Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, May 1, 2017 at 12:00 PM
The first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs was basically a tune-up for the contenders. The only series upset was a #4 vs. #5 matchup in the West where #4 lost a key player to injury in the third game (Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers). Otherwise, the favorites all advanced. Every favorite who did advance did so in six games or less.
But, NOW, things could get really interesting. In fact, Monday Night’s doubleheader might feature two of the best second round series in recent memory if the teams involved can play to their best form.
Let’s look at Monday’s doubleheader, then run through the other two matchups.
TORONTO VS. CLEVELAND (begins Monday)
The Cleveland Cavaliers usually have an extra gear they like to go to once it’s time to win a championship. The jury is still out, though, on whether this year’s team has that gear. Sweeping Indiana doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing great ball! The Cavs won four relatively close games against an outmanned team that was about to fire its general manager.
Now, the Cavs are playing a talented, young, hungry team that’s starting to feel its oats after closing out very strong vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs can’t coast on defense because they’ll get run out of the gym. The Cavs can’t assume that LeBron James will attack the basket at will because Toronto has an athletic defense. This has a chance to be a GREAT series.
On the other hand, Toronto has a way of breaking your heart just when you think they’re ready. That almost happened again vs. Milwaukee until they righted the ship. Do the Raptors have the maturity and poise to get the job done? Can they keep their heads on straight if they get close? Those are the questions serious handicappers have to ponder.
HOUSTON VS. SAN ANTONIO (begins Monday)
Houston had a historically awesome offense this season…basically reincarnating Steve Nash in the body of “at his peak” James Harden for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, San Antonio still plays “the beautiful game” while also emphasizing defense and rebounding. You may not be aware that the Spurs were extremely efficient on offense vs. Memphis, a fact hidden by that series’ very slow pace.
This is mostly a clash of tempo. Houston wants to run and gun while San Antonio wants to play in the mud. Whoever imposes their preferred style on proceedings will probably win. The Spurs are market favorites because history has shown it’s easier to win with slow basketball than fast basketball in a best-of-seven war. Can Houston force a five or six-game sprint?
UTAH VS. GOLDEN STATE (begins Tuesday)
Utah is still an up-and-comer in the Western conference. But, they don’t have anything near the weaponry of Golden State. Great job getting past shorthanded Los Angeles. Would they have been able to do that if Blake Griffin hadn’t been hurt?
Of course, the market is aware of this, and has priced Game One accordingly. Golden State opened around -13. Picking pointspread winners is a whole different story than figuring out who’s going to advance. They key for Jazz backers will be maintaining intensity inside the paint and on the glass…and hoping the Warriors get complacent thinking ahead to the next round.
WASHINGTON VS. BOSTON (already a 1-0 series lead for Boston)
This one got an early start on the field Sunday afternoon. Well, Washington started on time and Boston was late for lunch! The Celtics snapped out if in due time, ultimately winning by double digits in a game they once trailed 16-0.
That’s just a case of a favorite holding serve. So, Washington isn’t out of it yet. But, Washington’s defense was awful vs. Atlanta even in a 4-2 series win, and is now playing an offense that’s a lot better than Atlanta’s. This is Boston’s series to win if they stay focused.
For those of you interested in Over/Unders:
Cleveland/Toronto’s scoring scale will depend on Toronto’s defense and pace
San Antonio/Houston will likely skew over because both offenses are great
Golden State/Utah has a chance to skew Under with two solid defenses
Boston/Washington has the look of a track meet to this point, as did Atlanta/Washington
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