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2. Phoenix Suns -137 (51-21)
7. Los Angeles Lakers +116 (42-30)
When it comes to well-rounded teams, I think the Suns showcase as one of the best going into the playoffs. In the offseason, they went out and got their floor general in long time NBA legend, Chris Paul. It was Paul’s skill set that helped project the Suns to one of the best teams in the West and elevated the game of players like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges along the way. For the Lakers, though, everything seemed like an easy road to repeating up until Anthony Davis was injured prior to the All-Star break. Things continued to get worse as LeBron James became injured following the All-Star break, resulting in the Lakers having to go out and obtain Andre Drummond to help the team maintain a spot in the West late in the season. The Lakers ended up getting their stars back late and were able to secure a playoff spot after winning their Play-In game against the Warriors in a hard fought game where they secured a 103-100 win on a late three by James. Everything has fallen into place, players are back and healthy, and that’s obviously concerning for the Suns. The star power and consistency of the Lakers when everyone is on the court and in check has me thinking this won’t even be a close series, but I also don’t want to down play these Suns either. I think it’s safe to give 1-2 to the Suns, and I’m sure each game will be close, but LeBron and AD won’t allow much more than that. I’m taking the Lakers in 5.
PICK: Los Angeles Lakers (+116 ON DRAFTKINGS)
1. Utah Jazz -420 (52-20)
3. Memphis Grizzlies +320 (38-34)
Another well rounded team, who also happens to be the best team (record wise) in the NBA Is the Utah Jazz. There are two interesting story lines to follow here and they are the matchup between Donovan Mitchell and Dillon Brooks, alongside the return of Mike Conley to Memphis. Donovan Mitchell himself is a floor general, but he’s also coming into this game with some injury concerns. Because of that, we very well may see a lot of Conley. The Grizzlies will be showcasing the future at their PG position in Ja Morant. It’ll be interesting to see the young talent go up against the gritty and veteran skill set of Mike Conley. Morant is coming off one of his best games in the Play-In game against the Warriors, and he’ll need to continue that success throughout each game in this series if the Grizz want a shot at winning this. The Jazz are a team that have multiple people on the floor at a time that can shoot from long range, so it’ll be up to defensive minded players like Brooks to keep these guys in check while the big men attempt to secure underneath. Overall, the depth of the Jazz will prevail with help from Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Flavors, and Georges Niang. Expect these guys to all collectively get around 5-15 points a game, creating the separation late in the third that will help them in the final minutes of the game. A lot of future talent on the floor in this series, but give me the Jazz in 6.
PICK: Utah Jazz (-420 ON DRAFTKINGS)
1. Philadelphia 76ers -335 (49-23)
8. Washington Wizards +265 (34-38)
The Wizards are coming out of the Play-In games losing their first game and then having to win their second in order to have an opportunity to play the best team in the East in the 76ers. The first Play-In game was disastrous for both Russel Westbrook and Bradley Beal, who struggled in all aspects of their games. They cleaned up their poor performances and were able to be the stars Washington needed in their final game of the Play-In, defeating the Pacers 142-115. A great showcase of both defense and offense from their two superstars. But now fast forward to today as Beal and Westbrook are now having to go up against arguably the best team in the NBA. We will have an opportunity to see two of the league leaders in scoring with Bradley Beal (31.3 PPG) and Joel Embiid (28.5 PPG), as well as one of the league’s best defenders in Ben Simmons and all around players in Russel Westbrook. Point is, there will be a lot of star talent on the floor for this series and it’ll be that talent that projects one of these teams to Round 2. A glaring difference between these two squads to be on the look out for is defense. Washington is coming into this game as one of the best defending teams in the league since April and the 76ers are averaging close to 118 points against per game. The speed of the Wizards could showcase as a concern for the 76ers and could very well be the reason the Wizards are able to secure a win or two and make this a series. Beal and Westbrook will have to use their speed for quick transitions underneath and then have to catch ‘em off guard with some distance shots to keep them on their feet as well. This combination will be the Wizards recipe for success, but once Philly starts catching on it’s all over. Give me the 76ers in 6.
PICK: Philadelphia 76ers (-335 ON DRAFTKINGS)
4. Atlanta Hawks -109 (41-31)
5. New York Knicks -109 (41-31)
If you’re looking for an even matched, and what I expect to be exciting series, then look no further than the Hawks and Knicks. This is not a series I’d want to be betting on. You have a floor general, and future star of the league, in Trae Young and you have one of (if not the) most improved players in the league in Julius Randle. These guys will dictate the series and it’ll be up to them to ensure success for their respective teams. If you’re looking for teams that can showcase lockdown defense and clutch shooting then look no further than these two. One thing to take note of is that when you get into the playoffs, everything seems to slow down a bit. I personally would like to have a well rounded team that’s capable of consistent lock down defense and the ability to spread the ball around when things get to be a little too much. If I’m giving that to a team it’s going to be the Knicks and for that reason that’s also who I’m riding with as the winner of this series. The Knicks were one of the hottest teams as of late, managing to win 9 straight in April and only losing to teams like the Suns, Clippers, Lakers, and Nuggets there late in the season. Another interesting point to be made is the head-to-head series between these two in the regular season. The Knicks managed to win all three games, but the third and final game was hard fought with the Knicks ultimately needing overtime to win 137-127 on Randle’s 40 points. If there is a series to go 7 games in these playoffs, I’d say it’s this one. Young will play his heart out and Capela will anchor that defense like he’s done all year, but the consistency throughout each game from players like Randle and Barrett will be too much for the Hawks. Also expect help from players like Rose, Quickley, and Burks late in second half of each game to help propel the Knicks in 7.
PICK: New York Knicks (-109 ON DRAFTKINGS)