NBA Oddsmakers apparently haven't learned anything as they had Cleveland as a slight dog in Game 1 of the East Finals and the Cavs won comfortably. Yet here they are as 2.5-point dogs for Friday's Game 2 in Atlanta. Here are my player prop picks.
In recapping my picks from the opener, things went quite well. I mentioned that Atlanta wasn't going to win this series unless All-Star sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA, shook off his slump. He didn't in the 97-89 loss. NBA odds makers saw that Korver had his fifth straight single-digit game with only nine points. He attempted just five total shots and was 2-for-4 from long range. That won't cut it. I recommended 'under' 3.5 3-pointers made for Korver so that paid off at -180. Ditto 'under' 11.5 points. I also took Cleveland 3-point specialist J.R. Smith at -1.5 points against Korver. That was a total mismatch as Smith was the best player in the game not named LeBron by hitting a playoff franchise-record eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts off the bench and finishing with 28 points. Smith himself outscored the five Hawks reserves who played by nine points.
I also looked at Cleveland All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in Game 1. Irving said he felt pretty good with his knee injury with six days off after the series win over Chicago. I wasn't buying it. And Irving reaggravated the knee injury in Game 2 and played only 27 minutes, going 4-for-10 from the field for 10 points with six rebounds and three assists. I hit on 'under' 20.5 points for Irving was well as more points for Jeff Teague (+4.5) than Irving. Teague was the Hawks' best player in the opener with 27 points.
Irving is listed as questionable for Game 2, but I'm sure he will play. For Atlanta, arguably its best player in the postseason has been forward DeMarre Carroll. He's also the primary defender on LeBron James. Carroll suffered a serious-looking knee injury in the fourth quarter on Wednesday and had to be carried off the court. Rather amazingly, an MRI revealed no structural damage. He will be a game-time call for Game 2. The Hawks' offense has been more than 12 points per 100 possessions better this postseason with Carroll on the court. If he can't go, Kent Bazemore would start and Paul Millsap likely would guard James. I am going to project these props thinking Irving will play but Carroll will not. Neither clearly will be 100 percent if they do go.
LeBron James Props:
Total points + rebounds + assists -- 'over/under' 46.5
Made free throws -- O/U 6.5
Made 3-pointers -- O/U 1.5
Let's just put this out there first: Smith isn't going to score 28 points again. He might get half that many. Irving is practically a cripple right now. So LeBron is going to have to be a one-man show like he was in Game 5 of the last round against Chicago when he had 38 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a crucial victory. In the opener of this series, James had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and 0-for-1 from 3-point range. LeBron needs to not be shooting 3-pointers as he is struggling mightily from there in the playoffs. He is hitting a ghastly 14.3 percent from long range and was 0-for-1 in the first game. James is hitting in the low 30s on all jumpers in these playoffs. He needs to put his head down and get to the line. I think he will.
Paul Millsap Props:
Total points + rebounds -- 'over/under' 25.5
Total made free throws -- O/U 4.5
I am looking at Millsap with the expectation that he will be guarding LeBron most of the game -- and he did a good job on James in Game 1 when Carroll went out. But that's obviously exhausting. Just ask Chicago's Jimmy Butler from the last round. It will affect your offense. In 38 minutes in Game 1, Millsap had 13 points and seven rebounds. He was 7-for-10 from the free-throw line. One might assume that Millsap's numbers would go down because he is guarding LeBron, but the Hawks also will need more from him offensively if Carroll is out. Bit of a Catch-22.
NBA Free Picks: 'Under' first prop, 'over' on free throws (even money).