Loyola (Chicago) and Oregon State combined to pull off a slew of March Madness upsets, eventually facing off in a Sweet 16 matchup that was a great story. And then the game started, and the drop in talent compared with the teams expected to be in that matchup was quite evident. Here we are months later, and the NBA playoffs face a similar phenomenon. The Nets and Lakers entered the postseason as betting favorites to come out of their respective conferences, but neither made it past the second round. The Jazz and 76ers were No. 1 seeds, but their next games will be in September when the exhibition season starts. Injuries and upsets have contributed to a ton of unpredictability in these playoffs, and what once looked like an eventual showdown of superteams between the Nets and Lakers is now looking like a Suns-Bucks matchup, with perhaps some less dramatic conference finals. Regardless of who’s playing, the picks have been really good, so let’s keep it going and find some winners …
Bucks in 4 + 500 and Bucks -7 Game 1
First, congratulations to anyone who tailed my suggestion to take Bucks in 7 + 550 against the Nets. Sometimes in betting it’s important to differentiate between the correct pick and the correct read. My pick was a winner, but if Kyrie Irving and James Harden hadn’t gotten hurt, the Nets likely would have won in five or six games. However, luck was on the Bucks’ side. Irving rolled his ankle, Harden got hurt 50 seconds into the series and now the Bucks have a virtual bye into the Finals. This series reminds me of the “Minneapolis Miracle,” when Stefon Diggs caught the ball against the Saints, turned around and nobody was there, and he just walked into the end zone for the victory. The Bucks possibly would have been flat coming into Game 1 if they had been on the road against the Sixers, but being at home against the Hawks, with all the postseason failure they’ve had, their crowd will not allow them to be flat. They have won all five home games so far in the playoffs, three in blowouts.
I wrote last week that Joel Embiid did not look healthy and thus I expected the Hawks to hang with the heavily favored Sixers. I don’t expect the same here. The Bucks should control the glass and have three elite wing defenders, and the Hawks are without De’Andre Hunter and now have a clearly hampered Bogdan Bogdanovic. I expect two comfortable Milwaukee wins in Games 1 and 2, and I make the Bucks slight favorites in Game 3. If the Hawks win a game, they will likely get no more than one. The Bucks will win this in five or fewer. I’ll take the sweep at a juicy price.
Suns-Bucks Finals matchup -190
Chalky, but clear value to me. Barring a significant injury, the Bucks will be in the Finals. The Suns should join them. They are likely to get Chris Paul back before the Clippers get Kawhi Leonard back, and we don’t know what version of Leonard will return if he does come back from his mysterious knee injury. I was confident in the Clippers even down 2-0 in their previous two series, but part of the reason I liked them was the small-ball lineups they’ve unveiled. Leonard was the big man in many of these smaller lineups, but he is out. Now Marcus Morris Sr. is also injured, and let’s not forget Swiss Army knife Serge Ibaka has already been lost for the playoffs.
The Suns are good, they’re deep, they defend at an elite level and, let’s face it, they’ve had a major advantage over everyone they’ve played so far in being relatively healthy. I think the deeper, healthier roster, along with the extra home game, will get the Suns into July in what should be a very competitive series against the Bucks.