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NBA expert Eytan Shander has his plays for tonight's playoff games

The NBA returns tonight with two games on the complete opposite side of the playing spectrum. The early game features the first round of the Eastern Conference Finals, pitting the Celtics against the Heat. Then it’s the improbable – yes, I know I got crushed last game – Nuggets in a game 7 matchup with the Clippers. Plenty of value on the big board, including a sneaky player prop!

Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Predictions

1st Half Winner – Heat @ +105

There is a major sense of urgency with the Miami Heat to take game 1 – or any others – before the Celtics return Gordon Heyward. That would make Boston incredibly difficult to stop on any given night. For now, the C’s will rely on the other four guys who have led the charge. Jason Tatum has been the key piece, but the team is susceptible to being pushed around up front. Miami will continue to rely on Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic to pace the scoring but watch out for a big first half from Bam Adebayo. The Heat will launch – that’s a given. Boston can bounce back and match Miami from the outside. The advantage comes from getting consistent points in the paint, something the Heat could start doing right from the tip.

Marcus Smart Over 13.5 points @ +100

This one is a little sneaky, but the return speaks for itself. The Celtics aren’t going out with the game plan of Smart leading any charge, but circumstances pop up and he’s one of the best to handle them. A couple of different scenarios could play out causing more minutes for Smart – who already is a top threat off the bench or spot start situations. We already know Smart will play a bunch of minutes against the Heat because of the advantage he poses over Miami’s second unit. He’s also out there in a scoring capacity – even when playing with other starters. Smart could have a big night, but we really only need 14. If anyone in the backcourt gets in foul trouble – especially early – expect Smart to play a bigger role right away. It’s a small risk to roll with Smart tonight, but there will be plenty of chances for him to score.

Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers Predictions

Clippers -7.5 @ +100

I got beat down last game as the Nuggets handed out their own brand of virtual justice. Their victim in game 6 should look a little different tonight. Granted it was earlier in the series, but the Clippers responded with a heavy hand to close out the Mavs. Props to the Nuggets for pushing this series to 7 and proving a lot of people like me wrong. I simply can’t see Kawhi Leonard losing this basketball game. The good news is the team doesn’t NEED an amazing performance out of Paul George, but it certainly won’t hurt. History is against this pick – Clips are 0-7 trying to make the WCF – but Leonard is a special player that we undervalue in these moments. Tough to think Denver is capable of another run like they had in game 6 - it took so much out of their tanks to eclipse that huge deficit. LA is going to have to turn this around, which means do everything possible to blow out their opponent. I like the Clips to win by 10 mainly because of the confidence boost they truly need heading into the WCF. It’s already bruised by Denver, but I don’t trust them in this final game. It’s the NBA, you go with the existing champion on the floor until proven otherwise.

Over 209 @ +102

That total is a little low even with the positive return at UniBet. I’m jumping all over it knowing how explosive everyone can be on both sides. We should expect an all-out launch fest between these two teams. No reason to expect Nikola Jokic has slowed down, so he should push the Clippers. Jamal Murray and the rest of the Nuggets believe they can beat anyone, expect them to come out firing. The total is going to look great at the half – ideally with enough points stocked up we can withstand a poor shooting quarter. Just expect a tighter first half, one that the Nuggets may actually win, before we see LA start to pull away. I don’t see that happening at the expense of the tempo, more a matter of the Clips not missing during a longer stretch of time. Both of the coaches are well aware of how playing tight can undo their squads, so even if we see some early misses, you’ll have a healthy amount of 3’s taken. I like Murray to test the Clippers defense trying to get to the FT line as much as possible. Leonard will be a perfect complement on the Clippers side, so even the slashing angle helps us.


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