There have been a slew of lopsided games the last few days in the NBA’s first-round playoff series, but we could be looking at a weekend that features the two best words in all of sports — Game 7. Injuries, unfortunately, were the big theme of the regular season, and it has carried over to the postseason. Luka Doncic has been battling a neck injury that has clearly hampered his performance, and swung the Mavericks-Clippers series from a potential stunning upset to a seemingly foregone conclusion in the other direction. On Sunday, the Lakers entered Game 4 against the Suns as -700 series favorites and led by 11 in the second quarter. Minutes later, Anthony Davis strained his groin and the Lakers suddenly trailed heading into the locker room. Davis never returned, and the Suns became -200 series favorites after their road victory. Joel Embiid left the court Monday night and instead of the 76ers getting a week off after a sweep of the Wizards, they got a trip back to Philly for Game 5, plus hours of trepidation for Sixers fans (and future bettors) as they await MRI results for their star center. Picking the games is what we enjoy, playing doctor and forecasting injuries is not as easy. The picks, however, have been pretty darn good, so let’s stick with it and find some winners.
BUCKS IN 7 OVER NETS + 375
Projecting a bit here, as by the time you’re reading this the Nets will have likely, and mercifully, put the Celtics out of their misery. The Nets project to be -160 series favorites over Milwaukee, and similar series in this price range have produced these odds for the underdog to win the series specifically in a seventh and deciding game. This series might decide the NBA champion as these teams are both that impressive. The Bucks will have a major rebounding and defense advantage over the “offense first, everything else second” Nets. The Bucks have three very capable wing defenders to disrupt the obscenely potent scorers of the Nets, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the few humans alive with the size and physical traits to contest Kevin Durant. Every time I am convinced the Bucks are going to win this series, I watch the Nets and see them go for a long stretch of made baskets where the ball doesn’t even seem to touch the rim. At this price, however, you can cash in as long as this series goes the distance, and either hedge off for a profit or even wait for a live betting opportunity if the Bucks get a lead and aim for a middle. This heavyweight fight will go to the scorecard, and I can’t wait to watch it.
GAME 5: HAWKS + 1.5 OVER KNICKS
This series has gone how I expected. The Knicks entered the season with their win total at 22 games in the betting market. They ascended to the No. 4 seed with defense, effort and coaching, but water usually seeks its level. There’s an old saying that your strengths get you into the playoffs and your weaknesses get you eliminated, and to me the Knicks are extremely limited. The Hawks have shooters and lottery picks all over the court, while the Knicks have a team full of castoffs who have patched together a competent regular-season team. The Hawks mauled the Knicks in Atlanta and have held a double-digit lead in all four games thus far. I expect the Hawks to punch their ticket to Round 2 with a victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Take the Hawks, plus the 1.5.
CLIPPERS -7 OVER MAVERICKS
The Mavericks had their shot. Up two games to none on Friday night, they held a 30-11 lead in the first quarter. When you let a good fighter off of the mat, usually you are the one who ends up on that mat. Since that point Friday, the Clippers turned a 19-point deficit into a 10-point victory, followed by a 26-point beatdown Sunday night in Game 4. That is a 55-point advantage in seven quarters, and I don’t see any reason to believe the Mavericks will reverse the tide on Wednesday. Doncic is clearly not fully healthy and has channeled his inner Nick Anderson at the foul line this series. The Clippers have gone to a small-ball lineup that the Mavericks look helpless in defending. And Kawhi Leonard has completely taken over and reminded everyone that not too long ago he was in the “best player in the world” conversation. This series turned on Friday night, and I don’t think it’s turning back. I’d be surprised if the Mavericks won another game, so I’ll lay the seven here.