Thursday’s Playoff Essentials

First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Eastern Conference First Round – Game 3
No. 3 Philadelphia at No. 6 Brooklyn (TNT, 8:10 p.m. ET) -- Series tied 1-1
Apr. 13 - Nets (+7.5) 111 at 76ers 102 (Under 228)
Apr. 15 - 76ers (-8.5) 145 vs. Nets 123 (Over 224.5)

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)

The Nets got the split they coveted in Philadelphia and now hope that shooting on familiar rims at Barclays Center will help them take down a division rival in the Eastern Conference series that has seen the most bad blood develop. While bickering in Warriors-Clippers and Trail Blazers-Thunder has crossed the line at times, this series has seen the most hostile act of the playoffs to date.

Joel Embiid could have certainly been thrown out for swinging his elbow on a post move against Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen late in the second quarter. He caught Allen squarely, rocking him backward, and ended up receiving a Flagrant 1 that could’ve just as easily been determined as a Flagrant 2, which comes with an immediate ejection. Only the officials truly know why they pardoned Embiid, be it the fact that he’s an All-Star or that the game was being played in Philly, but there’s no question that if they would’ve been well within their rights to throw him out. It looked excessive. In my opinion, if it had happened in a regular-season game, he would’ve been gone.

After the game, Embiid and Ben Simmons broke up in laughter as he attempted a half-hearted apology for catching Allen so viciously, so there’s no question the Nets feel disrespected and a little slighted since the favorite caught a break and then proceeded to break off a 51-point third quarter to avoid falling in a potentially insurmountable hole in the series. The incident hovers as a factor that must be taken into account prior to tonight’s game since it’s likely to affect how the game is called early.

James Capers, Courtney Kirkland and Scott Wall are on the whistle for this one.

Embiid is once again listed as ’questionable’ due to his lingering knee issues but he appears more certain to play than he was before either of the two home games, where his availability won’t be determined until close to tip-off. If I were Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, I’d funnel the ball inside and see if I can’t get an early call or two on the 76ers star simply because officials are going to be on high alert to curb any potential nonsense immediately.

Embiid has made no secret of the fact that he’s playing through pain and soreness. He’s dealing with a minutes restriction that may ultimately be lifted if he continues to feel better but is expected to remain in place tonight. Boban Marjanovic has played a large role and should continue to be a major x-factor, particularly if Embiid lands in foul trouble. On the Brooklyn’s side, backup forward Ed Davis’ tremendous play off the bench was a major factor in the opener but he struggled to get going in Game 2.

After slowing Ben Simmons down in Game 1, his physical gifts proved to be too tough to stop on Monday night as he helped key a 14-0 run to open the second half, helping even the series. He notched his second career triple-double, so part of Brooklyn’s game plan will be to keep him from getting into the paint or in transition as easily as he did. Although the Nets were known as a high-tempo team throughout the regular-season, finishing 10th in pace, it might benefit them to slow the game down some since the 76ers have looked ordinary when being forced to employ their typical offense in halfcourt sets.

Phladelphia ranked eighth in pace this season and has been streaky shooting it early on in the series. On the road, that could certainly be an issue, which is why my lean would ordinarily favor the ‘under’ (59) in the first quarter, especially if officials throw off rotations by utilizing their whistles frequently early on. That could, however, lead to both teams getting into the penalty early, which could pose a concern since both lineups are filled with strong free-throw shooters outside of Simmons. Philadelphia shot 3-for-25 from 3-point range in Game 1 but finished 9-for-23 from beyond the arc on Wednesday.

The Nets are just 7-8 at home since February began and have played at Barclays only eight time since March 1 since they had to survive longest road trip of the season last month. At 23-18, Brooklyn had the worst home mark of any team that reached the postseason this season, so it isn’t exactly surprising to see them in an underdog role here. The 76ers finished 20-21 on the road and dropped three of their final four games in opposing gyms, losing to the likes of Dallas, Atlanta and Miami while winning only in Chicago.

Philadelphia was -800 to get out of this first round according to series prices set at the Westgate Superbook prior to Saturday’s start to the postseason but came all the way down to -220 after dropping the opener. The Nets were moved to +180 after opening at +550 prior to Game 1.

The over has prevailed in six of the last eight games involving Philadelphia, so I don’t think it’s a reach to expect them to push tempo whenever possible after their Game 2 exploits. Conversely, Brooklyn is 5-1 SU/ATS in games that have failed to surpass the posted total since March 22, which includes their Game 1 upset.

Jarrett Dudley, who missed Game 2 with calf soreness, is expected to return.

Western Conference First Round – Game 3
No. 2 Denver at No. 7 San Antonio (NBA TV, 9:10 p.m. ET) -- Seiries tied 1-1
Apr. 13 - Spurs (+5.5) 101 vs. Clippers 96 (Under 210.5)
Apr. 16 - Nuggets (-7) 114 vs. Clippers 105 (Over 210.5)

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 Spurs were outscored by 16 points in the fourth quarter and only managed to beat Nuggets’ point guard Jamal Murray 23-21 in coughing up an opportunity to venture into this Game 3 with a commanding 2-0 lead.

Despite coughing up a 78-59 third-quarter lead in the most un-Spurs like fashion possible, getting sloppy and allowing a single player to find a rhythm and get to whatever shot he wanted, San Antonio remains in a position of strength. Gregg Popovich has a history of pressing the right buttons following a loss and has to take some blame since he failed to make the proper adjustments and drew an ill-timed technical foul to further aid Denver’s cause.

