The first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs continues on Sunday, as we get four more games to have every playoff team officially in action. Day two of the NBA Playoffs figures to be loaded with excitement, as these series as a whole project to be a little more intense.
Narrative street will be alive and well on Sunday, as Dwight Howard and John Wall both would love to lead their franchises to a first round series win, the Blazers tentatively are guaranteeing they’ll down the Warriors, the Celtics will look to prove they’re really the best team in the Eastern Conference and two NBA MVP candidates will state their case further in their round one duel.
It’s a jam-packed slate for just four games and the Hawks vs. Wizards will get the ball rolling at 12 pm ET. Let’s dive in and see where our NBA betting loyalties should lie:
Atlanta Hawks (+5)
Washington Wizards (-5)
The tightest game on Sunday’s NBA slate goes down in D.C., as John Wall and the Wizards will look to win their first playoff series since the 2014-15 season. Washington regressed a bit last year but has bounced back under a fantastic season from Wall and Bradley Beal being able to stay healthy.
The Wizards enter as the favorite for this showdown with the Hawks and also figure to emerge out of round one with a series win. Washington didn’t look like a real playoff threat earlier in the year, but since December on have looked like one of the more dangerous teams in the entire league. Whether we’re to believe the Wizards can make a deep playoff run or not, they certainly have enough evidence supporting a win over the Hawks, having gone 3-1 against them in the regular season series.
Atlanta certainly has a shot in this series, as they still played the Wiz close in two of this year’s losses and have the potential on defense to slow the Wiz down. On the other side, the Hawks push their offense about as fast as Washington does, while the Wiz’s lack of perimeter defense could open the door to a hot-shooting Hawks team surprising early in this series.
Ultimately, we’re probably looking at a hard fought series that goes 6 or 7 games, but the Wiz were stout at home (30-11) and should be able to control the tempo of this game in front of their home crowd. Expect a tight game where the Hawks hang tight and beat the spread, but we like the Wizards to pull out the win to get the ball rolling in this one.
Even when the Dubs have left down their guard in this series, it certainly hasn’t happened at the Oracle Arena. Portland’s lone win during last year’s playoff series came at home, while they haven’t gotten a win at Golden State during the regular season since November of 2013.
It’s going to be very difficult to buy a Portland road upset in game one based on that evidence, plus the healthy return of Kevin Durant gives the Warriors a significant boost. Durant said earlier in the year that the Warriors would sweep the Nuggets (should Denver had made the playoffs) in round one and it’s likely Durant’s confidence in his new team stretches to a different opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
While we can’t ignore how loaded the Dubs are, their championship aspirations or their home dominance, we can’t ignore how similar of a style the Blazers play to theirs, either. Portland’s explosive backcourt makes them a viable threat anytime they’re on, and if we look back to last year’s playoff series, the Blazers did give the Warriors several good games. They did that again during the regular season, losing their last two games against Golden State by a combined 10 points.
Portland could get hot and steal a game or two in this series, but the real kicker is going to be the status of big man Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic provided quite the spark after being acquired from Denver, giving the Blazers a reliable low post scorer and shot-altering defensive presence. That isn’t something the Warriors are used to dealing with this team and if he can make it back in time from a broken leg, we may have to account for that x-factor in this series.
That may be so, but the Warriors are the better team and they don’t lose at home (31-4 during the regular season). Portland might snag a game or two in this series, but we highly doubt it comes in game one. The only issue in this game is this gaudy spread and which way you lean has to be impacted by the status of Jusuf Nurkic. If he can suit up, I think the Blazers can keep it within this huge spread. If not, change the pick to the Warriors covering.
Chicago Bulls (+7.5)
Boston Celtics (-7.5)
What’s harder than trying to pick Chicago Bulls games during the regular season? Doing so in the playoffs. Chicago probably never belonged in the postseason, but here they are, preparing to face a #1 seeded Celtics team that strangely feels like one of the softest #1 seeds in league history.
Boston can defend the wing and can score as well as anyone, but they aren’t really proven in the playoffs. Outside of Isaiah Thomas, they also don’t have many go-to scorers that can consistently torch quality defense. Chicago isn’t always the latter, but they actually ranked as the 6th most efficient defense on the year and slow games down with the NBA’s 20th fastest pace. Naturally, if the Bulls hit their shots and defend like they’ve proven they can, they can be rather annoying.
Working in Chicago’s favor is their success in this series this year, as they split the regular season series (2-2) right down the middle with the Celtics. Both of Chicago’s wins were tight battles, but so was one of the games they lost. Needless to say, Chicago knows how to hang with the Celtics, both in finding ways to execute their offense and also make the Celtics work for theirs.
More than anything, the Bulls just feel like a betting trap. Chicago has not been a reliable play on the road (16-25 away from the United Center), but they’ve gone 20-20 against the spread on the road and 22-19 against the spread as underdogs. We’ve also seen them rise up and play beyond their talent level against superior teams this year. Two wins over the Celtics might show us that, but so does sweeping the Cavaliers and taking down the Spurs.
Suffice to say, we don’t trust the Bulls. The lack of trust is so strong that we don’t even trust them to show up and stink in a loss on the road against the Celtics. Instead, this might be the perfect spot for the Bulls to once again show off how good they are at annoying NBA bettors and also playing up to their competition. Boston isn’t experienced in the spot they’re in and may need a game to adjust to being the top seed in their conference.
The Celtics could also just as easily blow the Bulls out of the water, but with this spread, Vegas clearly fears Chicago’s style of play making this game (and possibly the series) a lot more interesting than it probably should be. We should learn a lot about this series from this first game, but for now we think the Bulls can give the Celtics a game and beat the spread – if not flat out stage the upset in game one.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+7)
Houston Rockets (-7)
This is another spot where a game one upset is very possible, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook lead their teams against each other in a clash of the NBA’s leading MVP candidates. Harden will be at home where the Rockets went a staggering 30-11 during the regular season, while Houston should be confident going into this series, having taken down OKC (3-1) during the regular season.
The Rockets obviously look like the favorite for the series and are a solid bet to take game one on their home court, but two things has us liking OKC: Russell Westbrook is a man possessed and the season series between these two teams was ridiculously close.
To be more specific, three of the four games had both teams dropping 100+ points and three of the four games were decided by 2, 2 and 3 points. Westbrook leading the charge can’t be taken lightly, either. He helped the Thunder win at Golden State in game one of their Western Conference Finals last year (a series in which OKC also went up to a 3-1 lead), and this is a guy who is very used to surviving beyond the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
I don’t think it’s overly likely OKC gets out of the first round this year, but Westbrook has been way too good to suddenly overlook now. In what could very well be a crazy series that lasts 6 or 7 games, it wouldn’t be shocking at all for Westbrook to beast out, both to prove he’s the real MVP and to show Harden and the Rockets the Thunder won’t go quietly into the night.
Vegas obviously likes this to be a fairly close game, while the regular season series already showed that it can be. Houston is leaps and bounds better from an offensive efficiency perspective, but OKC sported the 10th most efficient defense in the league. Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo also give them two very pesky defenders to rotate on Harden, and there’s no telling how much of an impact they have early on. In addition, it will be interesting to see how OKC uses Enes Kanter and Steven Adams together, as they beasted out together during last year’s playoff run.
This series as a whole favors the Rockets, but we like Westbrook to make a statement. The Over is very much in play and OKC is a very real threat to beat this spread, but we’re actually shooting for a second first round upset and taking the Thunder in game one.
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