The NBA still has to decide its final two playoff spots with Friday night’s playoffs, first when the Atlanta Hawks visit the Cleveland Cavaliers and then when the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Los Angeles Clippers.
The winners of these games become the No. 8 seeds in their respective conferences. (WATCH: The “At the Book” team discusses the Pelicans’ chances as 4-point underdogs.)
But the NBA playoffs proper follow very quickly. They start Saturday noon when the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz meet.
Earlier in the week, we discussed the first four first-round playoffs from a betting perspective. Now is the time to do so for the two series involving the winners of Game 7 and the No. 2 seeds from each conference.
Let’s examine them one by one. We’ll do the same this weekend for the final two series of the first round once they complete the qualifying tournament.
Point spreads and series odds are from Caesars Sportsbook.
Previews of the other four known first-round fixtures can be found here.
No. 7 Nets vs. No. 2 Celtics
Homecourt Advantage: Celtics
Series season: Celtics 3-1
Game 1: Sunday in Boston, 2:30 p.m. (BOS -4)
Series ratings: Celtics -145, Nets +125
Tendencies: Brooklyn has been a betting darling all season, opening as an NBA title favorite and even now as the No. 7 seed, drawing the fifth-shortest odds at +900. A lot of that, of course, comes from the staggering amount of talent at the top of the roster: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, for a time James Harden.
But the Nets have been living a Greek saga since October. Irving was unable to play many games due to his COVID-19 vaccination status. Harden was unhappy and eventually forced a trade to Philadelphia for perhaps more unhappy Ben Simmons, who has yet to play a game for the Nets. Durant has been excellent and much of his supporting cast is usable, but the team’s defense ranks near the bottom in the NBA.
Brooklyn is here, however, after surviving the play-in tournament, and now they have a shot at their long-awaited championship. They must face the Boston Celtics first, who finished the regular season winning 26 of their last 32 games, including three easy wins over the Nets. (To be fair, in two of those wins the Nets had neither Durant nor Irving.)
The thing is, Boston has been playing like one of the best teams in the NBA – maybe the best – since late January. And it continues even with forward Robert Williams sidelined (he could return from a knee injury by the end of the series.) The Nets have talent, but they’ve been far too inconsistent for their trust here.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
#7 Timberwolves vs. #2 Grizzlies
Homecourt Advantage: Grizzlies
Series season: Tied 2-2
Game 1: Saturday at Memphis, 2:30 p.m. (MEM -7)
Series ratings: Grizzlies -400, Timberwolves +310
Tendencies: It will be overshadowed by the other 2v7 series, but it’s an intriguing game for completely different reasons. Two young teams that broke out big this year, each led by stars who could dominate NBA headlines for the next 10-15 years.
But for a story as good as Minnesota’s — Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Edwards and the T-Wolves surpassed their season winning total by 12 wins, then overcame serious foul trouble to rally the Clippers on Tuesday — Memphis is just better, right? The Grizzlies made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed last year and grew from there, using Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane to become young league darlings and a pick at the mode to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Indeed, it’s easy to think that Memphis is only a year ahead here and will easily knock out Minnesota. But the game makes me think twice. Like most teams, the Grizzlies will struggle with Wolves’ inside-out offense, and Morant has struggled in head-to-head matchups, shooting well below 50% in all four games (l The home team has each won twice, with Minnesota winning a blowout and Memphis winning in overtime).
Ultimately, home-court advantage and a bit more experience will get Memphis through, but this series could be closer than expected.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7