Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Saturday's Late Tips

First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Eastern Conference First Round – Game 3
No. 1 Milwaukee at No. 8 Detroit (ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET) -- Bucks lead 2-0
April 14 - Bucks (-15) 121 vs. Pistons 86 (Under 215.5)
April 17 – Bucks (-15.5) 120 vs. Pistons 99 (Over 215)

2018-19 Regular Season (Bucks 4-0, Under 2-1-1)
Dec. 5 - Bucks (-7.5) 115 vs. Pistons 92 (Under 225.5)
Dec. 17 – Bucks (-3) 107 at Pistons 104 (Under 225.5)
Jan. 1 – Bucks (-10) 121 at Pistons 98 (Push 219)
Jan. 29 – Bucks (-7) 115 at Pistons 105 (Over 216)

The Pistons are still playing the wait-and-see game with Blake Griffin, and if we are going to see him in the series, it figures to be here.

Although the organization would prefer he sit out after knee soreness foiled his finest season in the final stages of helping Detroit return to the playoffs, the 30-year-old franchise star is itching to play and hasn’t stopped rehabbing in an attempt to try and play.

The rumor mill has worked overtime regarding his return since he went from ruled out to nearly suiting up for Game 2, while conspiracy theorists believe the team was just trying to keep hope alive to ensure a sellout for the first playoff game in Little Caesar’s Arena history. Griffin wants to be a part of it and didn’t enjoy feeling powerless watching his teammates get largely destroyed in Milwaukee by the top-seeded Bucks.

The Pistons have been outscored by 56 points through the first two games and have only played one solid half out of four, surprisingly taking a 59-58 lead into halftime in Wednesday’s Game 2. The Bucks got busy coming out of the locker room to quickly take control and have imposed their will whenever they’ve needed to take control, doing so in the first few minutes to send a message in the opener and immediately after the break to squash all hope.

If he is, this series at least has a chance to be compelling.

Without Griffin, any lift the Pistons figure to get from a crowd that will get hyped up by star PA announcer Mason and the buzz of the playoffs being back in town figures to be short-lived. Luke Kennard has led Detroit in scoring, averaging 20 points per game while shooting 8-for-11 from 3-point range. The sniper the previous regime mistakenly took over Utah’s Donovan Mitchell with the No. 12 pick has started paying some dividends and caught fire down the stretch to help Detroit finish at .500 and reach the playoffs, but Kennard can’t be your leading scorer at this stage of the season.

If Griffin were able to come back and command some double-teams, the Pistons have gotten shooters Kennard, Wayne Ellington and Langston Galloway plenty of reps to try and gun their way to an upset. Without Griffin to worry about, the Bucks will be able to play straight up and utilize their depth to alter shots, trusting Brook Lopez to handle Andre Drummond’s limited post game one-on-one.

The Bucks are coasting by sharing the ball offensively. All five starters have scored at least eight points in both games. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging a team-high 25 points but only played 30 minutes in Game 2 after playing less than half of the opener. Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton have taken full advantage of their matchups and center Brook Lopez has led his team in plus-minus despite averaging just 11 points per game on 7-for-15 shooting.

Complacency is the only thing that’s going to keep the Bucks from sweeping the Pistons if Griffin stays away, and realistically, that’s pushing into dramatic territory. Even if Milwaukee doesn’t cover in Game 4, it would likely find a way to end the series so that it can start concentrating on the Celtics. The only way I can see Detroit pulling off a victory would be Griffin returning today and giving his team a solid 35 minutes, which I’m not sure is physically possible. A perfect combination of Griffin’s contributions and the infusion of energy a home crowd can boost the Pistons would have a chance of producing an upset if the Bucks lend a had with a poor shooting night. Milwaukee didn’t exactly shoot the lights out in the first two games in Fiserv Forum, finishing 26-for-69 from 3-point range (35 percent). In two visits to Little Caesar’s Arena this season, the Bucks shot 38.5 percent (22-for-57).

In other words, this could get uglier. Keep an eye on news out of Detroit throughout the day to see if there’s definitive word on Griffin, though I doubt we’ll see any until close to tip-off. The Bucks have some mental hurdles to overcome in getting up for the possibility of his presence in the series since their focus may crash if he isn’t cleared. They can’t afford something like that on the road, at least as far as them covering a sizeable spread is concerned. The Bucks matched the Warriors as the league’s top road team during the regular season, winning 27 of 41 away from home.

Only the Clippers (+10000) were a bigger underdog entering this first round than the Pistons (+2000) were against the Bucks, who were a 5-to-4 (+125) choice to win the East at the Westgate SuperBook even before the Raptors and 76ers blew their first-round Game 1s. Milwaukee entered the playoffs +600 to win the NBA title behind favored Golden State (-200) and led the NBA in wins and margin of victory all season while ranking in the top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Westgate tweaked their odds to win the East to even money and made them +500 to win the title as Golden State came down to -180.
Milwaukee has seen the ‘over’ go 7-2 in its last nine contests. The ‘under’ has prevailed in five of the last seven games involving Detroit.