There’s also the fact that the Nuggets haven’t defeated the Spurs in a playoff series since 1985, dropping four straight, or that they haven’t won at the AT&T Center since March 4, 2012, carrying a 13-game losing streak in the building into Thursday’s Game 3. After stealing homecourt in a game where neither LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan played well, shooting 33 percent combined, San Antonio saw both improve in Game 2 as they combined for 55 points. Paul Millsap was much better for Denver after a dismal Game 1, so we’ll see what adjustments are made at both ends here.

After watching the ‘under’ connect in Game 1, the ‘over’ cashed in Game 2 on Tuesday and that was helped with 61 and 62-point efforts by the pair in the second and fourth quarter respectively. Chris David of weighed in on the total for Game 3 and offered up his handicap.

“Bettors continue to bet into the ‘under’ in this series and I can’t disagree with the lean based on the offensive form for Denver and San Antonio’s reluctance to shoot from 3-point land, which is a rarity in the NBA. Even though Nuggets ended up with 114 in Game 2, the offense only had 56 points in the first 30 minutes,” David said. “The stars aligned for ‘everybody’ and they put up 58 points in the final quarter and a half of action. Will that confidence and momentum travel to San Antonio? It certainly could but backing the high side seems iffy, especially knowing that Denver watched the ‘under’ go 25-16 outside of the Pepsi Center this season and that included a 9-4 mark to the low side in away games since the All-Star break.” The ‘under’ is on a 22-8 run over the past few months of Denver games and all five of the six meetings between these teams resulted in games that failed to eclipse the posted total, so trend-trackers are right to favor the low-side. The ‘under’ is 17-6 in the last 23 games involving San Antonio and likely wouldn’t have gotten there in Game 2 if it weren’t for Murray’s flurry. It’s worth wondering whether finding his stroke will lead to his team turning the corner and playing like the favorite in this series that they were expected to be or if his outburst was simply a band-aid masking how bad the Nuggets have otherwise been, not only against San Antonio but down the stretch as they seemed to fade some despite finishing as Northwest Division champs.

“Denver’s final six road games of the season all came against playoff teams. Not only did the team struggle to a 1-5 record in those contests, they allowed 115 PPG. Make a note that Denver had a 6.2 difference (103.6, 109.8 PPG) in its home and away defensive scoring numbers this season, which was ranked 28th in the league. Coincidentally, San Antonio was 30th in difference and the unit was much stronger at home (106 PPG),” VI’s David points out. “That defensive effort helped the Spurs close the season with a 16-4 mark at the AT&T Center and that included five straight wins against playoff teams. In those victories, they only allowed 105.4 PPG and the top two betting choices to win the NBA Finals (Bucks, Warriors) were in that group too. With all those numbers considered, I would lean to the Denver Team Total Under (104) on Thursday.”

There are no injury concerns for this one. Ed Malloy, David Guthrie and Mark Lindsay will be the NBA’s officials.

Western Conference First Round – Game 3
No. 1 Golden State at No. 8 L.A. Clippers (TNT, 10:40 p.m. ET) -- Series tied 1-1
Apr. 13 - Warriors (-13.5) 121 vs. Clippers 104 (Under 233)
Apr. 15 - Clippers (+13.5) 135 at Warriors 131 (Over 234)

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)

Losing DeMarcus Cousins hurt the Warriors since it’s always painful to lose a teammate, especially a popular one, but his departure to a torn quad that will likely keep him out for the remainder of the postseason played absolutely no role in what transpired over the game’s final quarter-and-a-half. Cousins’ injury came in the first quarter, long before Golden State built a 31-point lead it would eventually blow as the Clippers engineered the biggest playoff comeback in league history.

Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell continued to have their way in the series, which is what Steve Kerr and his staff must find a way to neutralize most, but it’s hard to imagine this series against the eight-seed Clippers becoming too complicated for the two-time defending champs. Kevon Looney, who is in line to split time with Andrew Bogut in replacing Cousins inside, shot 6-for-6 and finished with a career-high 19 points, while Patrick Beverley’s pesky defense against Kevin Durant proved to be a nuisance but certainly wasn’t keeping the Warriors from executing in the manner they wanted to for the better part of three quarters. They simply took their foot off the gas, lost focus and were caught by a team that has one of the league’s most gifted playmakers and individual scorers in Sixth Man of the Year lock Lou Williams, not to mention a number of knock-down shooters in veteran Danilo Gallinari and rookie Landry Shamet, whose late 3-pointer gave the Clippers the stunning upset.

Oddsmakers stopped short of making the Warriors a double-digit favorite in L.A. but are expecting a high-scoring affair in placing this total at 237 as an opener – the highest figure we’ve seen to date throughout all eight matchups.

Can Golden State, embarrassed and angry at the fact they’ve guaranteed themselves at least another game in this first-round series, respond on the road better than they did at Oracle, where they followed up a 21-turnover Game 1 by committing 22 in Monday’s loss? Durant was the main culprit with nine miscues and fouled out of Game 2 after being ejected in Game 1, so it’s clear that Doc Rivers’ plan to have Beverley pester him for the entire time he’s on the floor has worked to take him out of his game.

Durant addressed the situation on Wednesday and vowed to be better, but stopped short of saying he’d look to shoot more or deviate in any way from his typical style.

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 decrease given Cousins’ injury and their erratic showing in this series. They still have more than enough to win a third straight title and become the first team in league history to participate in five straight Finals, but the contrast between how they’ve opened the postseason and how potential semifinal opponent Utah has handled their business has been glaring.

This first road game of the 2019 postseason thus becomes a statement game for the Warriors, so it’s no surprise to see bettors have jumped all over them pushing the number from its opener (7.5) up to 8.5 where it resides at most shops.

Scott Foster, Jason Phillips and Scott Twardoski are the officials for Game 3, which is worth knowing since Foster has a reputation for being pro-Warriors and Phillips is a noted ‘over’ ref. The high-side has prevailed in 11 of the last 15 games involving Golden State.

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