Monday’s Playoff Essentials

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Eastern Conference First Round – Game 2
No. 6 Brooklyn at No. 3 Philadelphia (TNT, 8 p.m. ET) -- Nets lead 1-0
Apr. 13 - Nets (+7.5) 111 at 76ers 102 (Under 228)

2018-19 Regular Season (Split 2-2, Over 3-1)
Nov. 4 – Nets (+4) 122 vs. 76ers 97 (Under 224)
Nov. 25 – 76ers (-4.5) 127 at Nets 125 (Over 226)
Dec. 12 – Nets (+6) 127 at 76ers 123 (Over 224.5)
Mar. 28 - 76ers (-7) 123 vs. Nets 110 (Over 231.5)

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid is again ‘questionable’ for Game 2.

He wore the same designation prior to the series opener, warming up to see how his knee would hold up before ultimately playing 24 minutes in the 76ers’ 111-102 setback against the Nets. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who watched him play this season that he’s hurt. There’s a lack of explosiveness compared to what he normally brings to the table. Of course, Embiid at 80 percent is much better than almost everyone else at full strength, so if he’s able to suit up and get through warmups, Philadelphia can count on the production of the game’s top center to help even things up.

Embiid wasn’t the problem in Saturday afternoon’s defeat since he finished with 22 points, 15 boards and five blocks while playing much less than he ordinarily would have. He drew a pair of fouls on counterpart Jarrett Allen inside the game’s first minute, so Philly had the visiting Nets right where they wanted them early. You would have expected them to continue playing through their All-Star center in the post, taking advantage of working inside-out the way few other teams are capable of, especially with Brooklyn’s top rim protector in foul trouble. Instead, Embiid fired up a 3-pointer and floated around the perimeter and the sets that were used produced very little.

Boban Marjanovic replaced Embiid five minutes in, part of Philly’s usual rotation since Brett Brown likes to come back in with his best player later in the quarter after a short break, so there wasn’t a lot to take from a first quarter where both teams appeared to be feeling one another out. Brooklyn was going to ride the 3-ball and got a lot of its rotation involved immediately with Jared Dudley, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Ed Davis all getting their feet wet by the 4:00 mark.

Philadelphia seemingly cleared the Embiid hurdle but struggled to see Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick, its top 3-point shooters, find the range. Ultimately, it caught up with the 76ers when Brooklyn closed the opening quarter on a 12-0 run fueled by the energy provided by its bench. They were stuck playing from behind the rest of the way and failed to rattle the Nets enough to get them to fumble away the result.

If you’re into finger-pointing, there is plenty of blame to go around for why the 76ers find themselves in what feels like the first must-win situation of the postseason. While they would certainly still have a legitimate shot to get out of the series even if they fall behind 2-0, the Nets hosting three of the final five games would make them the series favorite. As things stand now, series odds still favor Philly (-215) over Brooklyn (+180), but anyone who rode the Nets to pull the upset at 5-to-1 before Game 1 has to be thrilled.

Butler dominated to finish with 36 points, helping the Sixers hang around, but where he excelled as a playmaker, Ben Simmons failed miserably. The backcourt comprised by him and Redick was a minus-21. The Nets successfully sagged on him, daring him to shoot, so he ended up just 4-for-9. Worse yet, he had just three assists since Butler was playing catalyst and further dragged the team down by shooting 1-for-5 on free throws. Redick, Harris and Mike Scott, the team’s designated long-range threats who have to punish defenses for the way they play Embiid and Simmons, shot 2-for-14 from beyond the arc. Embiid, in part hoping to lighten the load on his sore knees, crept around the perimeter too much for my taste and missed all five of his 3-point attempts.

If you’re looking to ride Philadelphia in a game it has to have, be sure you tail Embiid’s status all day and have faith that the team isn’t likely to have a 3-point shooting night as terrible as they had on Saturday. Missing 22 of 25 is hard to do.

From the Nets standpoint, they have to be encouraged that they got on the board in the series first without All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell being particularly dominant. He led the team with 26 points, but committed four turnovers and ended up a minus-10 in his time on the floor. Dinwiddie scored 18 off the bench while Ed Davis finished a plus-28 while racking up 12 points and 16 rebounds, so the 76ers must do a better job keeping him from making such an impact on the boards. Brooklyn might have young starlets like Russell and Allen, but its sole rides with its journeymen, overachievers like Davis, Dinwiddie, De’Marre Carroll, Joe Harris and Dudley. Those guys have been told multiple times they wouldn’t make it and defied odds, which makes them extremely dangerous as they try to climb the mountain against the more talented 76ers.

The total for Game 2 opened at 226, which is two points (228) lower than the closing number in Saturday’s opener. Chris David of offered up his thoughts on Monday’s number.

