a current run of 11-3 over its last 13. Their defense has been sharp during this span and head coach Steve Clifford has a young confident team that looks a lot like the Raptors. Toronto should still advance, but rookie coach Nick Nurse’s playoff debut will have a couple speed bumps.”
Below are each analyst’s predictions for all eight opening round series: