The NBA Playoffs tip off a week from today (Saturday), and what better time than now to isolate some potential postseason matchups where the possible lower seed may end up being the better team, therefore potentially providing some value for your Futures, Series and individual game NBA picks?
There are a handful of potential postseason matchups that may occur when the NBA Playoffs begin next Saturday (April 18) where the current lower seed looks like the better team and the one which will actually have the greater expectations of winning and advancing in my mind, should the two teams meet. Below, find find four (really five) of those potential series. And, two NBA teams to pick on at this point in Time would be the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference and the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference. Both teams should finish (in the standings) at least two seeds higher than their respective real rankings in their individual conferences (No. 1 seed Atlanta is, at best, the third best team in the Eastern Conference, while the currently 5th-seeded Trail Blazers are no better than the seventh best team right now in the Western Conference, with all that’s going on health-wise with the Northwest club which also isn’t really confident or experienced when it comes to advancing in the postseason these days. Long gone are the days of Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey.) Anyway, here are four potential series or situations to look for and think about from a distance—like a hungry but patient tiger watching a flock of gazelles—if you haven’t already.
Western Conference — Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies, Clippers, Anybody Really
The Portland Trail Blazers (51-28) are the one team in the Western Conference which will look like they are over-seeded, over-rated, whatever words you want to attach to the reality of this team headed into Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Right now, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are one of the best 1-2 combinations in the league, but this team has an awful lot going against it right now and I can’t see any scenarios that sound very Fun for The Basketball Boys From Rose City. Already suffering from the season-ending injury to starting SG Wesley Matthews (15.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 spg), Portland (50/1 to win NBA Championship, Boylesports) also saw his backup and now starter—Arron Afflalo (10.3 ppg) injure his Right Triceps with about 5 minutes to go in Thursday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors (+333 to win NBA Championship, BetVictor) and is as of today (Friday), now expected to miss 1-2 weeks. And the Trail Blazers Potential Playoff Paths all look to be difficult. Currently, as the No. 4 seed, Portland would face the 5th-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (43-26) in Round 1, and the Blazers are just 1-3 against Chris Paul and Little Los Angeles. And, if Portland (+2500 to win Western Conference, Boylesports) somehow draws the now 2nd-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (53-25, 8/1 to win Western Conference, bet365), it looks even more gruesome for Portlandia. Memphis went 4-0 against the Blazers in the Regular Season, defeating them fairly easily in all four meetings with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol dominating underneath. And that was before The Crisis At Shooting Guard. Whoever ends up getting the Trail Blazers in Round 1 will win in about 5 games and will be way less beat up and taxed than the other three teams which end up moving on from Round 1 in the Western Conference.
Western Conference — Spurs vs. Warriors, Western Conference Finals
Who will look like the #1 seed and who will look like the #6 seed after Game 2 has been played in this (theoretical) Western Conference Finals series? Who will have the better coach? Who will be more rested? Who will be more experienced? Who will have the deeper and more prolific bench? Who will be more scared? Who will have more valuable NBA Playoff experience? Who will have the more clutch, team-oriented players? Who’ll have the higher expectations? Which of these two teams—the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Golden State Warriors (64-15, +333 to win NBA Championship, BetVictor), or the (current) No. 6 seed, the San Antonio Spurs (53-26, +450 to win NBA Championship, Betfred)—doesn’t want to face the other one? Who are the defending NBA champions? Head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs went 2-1 against the Warriors this season, and this may be the most-anticipated series of the entire NBA Playoffs, although winning and surviving two playoff rounds in the rugged and wild, wild West this season will be hard for whichever two combatants do actually end up in the Western Conference Finals. San Antonio can beat Golden State and if anyone can scheme to stop the dynamic guard duo of probable league MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the Warriors, its Pops and the Spurs... and Golden State really knows it after the last meeting between these two elite teams.
Eastern Conference — Raptors vs. Hawks, Potential Round 2 Foes
The Eastern Conference’s current and final #1 seed will be the Atlanta Hawks (58-19), meaning that The Dribbling Peaches will probably get the Boston Celtics (36-42) or the Brooklyn Nets (26-42) in the 8-hole, a series better for the Hawks if they get to face the Nets who they didn’t lose to (4-0) in the Regular Season. Against the Leprechauns, Atlanta went 2-1, but that was before all the Injuries and recent Arrests and nightmarish stuff for the Hawks. For me, Atlanta is the Portland of the Eastern Conference this postseason, and I expect maximum disappointment in the state of Georgia—which doesn’t exactly expect much, nor support much—for its oft-ignored professional basketball team. If form holds and the Hawks advance past Round 1, which is expected by most, the now No. 4-seeded Toronto Raptors (46-32, +2800 NBA odds to win Eastern Conference, Sky Bet) may lie in wait. (Of note: There is nothing wrong with taking a small shot on the Raptors to win the conference around these current (peak) 28/1 odds). And here’s where it gets good, should this matchup transpire: Toronto went 3-1 against the Hawks in the Regular Season, winning both meetings at Philips Arena in Atlanta by 11 and 25 points. So, if you see Toronto at a decent (likely underdog) series price for this theoretical Round 2 NBA Playoffs series, grab it with your NBA picks like Winnie the Pooh grabbed his honey. This is the best spot.
Eastern Conference — Bulls vs. Cavaliers, Eastern Conference Finals
Along with the aforementioned potential Spurs-Warriors dance, an Eastern Conference pre-Final (Round 2) showdown between the No. 3-seed Chicago Bulls (47-32, +1800 to win NBA Championship, Boylesports)—who should dispose of their I-94 rivals, the Milwaukee Bucks (38-40) in the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs—and LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the No. 2-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers (51-27, +275 to win NBA Championship, 32Red) would be the Cat’s Meow for hoops fans. Chicago should benefit somewhat both physically and psychologically from the return of starting PG Derrick Rose (knee) in the team’s starting lineup, but I like the fact that the Bulls (+1800 to win Eastern Conference, Boylesports) definitely won’t fear Cleveland (+200 to win Eastern Conference, Boylesports) and Chicago matches up pretty well with the talented Cavaliers and will give them hell in a potential series which may go all 7 games. (Note the disparity—2/1 to 18/1—between these two teams to win the Eastern Conference. At 18/1, there is (perceived) value on the Bulls, and a (conference) Futures bet here on Chicago may help create a future positioning/hedging reality. Also of note: The Bulls current odds to win the NBA Championship (18/1) are the same as they are to win the Eastern Conference (18/1) at Boylesports.). The problem is, if these two teams do lock horns, both will end up leaving bruised and tired for a theoretical Eastern Conference Finals, which may end up being a really good thing for those non-extinct dinosaurs from north of the border, although with 0 NBA Championships and local fans more interested in the NHL Playoffs, backing their (the Raptors) theoretical potential opponents seems much wiser.
TEAMS TO WATCH: Spurs, Bulls, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Clippers, Raptors
TEAMS TO FADE: Trail Blazers, Hawks, Mavericks, Bucks, Nets, Wizards
POTENTIAL SERIES PICK TO REMEMBER: Toronto Raptors over Atlanta Hawks in Round 2