“The 76ers getting held to 102 points at home by the Nets had nothing to do with Brooklyn’s defense and everything to do with making shots. Philly couldn’t buy a bucket from the outside, going 3-of-25 (12%) from 3-point land and missing 13 free throws certainly didn’t help their cause either,” said David. “I’m expecting a big rebound from Philadelphia, especially in the first quarter. Getting held to 22 points in the first 12 minutes was well below their season average (31.2 PPG) and that slow start on Saturday gave the Nets the confidence they needed. The 76ers only lost back-to-back games at home twice during the regular season and I’d ride that trend here, with the offense coming together. Along with a lean to the ‘over’ (55 ½) in the first quarter, I’d ride the Philadelphia Team Total Over (117) as well.”

In case Embiid can’t go, it’s worth knowing that Philly went 8-10 without him in the lineup. The 76ers will likely push tempo if they can help it to get Simmons and Harris in a better flow in transition. If Embiid does suit up, I’m a fan of the first-quarter ‘over.’ The series shifts to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Thursday.

Western Conference First Round – Game 2
No. 8 L.A. Clippers at No. 1 Golden State (TNT, 10:30 p.m. ET) -- Warriors lead 1-0
Apr. 13 - Warriors (-13.5) 121 vs. Clippers 104 (Under 233)

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)

Any questions over whether we should be concerned about Stephen Curry’s latest foot injury, a slight sprain suffered in Game 81, got an emphatic ‘no’ as an answer on Saturday night.

The Warriors’ guard became the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA playoff history by making eight in a 121-104 Game 1 win, knocking down eight en route to 38 points. He added a playoff career-high 15 rebounds and seven assists for good measure just so we’re all sure, displaying tremendous energy in his activity. He’s locked in and healthy.

We’ll see whether complacency sets in at some point this postseason, but Golden State and its crowd was tremendous in the series-opening win over the Clippers, which included the reserves holding off any hopes of an L.A. backdoor cover in the final minutes. The Warriors shot just under 50 percent from the field, finished 14-for-30 from 3-point range and missed just three of 20 free-throws, sparing little in frustrating Clippers-backers who were counting on at least a cover given such a large number.

Unlike the Eastern Conference’s 1-8 series where the Pistons seemingly had no chance against the Bucks going in, even if Blake Griffin can go, the West’s 1-8 features a team that won 48 games and is bolstered by the league’s highest-scoring bench. L.A.’s bench led the NBA averaging 53.2 points this season, and it came in looking to swing games in this series behind key reserves like Sixth Man of the Year lock Lou Williams and big forward Montrezl Harrell, whose energy and post production is typically an asset. That duo combined to score 51 points in the Game 1 loss, so the Clips were at least successful in fulfilling one of their goals despite the loss.

The key to hanging around in the series will be to keep the Warriors from getting as comfortable as they managed to in the opener, which is why you saw irritant Patrick Beverley get up in Kevin Durant’s face late in a contest that was already decided on Saturday night. The Clippers have no answer for Durant, who averaged 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists in his four regular-season games against them and finished with 23 points in 32 minutes in Game 1. Beverley defended him despite giving up roughly 10 inches in height and was hoping to get a rise out of Durant to try and throw off the Warriors’ All-Star.

Expect L.A. to go back to that well again given the volatile nature of guys like Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Durant, hoping one of them will take themselves out of the equation. It was amusing to see Cousins get after Green early in Game 1 when he went after an official, chastising him to keep his head in the game. It worked too. Green punished the Clippers for playing off him and shot 7-for-12 from the field, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range. Considering what a liability he was shooting it earlier this season, the fact he’s gotten some of his confidence back is a major development that could ultimately play x-factor in the Warriors winning a third straight title.

Golden State opened the postseason as a 2-to-7 favorite (-350) at Westgate to win the West and 1-to-2 (-200) to win the NBA title, so we’ll see whether their odds are ever better than the present going foward.

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.

The Clippers have beaten 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. 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 center Ivica Zubac.

For the nightcap from Oakland, David believes another blowout should be expected unless Los Angeles connects at a very high percentage offensively.

“I believe Doc Rivers has done an incredible job with this team but L.A. padded it’s record versus losing clubs this season and it the offense hasn’t traveled against quality opponents. When listed as a road ‘dog, the team went 10-18 SU and 13-14-1 ATS, which includes Saturday’s loss in Game 1. Since the All-Star break, they’re 2-4 in that role and the defense has allowed 122.8 PPG in the losses. Since Doc arrived in Los Angeles, the Clippers are just 2-14 in their last 16 games (7-9 ATS) at Golden State,” explained David.

“If you’re leaning to the ‘dog, a better look could be the Clippers Team Total Over (107 ½) on Monday. The last four road covers for Los Angeles in this series watched the team score 113, 125, 127 and 127 points. All of those games went ‘over’ as well and after seeing a barrage of ‘under’ tickets cash this weekend, seeing things balance out in the Game 2’s is likely.”

The series shifts to L.A. for Game 3 on Thursday.

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