Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Sunday's Late Tips

First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Eastern Conference First Round – Game 4
No. 2 Toronto at No. 7 Orlando (TNT, 7:05 p.m. ET) -- Raptors lead 2-1
April 13 - Magic (+9.5) 104 at Raptors 101 (Under 212.5)
April 16 – Raptors (-11) 111 vs. Magic 82 (Under 212.5)
April 19 – Raptors (-5.5) 98 at Magic 93 (Under 211)

The Magic lost its first home playoff game since 2012 but were able to generate some confidence through a late run that helped them flirt with an epic comeback. Kyle Lowry saved the Raptors by getting to a loose ball faster than a pair of Orlando players, helping produce a pair of free-throws that put the game away and set the table for Sunday night’s fourth installment.

Toronto forwards Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam have each had excellent showings in the series, while Magic All-Star center Nikola Vucevic has been bottled up and forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac have put both their brilliant potential and inconsistency on display.

Orlando was able to steal the series opener as D.J. Augustin put together one of the best games of his career as Lowry struggled mightily, finishing scoreless in 34 minutes after missing all seven of his shots. Augustin has shot 4-for-13 since his 25-point Game 1 outburst, averaging just eight points over the last two contests. All five starters and top reserves Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams scored in double-figures in the opener, but only Gordon and Ross have been able to score in double-figures in every game of the series. The Raptors have demonstrated an ability to clamp down more than the Magic have been able to despite Orlando being the nation’s top defensive team since the All-Star break.

Leonard comes off his worst game in the series, shooting 5-for-19 after shooting 60 percent (25-for-40) in the first two games in Toronto. He’s just as likely to play decoy so that Siakam and Marc Gasol can do damage inside, especially since Isaac’s length has been a major factor in the paint and getting into passing lanes.

The Magic finally got Nikola Vucevic to settle in and deliver his usual production in Game 3, which is something head coach Steve Clifford was thrilled to see considering there was little he could say to help the All-Star settle down and be sharper in dealing with the various coverage looks and double-teams he’s seen.

Gasol and Serge Ibaka each got four fouls whistled against them throughout the course of Game 3, so their ability to avoid early trouble will be a key here. Another point of contention will be the play of Ross off the Magic’s bench since he’s the player most capable of delivering a scoring flurry. After shooting 2-for-11 in the win, he’s averaged 19.5 points over the last two contests, shooting 8-for-20 (40 percent) from 3-point range. Keeping him from getting going will be important for the Raptors to pull off another road win.

After watching the ‘under’ go 3-0 in the first three games of this series, oddsmakers sent out a total of 207 for Game 4 and Chris David of believes the number could be lower but the better investment on Sunday night is on a Team Total.

He explained, “the Raptors and Magic have proven themselves as very solid defensive teams and their size and athleticism have taken away plenty of easy baskets in this series. Fortunately for Toronto, it has more offensive firepower and that’s been the difference.

"Rather than mess around with the game total, I’m going to ride a solid playoff trend on Toronto. Since the NBA’s club from Canada has returned to the postseason in 2014, they’ve played 25 road games and they’ve been held to less than 100 in 19 of them. When you add in new names like Leonard and Gasol who come from teams (Spurs, Grizzlies) that grinded out wins in the playoffs with defense, I certainly believe that their footprints have carried over to this squad. I’m going to lean Toronto’s Team Total (106) Under and stick with the probabilities.”

Western Conference First Round – Game 4
No. 3 Portland at No. 6 Oklahoma City (TNT, 9:35 p.m. ET) -- Blazers lead 2-1
April 14 – Blazers (+3) 104 vs. Thunder 99 (Under 224.5)
April 16 – Blazers (-1) 114 vs. Thunder 94 (Under 224.5)
April 19 – Thunder (-7.5) 120 vs. Blazers 108 (Over 221.5)

This series has been a wild ride so far.

