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NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals Previews

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Will the Milwaukee money train continue rumbling through the Eastern Conference brackets now that the Toronto Raptors are standing on the track? The answer will start to become clear in the series opener Wednesday night (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET)

As we discussed last week, Bucks backers are rolling to riches so far in the playoffs:

• Milwaukee went 4-0 against the spread in a firstround sweep of the Detroit Pistons. The Bucks covered the spread by 22.5, 5.5, 7, and 11 points against lines of -12.5, -15.5, -9, and -12. If the Bucks had been -20 in their two home games, and -15 in their two road games, they still would have swept the board!

• Milwaukee went 4-1 ATS in the second round against the Boston Celtics. Point spread covers were by 12.5, 8.5, 13, and 16.5 points after the Bucks were shocked in their home opener. If Milwaukee had been -20 at home vs. Boston, and -12 on the road, the Bucks still would have cashed three of five tickets.

Picking winners isn’t supposed to be this easy. Regular season Bucks backers won at a 60% clip. Playoff supporters are at 89% through two rounds.

It’s difficult for #1 seeds to do well against the number because they’re typically priced to perfection. Oddsmakers and sharps have underestimated what that means for this young juggernaut.

There are already rumblings that topping Toronto will be a much tougher task. Pundits are saying Milwaukee “hasn’t played anybody yet.” Detroit wasn’t a playoff caliber team even though it qualified. Boston rolled over once its destiny became clear. Kawhi Leonard is a championship caliber player. Toronto doesn’t have the same types of chemistry issues that plagued Boston.

That’s true. But, Toronto came very close to joining Boston on the sidelines, surviving this past Sunday’s seventh game of the Philadelphia series at the buzzer. That was a virtual tie in a game where Toronto was laying -6.5 points. The Raptors struggled to match second-round expectations whenever Joel Embiid of the Sixers wasn’t under the weather or hobbling on a bad knee. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a faster Embiid.

For now, betting markets are giving Milwaukee its due respect. The Bucks opened at -6.5 at home against Toronto in Game 1. That suggests they’d be about -3 on a neutral court, and a short dog in Toronto. The fact that sharps didn’t bet the Bucks right out of the gate at -6.5 is telling us they’d prefer the underdog Raptors at 7. The line would already be Milwaukee -7 globally if sharps wanted to lay the opener.

On the money line, Milwaukee is centered globally around -260 to win Game 1 (the Raptors return 220), and -330 to win the whole series (the Raptors return 270). Accounting for vigorish, the market is saying the Bucks are about 70% to win the opener, 75% to advance to the NBA Finals.

Who ya’ got?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Is there any doubt that the Golden State Warriors can win the 2019 NBA Championship even without Kevin Durant?

Some media pundits expressed doom and gloom when Durant injured his calf in Game 5 of Golden State’s series with the Houston Rockets. Though Durant is obviously a great player, this was inexplicable. Golden State had proved its championship pedigree long before Durant even joined the franchise. Making three pointers and playing great defense works, no matter who’s doing it!

• Making three-pointers: Golden State was a gorgeous 17 of 33 (51.5%) from behind the arc Tuesday night in its’ 116-94 rout of Portland as 7-point favorites. The Splash Brothers still know how to drain treys. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined go to 12 of 24 themselves. This after the Warriors were 16 of 38 (42.1%) in their second-round series finale at Houston. Curry and Thompson were 11 of 24 that night. Ball movement was a critical part of Golden State’s offensive attack pre-Durant. The Warriors just went back to doing that again to free up open looks from long range. The offense works “differently” without ballmagnet Durant. But, it still works.

• Playing Great Defense: Many in the media overlooked Golden State’s stellar defense in past seasons because playing at a fast pace created misleadingly high scores. The Warriors excelled at “defensive efficiency,” which is scoring adjusted for pace. This team knows how to disrupt shots and force mistakes. Tuesday night, the Warriors held Portland to just 42% on two-point attempts (23 of 56), 25% on three-point attempts (7 of 28), while forcing 21 turnovers despite a relatively low pace factor of 95.3.

The Warriors also have a knack for frustrating opposing stars. Tuesday, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers was just four of 12 from the floor in 37 minutes, while committing seven turnovers. Granting, this was peak Golden State…and there’s no guarantee that peak Golden State is going to show up every game. Even during the best of times, the Warriors had a bad habit of taking their foot off the gas when they didn’t feel threatened. Maybe that will make Thursday night’s rematch much more interesting (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

Offshore openers for Game 2 went up at Golden State -8 minutes after Tuesday’s blowout ended. Typically, both sharps and squares look to bet the bounce back on Game One losers. That could drive the game-day closer down to 7.5 or less. If that doesn’t happen, it’s a sign that important market influences believe Golden State is in firm control of its own destiny.

For now, Golden State is a bit better than 85% to advance past Portland using no-vigorish series prices, and is currently centered around 67% globally to win the NBA Championship as a betting favorite over the survivor of the Milwaukee/Toronto series because of reports suggesting Durant may be able to return to the court soon.

With or without Durant, Golden State is championship material. 

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