THE final four in the East are … the final four we expected in the East. No upsets, no surprises, a ritually dull first round on that side of the NBA Playoffs.
Now it gets interesting. And entirely unpredictable.
But let’s try.
First to get under way is the Toronto Raptors against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday and if both teams betrayed their vulnerability by losing once in the opening phase, now is the time for them to live up to their potential – or face implosion.
Last time the 76ers and Raptors faced off in the playoffs … 2001.
This is going to be a good series. pic.twitter.com/uzqCpMGtV7
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 24, 2019
Because, make no mistake, the losers here face a major off-season headache that might force a 90-degree change of direction. Coming up short of the Conference Finals – and probably the NBA Finals themselves – just doesn’t cut it when you’ve invested this much and gambled this big. High risk for high reward. Tossing away hard-won chips was not the bet of the day.
The Sixers have The Process. But the Raps have A Process. Years of careful construction by Toronto puppet master Masai Uriji to put the pieces in place for a title bid and then the grenade lobbed into the middle when they traded for Kawhi Leonard last summer along with the woefully over-looked Danny Green.
With Leonard able to bolt for free come July, this really may be now or not-any-time-soon for Canada’s team. Ditto for the 76ers who would blow any salary prudence out of the water to keep their present roster intact. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are surely safe to stay. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris likely loaners. This is win or go elsewhere.
The Process delivers:
Sixers take a 3-1 lead on Brooklyn pic.twitter.com/z2FibXVu4S
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 20, 2019
Toronto can take comfort from claiming the regular season series 3-1 with the average points produced per game at 227.5. If that is any guide, then the Raptors to win 4-2 at 6.00 remains the logical extension.
No result was close (all came by 11 points or greater). And in their four opening round victories in these playoffs, both had one close game and three blowouts with Philly relying on their impressive offense and their future foes turning the defensive screw.
Home advantage belongs, of course, to the Raps who are 1.42 to take Game 1 and given the narrower prism of the post-season, this is potentially less likely to be the scorefest of their duels to date. If Kyle Lowry can be a capable force, and Nick Nurse gets his team to stand tall, Philadelphia may not have enough even if they possess so much.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 26, 2019
Sunday brings the other side of the East bracket into play with the Milwaukee Bucks starting as 1.30 favourites to steal a march on the Boston Celtics.
And the Bucks are now 2.05 favourites for the East after betraying no sign of playoff fear in delivering a sweep over Detroit.
No doubt, Boston’s collective of shooters will trouble the league’s top-rated defensive crew more than the motley Pistons. A small line-up from the Cs likely to also be more irritating at the other end as they showed in holding Indiana under 96 points in three of their four triumphs that delivered their own 4-0 rout.
Even if their full depth has not caught fire as it should, the Celtics upside is tantalising and backing them to win this series 4-3 at 11.00 is arguably the most intriguing offering around.
Ultimately, as this blog has said previously, the separation may come at the very top. Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo now genuinely looks the best player in the NBA. With that, the Bucks will be hard to repel.
Thursday night #NBAPlayoffs Scores—
Denver Nuggets 103-120 San Antonio Spurs (Series tied 3-3) pic.twitter.com/l4qDVsTVcs
— Busy Buddies ™ (@thebusybuddies) April 26, 2019
There is an unexpected Game 6 in LA on Friday with the Golden State Warriors forced back onto the road as they bid to clinch a 4-2 series win over the Clippers. The champions are showing no signs of nerves but plenty signs of vulnerability yet are still 1.20 to advance. Next up will be the Houston Rockets who have been cut to 3.90 for the Western Conference. That is no longer the easy call it once was.
And then on Saturday night, it’s all or nothing when the Denver Nuggets host the San Antonio Spurs in a Game 7. The Nuggets, who are 1.43 to prevail, looked distinctly ragged losing Game 6 120-103 but they have held the Spurs under 105 points in all three scraps in Denver so far. There’s a solid punt on taking below 208 total points at 2.10.