Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

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First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

Western Conference First Round – Game 1
No. 8 L.A. Clippers at No. 1 Golden State (ABC, 8:00 p.m. ET)

2018-19 Regular Season (Warriors 3-1, Split 2-2)
Nov. 12 - Clippers (+3.5) 121 vs. Warriors 116 (Over 226.5)
Dec. 23 – Warriors (-11) 129 vs. Clippers 127 (Over 234)
Jan. 18 – Warriors (-7.5) 112 at Clippers 94 (Under 241.5)
Apr. 7 – Warriors (-11.5) 131 vs. Clippers 104 (Under 237.5)

The two-time defending champs got a scare with Steph Curry spraining his foot in Game 81, but they’ve got to be satisfied with where they are health-wise. Considering all the injury-related issues they’ve had during their run of success and the fact they were adding DeMarcus Cousins to the mix, if you were to have told them at the start of the season that a mild foot sprain that won’t keep Curry from playing in Game 1 would be their greatest concern, they might have pulled a hamstring rushing over to sign up for it.

It’s time to see what this version of the Warriors can do.

Golden State is a 2-to-7 favorite (-350) at Westgate to win the West and is up over -400 at other shops, so it’s important to shop around if you’re going to be laying such a heavy price to back them getting back to the Finals. To fully get behind their three-peat bid means you’re laying 1-to-2 (-200) at Westgate and something in that neighborhood no matter where you wager, which means you’re weighing whether there will be a better price point down the road. Barring injury, that’s doubtful.

On the road, the Nets went 19-22 SU this season and the offense (110.7 PPG) wasn’t as potent away from the Barclays Center. For bettors, the club was 25-16 ATS overall and Brooklyn enters this game on a 6-1 ATS run in its last seven road games, the lone non-cover coming to the 76ers on March 28. In that 123-110 decision, the 76ers had its main five starters on the court which included Embiid.

With Cousins on board, the Warriors are more talented than they’ve ever been. They were 23-7 in games he’s played in and then added Andrew Bogut to add another rim protector to the mix. Draymond Green shot 34 percent from 3-point range in March and 38.5 in April, improving his season clip to 28.5 percent. If he can avoid being a liability in that department, Steve Kerr’s team has no real weaknesses.

They even got one of the two opponent they most coveted in this first round thanks to Oklahoma City’s late push. While the Spurs would’ve also been ideal, there’s less travel involved with traveling to Staples to try and take out the Clips, not to mention a “home” feel since many of the Warriors will be sleeping in their own beds after games in the city.

The Clippers would’ve been better off in any other matchup than the one they backed into through losses in three of their final four games, but giving members of their young core a shot at the Warriors may pay dividends down the road. Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet are all likely to be part of the rotation next season regardless of who signs up to lead Steve Ballmer’s L.A. takeover attempt. Patrick Beverley will be a free agent but has really taken to being the bulldog for this group. Ballmer is relishing in the fact that this group made the playoff despite the team dealing Tobias Harris in January to better position themselves for taking a shot at a pair of elite free agents this summer, so this is something of a free-roll.

Barring Curry aggravating his foot injury or some other misfortune befalling the Warriors, this isn’t likely to be a long series. The Clippers beat the Warriors only once, posting a 121-116 OT win at Staples in a game that featured Harris, Marcin Gortat and Mike Scott, all of whom are now gone.

Curry didn’t play in that contest but was present in the most recent meeting, a 131-104 blowout that’s also not truly indicative of what we can expect to see in this series since Gallinari and Beverley were both absent. Beverley’s ability to throw Curry off will be essential to keeping games close since he averaged 32.3 points in the three games that he did play. The expectation here is that we’ll see him try to be physical in this series opener, so this first quarter of Game 1 may be dictated by whether officials let them play or Curry can sell a few calls with some help from the paying customers at Oracle.

The Clippers have no answer for Durant, who has averaged 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists in his four games against them and now doesn’t even have Harris to trifle with. Expect the Warriors to run offense through him and Cousins, which could lead to a slower pace than what we saw in the during the regular-season series. The total opened at 232, which was the highest of this entire opening set of Game 1s, but it’s far lower than it got during a Jan. 18 meeting that closed at 241.5.

Golden State has lost just two of the last 18 games it has played against the Clippers at Oracle since 2012 and is 27-11 in that span, which includes a 16-2 run since ’15. Doc Rivers has done a fantastic job rolling with the punches over the past few years and may have just engineered his best coaching job, but the fact is that he hasn’t been able to solve the Warriors and now has to deal with Cousins thrown in the mix against an undersized frontcourt once you get past Zubac.

