NBA Playoff Predictions - Sunday, May 23
The second half of the opening weekend playoff slate features the defending champs, a couple of one-seeds, and the two major postseason upstarts, which is where we begin.
If someone had given you even odds that these two teams would be fighting it out for the fourth and fifth spots in the lottery, they would have been far better than the odds that they’re going to fight it out for the right to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
It’s been that kind of a charmed year for both franchises, and while they certainly got here in different ways, where betters have been concerned, they’re actually quite similar.
Through February 9, the Knicks had a .500 record against the spread, and looked like a spunky team that wasn’t going to amount to much. From that point forward, they covered 32 times in 46 games, which was by far the best of any team in the league in that span.
Similarly, the Hawks were under .500 against the spread through March 11, which is shortly after they switched head coaches and also started to get healthier than they’d been to start the year. They finished the season going 22-12 against the spread, and won seven of their last eight games outright to shoot up the standings into this matchup.
This feels like an even series all the way, but with Game 1 in front of 15,000 playoff-starved fans in Madison Square Garden, it’s hard to imagine the environment won’t get to the inexperienced Hawks just a bit. Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for having his team as well-prepared as any in basketball – something that’s been proven out all season.
If there’s a game you can be sure the Knicks get, it’s this one.
The Pick: Knicks -1.5 @ -105
Much has been written about how unlucky the Suns got by drawing this matchup, but they had a chance to duck it with some well-times losses down the stretch, and they wanted no part of it.
Maybe they have less to fear than we think. The Lakers looked like a shell of themselves against a Warriors team that had to throw the ball all over the court to lose their play-in game, and Phoenix is a team that does not make mistakes, which is part of the reason they’re 21-11 against the spread as a home favorite this season, good for third-best in the NBA.
On the other hand, the Lakers have won six in a row, including a victory over these Suns on May 9th. They have the best player in the sport, another top-10 guy when healthy, and they are getting points after three full days of rest. The Suns were steamrolling teams for much of the year, but they’re just 7-9-2 against the spread in their last 18 games, and their once vaunted defense fell to 26th in the league over the final 15 games of the season.
If the Lakers can score enough points, we know their defense will take care of the rest, and outside of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, the playoffs will be a brand new experience for all of these young Suns. It’ll show.
The Pick: Lakers +3 @ -110
The first of the two one-versus-eight matchups seems like the fairer fight of the pair that we’re going to get on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be anything close to an even game.
Philly has somewhat quietly been the most consistent team in the NBA this season. They had no real slumps to speak of, and they boast both a top-five overall net rating on the year and a top-three mark over the final 15 games. In other words, they are hitting their stride.
More importantly, they are healthy. In games Joel Embiid has played, the Sixers are 39-12. He was neck and neck for MVP with Nikola Jokic until he went down for a few weeks, and the Wizards have no good matchup for maybe the best player in the league when healthy and motivated.
He’ll be ready. The bad blood between Embiid and Russell Westbrook goes deep, dating back to when Russ was in Oklahoma City. The Wizards have been nothing if not inconsistent this season, and have just two wins against over-.500 teams since April 12, coming against the injured Lakers and the then-slumping Warriors.
Don’t get cute by taking them here, especially with a single-digit spread.
The Pick: 76ers -7.5 @ -108
The Jazz sort of pulled a rope-a-dope on us this season. Two thirds through the year, they looked like they might have one of the great regular seasons of all time, with a 38-11 record.
They then went a more pedestrian 14-9 the rest of the way, partially due to the attrition of a long year and partially because of a late injury to Donovan Mitchell. Through it all, they maintained the statistical profile of a team that is not just elite, but one that should be considered the favorites to win it all. That’s how impressive their positive 9.0 yearlong net rating is, especially when you consider the fact that the second best team – the Clippers at positive 6.1 – is nowhere close to Utah.
All this is to say that while the Grizzlies were incredibly impressive in winning two games against the middling Spurs and Warriors to get here, there’s a reason this line is as high as it is.
It should be higher. Utah is 22-12 as a home favorite this season, good enough for 5th best in the league, and their 4.7 positive scoring margin against the spread in those games is second best in basketball, trailing only the Knicks.
Memphis may steal a game in this series, but it won’t be this one.
The Pick: Jazz -9 @ -105
NBA Playoff Predictions & Picks
Knicks -1.5 @ -105 (Click to bet)
Lakers +3 @ -110 (Click to bet)
76ers -7.5 @ -108 (Click to bet)
Jazz -9 @ -105 (Click to bet)