Western Conference First Round – Game 3
No. 4 Houston at No. 5 Utah (ESPN, 10:35 p.m. ET) -- Rockets lead 2-0
April 14 – Rockets (-6.5) 122 vs. Jazz 90 (Under 212.5)
April 17 – Rockets (-6.5) 118 vs. Jazz 98 (Over 215)

2018-19 Regular Season (Split 2-2, Under 3-1)
Oct. 24 – Jazz (+1) 100 at Rockets 89 (Under 217)
Dec. 6 – Jazz (-1.5) 118 vs. Rockets 91 (Under 215.5)
Dec. 17 – Rockets (-5) 102 vs. Jazz 97 (Under 212)
Feb. 2 – Rockets (+7) 125 at Jazz 98 (Over 222)

The biggest disappointments we’ve seen so far in these playoffs have all been injury-related. Detroit’s Griffin being unable to play has made an entire series unwatchable. Golden State losing DeMarcus Cousins and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid’s being unable to shake his knee soreness have significantly affected our ability to watch history unfold. It would’ve been fun to see Boogie chase a title. We’re missing out on Embiid doing his thing after emerging as one of the most physically gifted players ever.

The biggest disappointment we’ve seen from a collective unit has come out of Utah. At least fellow No. 5-seed Indiana has no Victor Oladipo as an excuse for being down 3-0 to Boston, not to mention the fact it has actually been competitive and in every fourth quarter. The Jazz and Rockets have seen more garbage time this past week than most sanitation departments.

The Rockets finished off a 122-90 Game 1 win with a dominant performance in which the only mystery by game’s end came on the total, which failed to go ‘over’ by a half-point. Houston led by 28 points entering the fourth in Game 2 and combined to finish the deal for ‘over’ bettors with a productive final few minutes in which Isaiah Hartenstein saw the floor and contributed.

The Utah Jazz didn’t expect to see Hartenstein take the floor in this series. They probably didn’t expect to be throwing Ekpe Udoh out there at any point. The ugliness factor was unpredictable.

After putting away Sunday’s Game 1 by outscoring the Jazz 39-19 over the game’s final 12 minutes, the Rockets used a 39-19 first quarter to set the tone in Wednesday’s Game 2. The symmetry was impressive. Harden scored 25 first-half points while the Jazz opened by missing 13 of their first 14 3-point attempts. Donovan Mitchell is shooting 12-for-37 from the field in this series (32 percent) and said he and his teammates simply didn’t show up in Houston. Joe Ingles has shot 4-for-12 from the field and is just 2-for-9 from 3-point range. He looks disconnected.

James Harden has averaged 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists while easily managing to deal with Utah’s gimmick defense that has served to throw it completely out of rhythm.

Getting back home and having another two full days of preparation time afford the Jazz one last opportunity to try and salvage its season since a 3-0 hole would obviously be insurmountable considering two more games await in Houston.

Utah has won eight consecutive games at home, last losing on March 11. The Jazz were humbled by the Rockets the last time the teams squared off at Vivint Smart Home Arena, losing 125-98 on Feb. 2.

Each team won on the other’s home court once during the regular season and got blown out there as well. Rudy Gobert got ejected over a beef with the refs in the second meeting, a 27-point Jazz win, but he struggled with foul trouble in one of the games and finished with just 10 points in the 27-point loss in the most recent encounter back in February.

Between its guards struggling and Gobert being unable to impose his will as he’s typically able to, it’s no wonder Utah has looked so lost. Despite averaging 16.5 points and 12 rebounds in the series, Gobert is worst on the team in plus-minus at minus-43 thus far and has failed to significantly throw off either counterpart Clint Capela nor Harden on his drives.

After watching Houston cruise past Utah in each of the first two games at the Toyota Center, the Rockets are surprisingly listed as a road underdog for Game 3. NBA expert Chris David is among the masses confused by the number.

“As they say in boxing, styles make fights and Utah doesn’t have an answer for Houston on either end of the court. Outside of Donovan Mitchell, they don’t have anybody that can create a shot and if he’s off, the Jazz are done and that’s been the case so far,” David said. “Going back to last year’s conference semifinals matchup between the pair, Houston has won eight of the past 11 encounters and the Jazz needed to explode for 116 and 118 points in two of their wins. I just don’t see this year’s group turning it on, even at home. The late-season schedule was a joke and while they went 18-6 since the All-Star break, 14 wins came against non-playoff teams and that weak competition hasn’t prepared them for this series.”

The Jazz weren’t even as impressive at home this season as they have previously been, but they’re counting on the venue change and an opportunity to get their legs up under them as a way to get back in the series. The books labeling them the ‘favorite’ is odd since no one would’ve blinked to see the Rockets in that role or for this Game 3 to have been a pick’em, but the number budged only from 3 points to 2.5 as of Saturday morning. Many looking to bet this game will be factoring in their pre-series expectations of a long series in contrast with what we’ve seen thus far. VI’s David doesn’t face that problem.

“I expected this first round outcome to be a 4-0 sweep and I’ll press that prediction with a Rockets win on Saturday. Make a note that when catching points in this year’s regular season, the Rockets went 10-8 both SU and ATS and they didn’t cover in any of their losses. They have won four of their last five games in the underdog role, all against playoff clubs, and that includes the 27-point win at Utah in early February,” David explained. “Instead of taking the minimal points, I would suggest Houston on the money-line at +125 or get cute and play an adjusted number at a global book ([...]) on the Rockets at -1 ½ (+142), -3 ½ (+173) or -5 ½ (-235) with an even better return.”

The ‘over’ has prevailed in four of the last five Jazz games, but the late-season atmosphere might have had something to do with that. The ‘under’ had gone 14-6 from Feb. 27-April 5. The low-side in 15-6-1 over the Rockets’ last 22 contests since the beginning of March.

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

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