Unwavering. Unflappable. Those are the words I would use to describe my support of the Los Angeles Clippers, and I finally feel somewhat vindicated after what just transpired in the last two games of this series.
The Clippers have tied this series with a pair of victories in which they outscored the Jazz by 23.2 points per 100 possessions and dropped an offensive rating of 132.4 in non-garbage time minutes. Los Angeles seems to have discovered something on both ends of the floor. Ty Lue has embraced a small-ball lineup that has all but negated Rudy Gobert’s presence in the middle of the floor. Their defense, a mix of switch-all man coverage and zone, has held Utah to just 1.136 points per possession in non-garbage time minutes through the last two games. All of these things have led to two comfortable victories for Los Angeles, but now they must take the show on the road, something easier said than done.
Paul George was brilliant in Los Angeles, scoring 62 total points in the last two games on 21-of-44 shooting (47.7%) from the floor. However, he was 12-of-35 (34.3%) from the floor in Games 1 and 2 in Utah. Were the last two games something we should expect going forward, or will he revert back to the inefficient scorer he was to start the series? Marcus Morris was 1-of-16 from deep in the first three games of the series, but broke out with a 5-of-6 night on Monday. The Clippers do not need him to shoot 83.3% from the perimeter every night, but the 39.7% clip he put up in the opening round would be nice.
Utah is a brilliant team that can shoot the lights out. Los Angeles has yet to contain Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging 37.3 points on 46.4% shooting from the floor, but the Jazz offense fell too often into Spider Mitchell isolation ball over the last two games. Each player off the bench for Quin Snyder that registered more than five minutes the last two games has posted a negative plus/minus. The Jazz need more from players not named Donovan Mitchell, and the status of Mike Conley looms large with that being such a dire need. Maybe he returns for Game 5, but will he be fully healthy?
Regardless, we have a series and I would argue the Clippers, the team I believe to be the best in the conference, are in the driver’s seat.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
Milwaukee Bucks (-2.5, 220.5) at Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant was looking at a playoff game in which he would have to shoulder the load by himself, but early Tuesday morning it was reported that James Harden was upgraded to doubtful. Harden has not played since Game 1 of this series, and it is believed that he will test his hamstring before the game today in order to “find a way to get cleared” for this contest. His presence changes things if he is healthy, but the possibility that he will not be hindered by a soft tissue injury like a hamstring is very low. The market believes his presence is worth something, though, as Bucks -5 was starting to appear in a few shops before the news. As of this morning, the consensus line is Milwaukee -4 at most shops.
Injury situation aside, I am not sure how one can feel confident in Milwaukee at this point. The Bucks offense has been poor, averaging just 97.2 points per 100 possessions and shooting 28.6% from 3-point range. Much of that poor offense stems from decision making, something that I am not sure changes as we head into Game 5 of this series. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to settle for 3-point attempts early in the shot clock, and both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton fall back to isolation ball too often. Are bettors who are laying an extremely heavy line here confident those issues will resolve themselves?
The total is pretty fascinating in this game as well. In Game 1, the total closed at 239.5, a full 21 points higher than the total on the board right now. On the surface, it might seem like there is immense value on this number, but I would stress the difference in this situation. Harden is injured (unlikely to play as of my writing) and Irving is already ruled out. The point guard position is a mess and Mike James is likely going to get a majority of minutes running the offense, which could lead to some stagnant offense for Brooklyn. Keep that in mind when handicapping this total.