He can be an important x-factor for the Clippers in this series since being effective early and avoiding foul trouble would allow Rivers’ to maintain continuity with his rotations in keeping the second unit intact. L.A.’s bench led the NBA averaging 53.2 points this season, so it will be looking to swing games in this series behind key reserves like Sixth Man of the Year lock Williams and Harrell, whose energy and post production is typically an asset. If Zubac can make Cousins work and stay out there, Rivers won’t have to get creative with his substitutions.

Gallinari (ankle) and Beverley (hip) will both be fine after being banged-up late in the season, so this first game will see both teams at full strength. Laying 12.5 points really hinges on whether you believe the Clips can withstand Golden State’s first punch despite two rookies and a second-year center in the starting lineup or if you see L.A. finishing strongly enough to even steal a cover in garbage time. It won just once outright in five games as a double-digit underdog this season, but went 3-1-1 ATS.

Western Conference First Round – Game 1
No. 7 San Antonio at No. 2 Denver (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET)

2018-19 Regular Season (Split 2-2, Under 4-0)
Dec. 26 – Spurs (-4) 111 vs. Nuggets 103 (Under 216)
Dec. 28 – Nuggets (-4.5) 102 at Raptors 99 (Under 216.5)
Mar. 4 – Spurs (-1.5) 104 vs. Nuggets 103 (Under 229.5)
Apr. 3 – Nuggets (-5) 113 at Spurs 85 (Under 214.5)

The Nuggets have been one of the Western Conference’s best stories all season, winning the NBA’s toughest division and posting 54 wins, the fourth-largest total in franchise history. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2013 or out of the first round in a decade, so we’ll now get to see whether the feel-good part of their tale ended with Game 82. Although they nearly fumbled away the No. 2 seed, a closer than expected win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday locked them into that spot, drawing them a Spurs team making their 22nd straight playoff appearance, part of a three-decade run where they’ve reached the postseason 29 times.

Denver head coach Mike Malone compared his matchup with Gregg Popovich as a “Mike Tyson knockout” but isn’t conceding anything, including the favorite’s role his team has earned through being the better team in the regular season. If you’re looking for a series price to make some money on, this is indeed a popular upset pick and one I’m riding since it’s widely available in the +225-to-+235 range.

Whether the Spurs impose their will immediately or fight back in the series after falling behind, they do have a major edge in playoff experience that has to factor in. Although most of the key contributors from the team’s championship runs are gone, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli remain in addition to veteran leaders DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay, who have 128 combined playoff games between them.

Paul Millsap is the only player on the Denver roster with significant playoff run, having worked in 87 games with the Jazz and Hawks prior to this one. Will Barton and Mason Plumlee are the only other guys who can say they’ve been there before, which leaves Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris to figure things out as they go along against a coaching staff that’s going to do everything in their power to try and disrupt their rhythm and mess with their heads.

Jokic was held to 1-for-5 shooting and committed five turnovers in the first meeting between these teams but shot 76.3 percent over the last three meetings, shooting 29-for-38 while averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. That’s the production the Nuggets have regularly gotten from their Serbian MVP candidate, but teams have neutralized him by employing a faster pace. Denver is 3-11 over the last few months in games where they’ve allowed 110 points or more, so I’d expect to see San Antonio try and push pace.

Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and rookie Lonnie Walker IV will be key to getting the tempo turned up, but they’re the Spurs’ untested x-factors. For Denver, key bench guys like Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig will look to make an immediate splash off the bench, so it’s definitely a plus that they’ll get to make their postseason debut at home. Denver posted the NBA’s best record (34-7) on their home floor and will face a Spurs’ team that went 16-25 on the road, the second-worst mark of any team that managed to reach the playoffs ahead of only the East’s No. 8 seed Detroit.

Despite the disparity of Denver being a dominant home team and the Spurs struggling as much as they have on the road, this spread opened at 5.5 points, a nod to San Antonio’s experience. The total of 211 is second-lowest of the eight Game 1’s behind only Celtics-Pacers and the lowest it has been for any meeting between these teams this season. Oddsmakers fixed the number in the 214-216.5 range for three of the meetings and went up to 229.5 for the March 4 meeting.

The ‘under’ is on a 21-7 run over the past few months of Denver games and all four of the meetings between these teams resulted in games that failed to eclipse the posted total, so trend-trackers will likely favor the low-side. The ‘under’ is 16-5 in the last 21 games involving San Antonio.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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