The favorites continued to reign in the NBA Playoffs with two more winning last night and one coming just a single basket short of covering (the Spurs, who still won to push the series to 3-0). Four games are on tap today, and most have slimmer spreads, with a pair of favorites laying less than a bucket on the road. SO will the trend continue today? Only the Clippers are an aggressive favorite, so from a Vegas perspective at least, perhaps we can finally expect a full day of decent basketball. Either way, with one exception every game is pretty close to a pick ’em today.
And lest fans get too bored, despite the lack of an overall compelling first round, we still have a likely Spurs/Thunder and Clippers/Warriors two weeks of bliss just about ten days away, so hang in there…
Let’s just tell it like it is. I just capped off my worst week of playoff picks in seven years. And I’m not real thrilled about it. So consider the pressure solely on my shoulders to start delivering some winners – no excuses, but nothing to it but to do it – time to dig our way out and that is just the aim today with a pair of playoff picks.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Toronto Raptors -2 at Indiana Pacers
Toronto looked out of sorts and got handled with relative ease in their opening game at home. The Pacers returned the favor in Game Three, their first on their own home floor, and now the series is back on serve with the Raptors leading 2-1. That makes today’s game an enormously pivotal one; are we in store for a real series or does Toronto completely erase the first loss and start turning their focus to the Heat (or Hornets, but probably the Heat).
Indiana has defended Toronto well. Their All Star backcourt is shooting under 40% and despite a good fourth quarter in Game Three, both have been pretty below average this series. Perhaps one or both shakes off the funk today, or perhaps it is simply a schematic advantage that the Pacers possess in this series. Frank Vogel is one of the more underrated coaches in the league and has a knack for getting far more than is warranted from this undertalented Pacer team which is essentially Paul George and some dudes. They went 24-17 at home this season and is 7-3 in their last ten at Bankers Life.
This has been an odd series so far, with every game being a double digit deficit despite two of the three games being won by the road team. I like some normalcy to creep back in to the picture with the home team playing better and both teams competing. In the end, I’ll take the slight upset; Indiana winning at home and forcing this series to become perhaps the ONLY real series of the opening round.
Toronto’s guards have shot the ball so poorly that a similar effort and decent efficiency from Indiana at home would be able to snatch them a huge win. That’s where I am headed this afternoon.
Los Angeles Clippers -1.5 at Portland Trailblazers
I never thought this would be a series despite so many popular predictions to the contrary. Tonight, look for LAC to land the death-punch and knock out the Blazers. Sure, the Blazers are 18-3 in their last 21 home games, but the Clippers are 7-0 since Blake returned and I think they are eager to put this series to bed and get ready to give Golden State a lot better series than many expect. This is a Clippers team that was EXPECTED to contend for a title before the season. Of course, back in October we had no idea that San Antonio and Golden State would record epic, legendary regular seasons and that Blake would miss nearly 50 games. Now that he is back, it is fair to see them a real threat in the West – still a longer shot, but at least a fourth legit contender.
Portland has struggled mightily as Damian Lillard has shot just over 30% and CJ McCollum has averaged just 12 points. That is a quick recipe to go down 2-0 in a series. I expect them to bounce back and play better tonight – and so does Vegas – that’s why they are only a 1.5 point ‘dog despite being outscored by 41 points in the first two games. But I don’t think it is enough. If the Clippers can continue to get solid bench play they are essentially playing 9 on 2. They are deeper and better at just about every position on the floor. Look for them to exploit those advantages and for DeAndre Jordan to continue to wreak havoc.