What a start to the NBA Playoffs yesterday. The first three games went to the road teams, including a thriller in Los Angeles with the Golden State Warriors snatching home-court advantage away from the Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks sending a loud salvo across the bow of the top-seeded Pacers. I know I wrote earlier that the Pacers would win that series without much worry. Um… it’ already time to worry. I thought we’d see the Pacers team that handled OKC last weekend at home and the Atlanta team that limped to 38 wins. Instead we saw “bad Pacers” chucking up terrible shots and looking VERY rattled by the Hawks offensive aggression. So yes, they are in trouble. And yes, I already regret not taking the Hawks at +450, even though I still think the Pacers will win this series, it looks like a seven-gamer possibility (which means great potential hedging opportunities at worst…)
Today we get the four remaining series openers, so let’s see if we can better yesterday’s split with a pair of winners.
Today’s Free Picks:
Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls -4.5 (Total: 180.5)
This is an interesting series to me, as I’m not sure the Bulls are quite as good as the mythology has grown around them lately, and I have no idea what to expect from the Wizards talented but very young backcourt. Is this the series where John Wall introduces himself to mainstream America as a legitimate up and coming superstar? Or is it the series where the young guns in Wall and Beal get very frustrated by the Bulls physicality and quickly succumb to the veteran team with home court advantage?
Washington took two of three in the season series, including a nice win in Chicago. However, it is the most recent game, a twenty point home loss to the Bulls which gives one slight pause before picking the Wizards. DJ Augistine ran wild in that contest, scoring 25 points and outplaying John Wall. I don’t think that’ll happen again in this series, but it was a really ominous sign just two weeks before this series commences.
That said, I think Washington has a nice blend of quickness and athleticism and that their guards will be a significant advantage in this series. Trevor Ariza is one of the more underrated players in the league, and a healthy Marcin Gortat gives them a little size to matchup with Joakim Noah. I like Washington to hang around today, if not outright steal the opener in the fashion of three of the four underdogs yesterday.
Portland Trailblazers at Houston Rockets -5.5 (Total: 215.5)
The Rockets took three of four this season against Portland, and have some very favorable matchups in this series. The Blazers have the better point guard in Damian Lillard, but it will be very interesting to see how he handles the consistent pestering and defensive chirpiness from Patrick Beverly as this series wears on. And LaMarcus Alderidge is a legit top-ten MVP guy, but if he starts to get lose, I imagine it’s nothing that Dwight Howard can’t corral.
I like Houston to win this series a little easier than most people expect, and I think they make a loud statement tonight. They have too much offensive firepower for the Blazers to match. The Rockets averaged 116 points in their four games against Portland. If they get anywhere close to that output, it’ll be a quick series for Portland.