Jason’s 2018-19 NBA picks record through May 13: 30-29-1 ATS, 0-6 ML (minus-12.63 units), 38-25-1 Totals
Toronto (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) at Milwaukee (8-1 SU and ATS)
Series Begins Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Free NBA Pick: Raptors
Are you not entertained?! The Toronto Raptors needed the full seven games to put away the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and they needed Kawhi Leonard to hit a difficult game-winner at the buzzer on Sunday. It was another butt-ugly game for Toronto’s shooters; they went 34-of-89 (38.2 percent) from the floor, dropping the cash as 6-point home faves to finish the series at 3-4 ATS.
It’s perfectly understandable that the NBA odds for the Eastern finals have Toronto playing the underdog role to the Milwaukee Bucks. After a bit of a wobble, the Bucks only needed five games to put away the Boston Celtics in the second round; they were the best team in the league during the regular season, where they enjoyed a 3-1 SU and ATS advantage over Toronto. But with the Raps checking in at +250 on the NBA series prices at Bovada, we simply have to put these dogs in our NBA picks. It’s a moral imperative.
We’re Talking About Practice
We’re going to trot out the computer projections from FiveThirtyEight now, but first, a caveat: The playoffs are a different animal, and Nate Silver’s Elo-based system will be less useful to us than it was during the regular season. But they still project Toronto to win this series 55 percent of the time, which translates to –122 using the all-seeing SBR Odds Converter.
Leonard Regular Season: plus-5.0 BPM, 0.224 WS/48
Leonard Postseason: plus-9.5 BPM, 0.288 WS/48
There’s the former Finals MVP that Toronto fans were waiting for. Meanwhile, the Bucks have this year’s presumptive regular-season MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he’s still outperforming Leonard through two playoff rounds – but Antetokounmpo’s level of play has pretty much flatlined:
Antetokounmpo Regular Season: plus-10.8 BPM, 0.292 WS/48
Antetokounmpo Postseason: plus-10.7 BPM, 0.310 WS/48
And there you have it. We can also look at the late-season addition of Marc Gasol, who has a plus-5.2 BPM in 12 playoff games for Toronto thus far, and did a very good job containing Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Sixers center Joel Embiid in the first two rounds. Gasol wasn’t with the Raptors for any of their four regular-season games with Milwaukee. His arrival might not be enough in the end to limit Antetokounmpo and push the Raps into the NBA Finals, we’ll see, but +250 is just too good a series price to pass up.