Wednesday’s Playoff Essentials

First Round Predictions | First Round Odds | Playoff Trends

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Western Conference First Round – Game 5
No. 5 Utah at No. 4 Houston (ESPN, 8:05 p.m. ET) -- Rockets lead 3-1
April 14 – Rockets (-6.5) 122 vs. Jazz 90 (Under 212.5)
April 17 – Rockets (-6.5) 118 vs. Jazz 98 (Over 215.5)
April 20 – Rockets (+2) 104 at Jazz 101 (Under 215.5)
April 22 – Jazz (+2) 107 vs. Rockets 91 (Under 215)

Donovan Mitchell wasn’t allowing the Rockets to sweep the Jazz out of the playoffs in Salt Lake City.

The second-year guard scored 19 of his 31 points in the game-deciding fourth quarter and Utah’s defense held Houston to a playoff-low scoring output in a 107-91 win that allowed them to stave off elimination for at least a few more days, forcing them back on a long flight back to Texas’ largest city.

While it remains to be seen whether the Jazz simply postponed the inevitable, their fourth-quarter dominance featured exactly what they need in order to stunningly win four straight and pull a second consecutive first-round upset. Utah defended extremely well at the rim, altering shots and controlling the boards, winning that battle by a 52-35 count while outscoring Houston 52-22 in the paint. For the Rockets, it marked their first game being held under 100 points since a loss in Milwaukee on March 26. It was the team’s lowest scoring output since Nov. 10 and only the fourth time in 2019 that they failed to reach the century mark.

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

Mitchell played closer after a slow start and demonstrated a fabulous will to win that served as a driving force, but the Jazz probably would’ve won Game 4 if he hadn’t exploded. What will ultimately decide whether this first-round series can be extended again is whether their strong defense can travel. Houston averaged 120 points in convincingly winning the first two games of the series, winning by a combined margin of 52 points. Center Rudy Gobert and power forward Derrick Favors must again control the paint and Jae Crowder has to serve as an asset at both ends, which will be far more difficult to manage on the road. Counting the playoffs, the Jazz are now 21-22 outside Salt Lake City. Houston’s 33-10 mark at home is better than all teams except the Bucks, Nuggets, Raptors and Trail Blazers.

The Rockets’ x-factor is the health of center Clint Capela, whose lack of activity was glaring and allowed Utah’s bigs to settle in and impose their will in the manner they did. Capela, who averaged 11.3 points and 12 rebounds over the first three wins, managed just four points and seven boards in Game 4, missing five of his six field goal attempts. He revealed he’s been diagnosed with a pair of viruses (adenovirus and kiebsiella for those medically-inclined) that has really sapped his energy and are guaranteed to keep him from being 100 percent over the next few games. I’m sure there’s no one who wants to get back on another flight to Utah less than Capela would be if he’s feeling ill, but he’s up against a difficult matchup and will need teammates to bail him out given that he’s operating at a diminished capacity. Expect Kenneth Faried to get more minutes if Capela remains as ineffective as he was in Game 4. NBA expert Kevin Rogers points out that while the Rockets have had a solid run in home series-clinchers, they haven’t been reliable against the number.

“The Rockets have won three of the last four close-out games in the playoffs at home since 2017 with the lone defeat coming to the Warriors in last season’s conference finals. However, Houston owns a 1-3 ATS mark in these games, which includes a non-cover against Utah in last season’s Game 5 of the second round as 11 ½-point favorites in a 112-102 victory,” said Rogers. “Although it’s a small sample size, the Jazz have posted a perfect 2-0 ATS record when facing elimination on the road in the playoffs under Quin Snyder, and this is the biggest number Utah is receiving as an underdog in this series.”

The Rockets finished off a 122-90 Game 1 win with a dominant fourth quarter and led by 28 points entering the final 12 minutes of Game 2, so the Jazz haven’t had many stretches of success at the Toyota Center in this postseason. Each team won on the other’s home court once during the regular season and got blown out there as well, but most of this Utah roster has had limited success in the Rockets’ building and found themselves eliminated there in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals last year (112-102).

