NBA Playoffs: 1st Round Preview

The first round of the NBA playoffs tips off this afternoon and by the end of the weekend, all eight series will have their first game in. We did a Tale of the Tape, that gave a concise statistical snapshot for all 16 teams serves as the reference point for looking at the individual matchups.

Here’s a brief rundown, with the view of the betting market included:


(1)Boston (-8000) – (8)Miami
No franchise deserves more benefit of the doubt in the postseason than the Miami Heat of Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler. But what happens when Butler can’t go? That’s the case here. Even allowing the Heat’s ability to defend, it’s tough to see Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro carrying Miami without Butler. What should have been a high-profile battle between the teams that have played consecutive seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals has had a lot of juice taken out of it.

(4)Cleveland (-195) – (5)Orlando
These are two young teams that both defend really well. But Orlando is really young. The Cavs got their playoff experience last year in a loss to New York. The duo of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland gives Clevland an answer to the Magic’s 1-2 punch of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. If the Cavs don’t close this one out, it’s a major disaster. For Orlando, this year still likes the start of a lot of good things.

(3)Milwaukee (-225) – (6)Indiana
There’s a lot of concern in Milwaukee. The Bucks already lost four of five to the Pacers during the regular season. Now, Giannis has a calf injury and won’t be ready for the start of the series. It’s smacking of last year when the 1-seed Bucks lost Giannis in the first game against the Heat and then folded up and lost the series. That said, Indiana is defensively challenged—the same problem Milwaukee has, so I don’t know that the Pacers are the best-suited team to take advantage.

(2)New York (-108) – (7)Philadelphia
We have an interesting, but understandable betting dynamic here. The 76ers have much better odds than the Knicks to win the championship—Philly is 14-1, while New York is a 33-1 longshot. But the Knicks are favored here. That’s the difference between one team that is very consistent, but with a low ceiling, and another that has major star power, but is unpredictable. New Yok’s steady effort on defense and on the boards—a trademark of Tom Thibodeau throughout his career is the reason. It’s just a question of whether Joel Embid and Tyrese Maxey can go off.

Picks: Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia.


(1)Oklahoma City (-650) (8)New Orleans
As a 1-seed, the Thunder are underwhelming, and they’re one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. But they hit the three-ball, and they play defense. And the Pelicans don’t rebound well either, plus Zion Williamson isn’t ready to go. Oklahoma City may be vulnerable, but they have to be thrilled the Lakers played their way off the 8-line in the play-in tournament.

(4)Dallas (-120) – (5)LA Clippers
There’s a lot of star power here, but between Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Paul George, has there even been more star power with a reputation for playoff failure on the floor in a single series? The health of Kawhi Leonard’s sore knee is the big swing factor here.

(3)Minnesota – (6)Phoenix (-120)
The Suns are the only road favorites in the first round, a clear testament of respect to Kevin Durant. I think the Timberwolves are being undersold. They play the best defense in the league, they have guys that hit the boards in Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns, they can get points in multiple places, and have a clear go-to guy in Anthony Edwards. It would be a major disappointment if they can’t be the 35-year-old KD and Devin Booker with homecourt advantage on their side.

(2)Denver (-400) (7)LA Lakers
Just like the East, the West has a rematch of its conference finals. It’s a tough draw for the Lakers. The duo of LeBron and A.D. is still enough to make them a tough out and potentially even a favorite against most anyone else in the West. But with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets now match—and perhaps exceed—the Lakers on star power. Denver is deeper. And after last year’s title, they are playoff-proven. Los Angeles might end up wishing they had rested people in that first play-in game and taken their chances on playing for the 8-seed.

Picks: Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, Minnesota, Denver