Don’t panic! When you’re trying to solve a mystery and you have only one piece of evidence, it’s hard not to over-examine that lone shred of available data. But that’s the task for NBA playoff bettors. Fans, media and even the betting market have a habit of losing their cool after Game 1, ready to declare the series winner based on 48 minutes. Well, the last two champions each trailed 1-0 in two different series. The Lakers lost the first game in each of the first two rounds last year, eventually winning both series in five, however. In 2019, the Raptors trailed 1-0 to the Magic and 2-0 to the Bucks, and even 2-1 to the Sixers on their way to hoisting the trophy. Betting requires a lack of emotion, and sometimes a downright stubbornness. If you like a team to win a particular series going in, it might not be a bad idea to double down if they drop the first game. In the first round this year, Western Conference teams that won the first game went 1-3 in the series, the lone exception being the Suns, who were likely on their way out had Anthony Davis not been on his way out of the lineup. I perhaps used a lot of words to make a simple point — chill out. This is not a single-elimination format, so it’s not uncommon for the more competitive series to have twists and turns along the way. Let’s get to the picks.
GAME 2: SUNS (-5.5) OVER NUGGETS
Remarkable job by Nikola Jokic pulling the banged-up Nuggets to the finish line against the Blazers and advancing to Round 2. He is an incredible player, and the Nuggets should be commended for building a legitimate contender without a high lottery pick, or a marquee free-agent signing. If they had a healthy Jamaal Murray, they would be my pick to win the West. Without him, however, they are simply overmatched in this series. Their guard play consists of Facundo Campazzo, who is a bench player, along with Austin Rivers and Markus Howard who were not in the NBA for significant portions of this season. The Suns shoot the 3 much better, and their role players, such as Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton, are significantly better than Denver’s. I bet “Suns in 6” + 350 before the series and wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Suns win it in five. The Suns trailed by one at the half of Game 1 before pulling away for a 17-point victory, and I expect another comfortable victory in Game 2.
GAME 3: BUCKS (-4) OVER NETS
The Bucks get a couple of days off to prepare for Game 2 and boy, do they need it! I came into this series thinking this was roughly a coin flip. If you told me James Harden wouldn’t play more than a minute (and I don’t think he’s returning any time soon), I would’ve favored the Bucks. That may have been ill-fated thinking after watching the Bucks clang 3 after 3 in Game 1 and watching the Nets run Milwaukee off the floor early in Game 2. Still, as I am now dubious of the Bucks’ chances of advancing, I’m not totally writing them off and I’m confident they will have their moments in this highly anticipated conference semifinals. We’ve seen this many times: A team falls behind 2-0, everyone writes them off and in Game 3 the sense of desperation as well as the home crowd carries them to a victory. If they are going to land a punch in this series, it will be Thursday night, as this is essentially an elimination game. These series can turn quickly, and I suspect Game 4 will feature the Bucks playing a home game with a chance to even the series. I’ll go with the hungrier team, and I’ll lay the points with the Bucks.