The NBA playoffs continue tonight with three more games.
The Brooklyn Nets, who spent most of the year as the Eastern Conference betting favorites, are trying to avoid being swept on their home court by the Boston Celtics. The Celtics' success in the series isn't all that surprising considering they opened as a slight underdog, but how they have dominated the Nets has grabbed the public's attention.
Boston is now the favorite at +160 to win the Eastern Conference. How the Nets will respond to being down 3-0 is anybody's guess. There is too much potential variance in attempting to unpack the psychology of Brooklyn right now. It's a hard pass for me. I am much more comfortable letting my money ride on the other two games. Here are my best bets for tonight's action.
The Western Conference has provided us with a few gems in the first round and this series is surely one of them. Luka Doncic returned in Game 4 to put up 30 points and 10 rebounds in a 100-99 loss. With the series knotted at 2-2, the teams return to Dallas in what now has become a best-of-three series.
Utah has done a slightly better job at defending Dallas behind the arc, but that's not going to discourage the Mavs from bombing threes. They fired up 44 attempts in Game 4 and will continue to exploit Utah on the perimeter. Jalen Brunson is averaging close to 30 points per game in the series and shooting 40% from the 3-point range. He is the "X-factor," even with Doncic back on the court. The Jazz showed their hand in Game Four, slowing down the tempo and pressuring Doncic early in the possession. As he commands respect from Gobert and the Jazz defense, that leaves players like Brunson to make Donovan Mitchell work. Mitchell has struggled mightily on defense in this series and has shot just 8-of-34 from 3-point range.
Utah has been a bad bet away from home all season (17-25-1 ATS) and only covered in 28.6% of games as a road underdog. They also shot 19 more free throws than Dallas in Game 4, and you have to wonder if Gobert is going to get the same respect from the refs in Dallas. Take the better team at home, and don't worry about laying the points.
The 76ers' hot start in this series was fueled by their ability to take advantage of Toronto in transition while draining everything from the perimeter. Tyrese Maxey scored 38 and 23 in Games 1 and 2, while Philadelphia shot 30-of-62 from distance. They averaged over 120 points in their set of home games, but regression was likely when the series resumed in Toronto. I started targeting the under in Game 2, expecting the series to get more physical. Since Philly's 131-point explosion in the series opener, the totals dropped each game as the under continued to hit.
Now we head back to Philadelphia for Game 5 and the total is eight points lower (217.5 - 209.5) than where it closed the last time these two teams played on Philly's home court. I understand both teams are battling through injuries, but I think the market has over-adjusted and it's time to play back on the over. Philadelphia is motivated to finish this series as early as possible with Embiid battling through a torn ligament in his thumb. I think Philadelphia, in front of a home crowd, can get back to the offensive success it saw in the first two games. Toronto's half-court offense has been an Achilles heel all season, and with VanVleet hurting, its ineffectiveness will allow Philly to grab rebounds and push the pace in transition. If the game goes the 76ers' way, I'd rather play the over than worry about a backdoor cover in a series-clinching win.