The low-side in 17-6-1 over the Rockets’ last 24 contests since the beginning of March and has gone 3-1 in the series. The Rockets must find a way to limit offensive boards after being outscored 17-3 on second-chance points in Game 4. Harden is averaging 28.8 points in the series after leading the NBA with a scoring clip of 36.1 during the regular season and is shooting just 37 percent from the field over the four games, so we’ll see if he can put together a big game to close things out. The Jazz covered in all three games where they were an underdog of 7.5 points or more this season.

Western Conference First Round – Game 5
No. 8 L.A. Clippers at No. 1 Golden State (TNT, 10:40 p.m. ET) -- Warriors lead 3-1
Apr. 13 - Warriors (-13.5) 121 vs. Clippers 104 (Under 233)
Apr. 15 - Clippers (+13.5) 135 at Warriors 131 (Over 234)
Apr. 18 - Warriors (-9.5) 132 at Clippers 105 (Over 234)
Apr. 21 - Warriors (-9.5) 113 at Clippers 105 (Under 236)

It’s been an eventful first-round series for the Warriors, who have unexpectedly lost a game, lost their starting center and on occasion, lost their tempers in attempting to dispose of the pesky eighth-seeded Clippers. While many of the team’s players call Los Angeles home, no Golden State player or coach wants a return trip there for a Game 6. It’s time to start concentrating on the next round, especially with the Rockets on the brink of clinching against the Jazz.

The Warriors have largely dominated the series against L.A. outside of a remarkable Game 2 second-collapse that saw them blow a 31-point lead, evening things up at a game apiece. They’ve since taken control of the series, but Klay Thompson indicated that the team is aggravated that it let anyone walk out of Oracle Arena with a victory, something they’re looking to ensure doesn’t become a common occurrence during this three-peat bid.

For whatever reason, the Warriors didn’t look sharp to open the playoffs, following up a 21-turnover Game 1 by committing 22 in the Game 2 setback as Kevin Durant racked up nine. After fouling out of Game 2 following a Game 1 ejection, he found his game at Staples Center, dominating out-sized guard Patrick Beverley, who has been in a pest role against him all series. DeMarcus Cousins is likely done for the rest of the playoffs, Stephen Curry has struggled with his shot and Klay Thompson has been hit-or-miss, so the team’s most consistent All-Star thus far has actually been Draymond Green. He's the lone injury concern for either side but plans to play through a wrist issue.

It would be silly to write that the Warriors need to acquire confidence from a close-out game in this series given all that they’ve accomplished, but it would be nice to see multiple guys find a groove in the same game, especially if you’re up for laying the points here. As a favorite of 13.5 points or more this calendar year, Golden State is 8-3 SU but just 6-5 against the number. Each of their losses in that situation has occurred since March 10, including the Game 2 loss to the Clippers.

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 and have had their odds adjusted to 1-to-3 to win the West (-300) and 5-to-8 (-160) to win it all, so we’re reaching the point where you’re unlikely to find better odds on the defending two-time champs unless they fall behind early in any of their upcoming series. They were made a heavy favorite (-360) in a potential series with the Rockets by Westgate, who have Houston at +280.

Like many other pundits, Chris David of expects Golden State to advance but laying two touchdowns in Game 5 looks like a toss-up based what we’ve seen from this season’s Warriors squad.

He explained, “Including the first two games of this series, Golden State has gone 21-4 at home this season as a double-digit home favorite. For our purposes, Steve Kerr’s team has gone 12-13 ATS while the ‘under’ has produced a 15-10 record. Since the Warriors started making noise in the playoffs in 2015, the team has been favored by 10-plus points 22 times in the postseason. Golden State has only lost two of those games and that includes the recent Game 2 stunner to the Clippers. While their regular season ATS numbers were basically a stalemate, Golden State is just 8-14 ATS as a double-digit favorite in the playoffs.”

“In last year’s playoffs, the Warriors won their close-out games by an average of 12.3 PPG and that number was inflated a bit by their 23-point win over the Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. They only averaged 105.3 PPG and that lack of production helped the ‘under’ go 4-0. While that was the trend last season, two years prior was a much different story and their first run with Kevin Durant was explosive in 2017. In those four close-out games, the Warriors averaged 126.7 PPG and won by an average of 18.5 PPG.”

Golden State has lost just three of the last 20 games it has played against the Clippers at Oracle since 2012 and is 28-12 overall against them in that span, which includes a 17-3 run since ’15.

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