Center Enes Kanter dominated Game 1 and ended up being the reason the Trail Blazers were able to survive blowing a massive first-half lead. Guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 62 points in a Game 2 blowout, but the overwhelming takeaway from the first two games of this series was that the Thunder’s season-long Achilles’ heel was ultimately going to spell their downfall. Oklahoma City shot 10-for-61 from 3-point range in the first two games. The main issue that had kept them from a top-four finish in the Western Conference had kept them from gaining a split in Portland.

The buzzards were circling on Friday, having descended on Oklahoma’s capital city to pick at the carcass of Russell Westbrook if the Thunder would’ve fallen behind 3-0 to place themselves one loss from a third straight first-round exit.

The predatory bird posse is still in town since Portland can still head home with a vice grip on the series, but the Thunder have to be encouraged after shooting 15-for-29 from 3-point range in holding serve in Game 3. Although Paul George continued to struggle in shooting 2-for-7 from beyond the arc, teammates Westbrook, Jerami Grant, Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schroder combined to knock down 13 of 18 (72.2 percent). That same foursome shot 3-for-33 over the course of the first two games.

Although Westbrook’s matchup with Lillard is getting the most attention, this series is going to boil down to whether the Thunder can knock down enough shots to impose their will. This definitely has the potential to be one of those series where the home team wins every matchup, but the Thunder opened the series as the betting favorite despite being the higher seed and actually closed as road chalk in Game 1, not to mention laying multiple possessions at home.

Portland has had wild fluctuations in its offensive efficiency, getting stifled in two of three second-quarters as OKC has been able to lock in defensively. The Trail Blazers own a 39-point first quarter in Game 1 and scored 37 in the third in Game 2 and 43 in Game 3, so they’ve been able to find a rhythm and knock the Thunder off their heels enough to invest in taking the points given what we’ve seen thus far. The Blazers offense finished only behind the Warriors, Rockets and Bucks during the regular season in efficiency and is facing a statistical peer on the boards in OKC, but they have to be encouraged that they’ve been able to maintain without center Jusuf Nurkic, who they lost late in the season. It now remains to be seen if they have the stamina to continue pulling the rope.

The emotional fire should certainly be present since these teams genuinely dislike one another outside of Kanter and Steven Adams, who were good buddies as teammates on the Thunder. Lillard and Westbrook won’t back down from one another, while George ruffled Portland’s feathers by dunking unnecessarily at the end of Game 4. The points didn’t even end up counting, but the Trail Blazers took it as a sign of disrespect.

Lillard has averaged 30.3 points in the series, while McCollum has also been incredibly impressive and shot 5-for-8 from 3-point range in quickly adapting to the sight lines at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Seth Curry, Rodney Hood and Evan Turner combined for just six points on 1-for-6 shooting and had nowhere near the impact they enjoyed in Portland, so getting significant improvements from the bench is yet another way the Blazers can steal this game.

George and Westbrook can no longer be counted on to consistently hit from the perimeter, but we’ll see if they’re able to get to the line and hold serve to ensure a return trip to Oklahoma City.

VI’s David touched on the lack of playoff success that Portland has had with Lillard running the show in his piece on Friday and he’s not sure if the Trail Blazers can flip the switch but another competitive game is likely.

“Including Friday’s Game 3 loss, Portland is now 1-17 SU and 3-14-1 ATS in its last 18 road playoff games and the lone victory has an asterisk next to it because the Clippers were hobbled in the 2016 postseason. The game on Friday was closer than the final margin and we’ve seen the Blazers play well away from home, especially since the All-Star break,” David said. “During this span, the team closed 11-5 on the road and that included a respectable 4-4 mark versus playoff teams. However, a 2-5 record in its last seven games as a road underdog doesn’t give me much confidence. Portland has gone 20-9 off a loss this season and with the line dropping for Game 4, you can see what the oddsmakers are thinking. I’m expecting OKC to even-up the series on Sunday but it won’t be easy and this contest will be decided by single-digits.”

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

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