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Celtics, Hawks, Jazz set as favorites for Friday’s NBA playoff slate

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The Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas fare well as a favorite against the Chicago Bulls, plus they’re fully staffed going into a potential clinching Game 6 on Friday.

The visiting Celtics are listed as two-point betting favorites against the Bulls with a 204-point total for Friday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Celtics are 10-4 straight-up and 9-5 against the spread in their last 14 games against the Bulls where they were favored.

Boston is 3-7 SU and 4-6 ATS over its last 10 road games against the Bulls, but sticking to the present tense, Chicago is compromised in the point-guard matchup with Rajon Rondo (fractured right thumb) almost certain not to play.

The Celtics, who are 7-4 SU and 7-3-1 ATS in road games this season against Central Division teams, have improved their ball movement over the run of the series, showing why they earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s enabled Boston to have a three-pronged attack with Thomas, SG Avery Bradley and C Al Horford (who had a game-high nine assists in Game 5).

The Celtics won Game 5 by 11 points even while shooting only 22.5 percent on three-pointers.

The Bulls, who are 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS in their last 10 home games against the Celtics, will need better three-point shooting than they have had for most of the series. Boston’s defense has made SF Jimmy Butler and PG Dwyane Wade earn everything they get. Chicago, which will start backup Isaiah Canaan in Rondo’s place, has had the edge in rebounding during the series.

The total has gone under in eight of Boston’s last 10 games when it was favored on the road; it has also gone under in nine of Chicago’s last 10 games as a home underdog, according to the OddsShark NBA Database.

Elsewhere, trailing 3-2 in their series the Atlanta Hawks are listed as three-point favorites against the Washington Wizards with a 210-point total. While PG John Wall almost always helps Washington hang around in games, they are just 2-9 SU and 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games as a road underdog. Bradley Beal has also given Washington a big edge in the shooting guard matchup against Atlanta’s Tim Hardaway Jr.

Over the last two seasons, PF Paul Millsap and the Hawks are 11-1 SU and 9-3 ATS in home games in April. With the backcourt leadership from PG Dennis Schroder, Atlanta has a good chance to stay alive.

The total has gone over in six of Washington’s last 10 road games against Atlanta, with one push. The total has gone under in seven of Atlanta’s last 10 games as a home favorite.

And in NBA history, when a series is tied 2-2 the Game 5 winner wins the series 85 percent of the time. The Utah Jazz, who are listed as 5.5-point favorites against the Los Angeles Clippers with a 192.5-point total, could add to that historic trend at home on Friday.

The Clippers aren’t necessarily DOA without Blake Griffin (toe), whose starting spot could be filled by Paul Pierce, as they are 9-8 ATS as a road underdog this season. But PG Chris Paul will probably need an extraordinary night to give the Clippers a chance.

The Jazz, who have C Rudy Gobert closing down the lane, are 9-1 SU and 7-1-2 ATS in their last 10 home games where they were favored by six or fewer points. Utah had six double-figure scorers in Game 5, as veterans Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson and George Hill soothed any jangled nerves in the team’s ranks.

The total has gone over in six of the Clippers’ last eight road games. The total has gone over in seven of the Jazz’s last nine home games.

Cavaliers begin playoff run behind Warriors on NBA championship odds

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For all the hand-wringing about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ slump, LeBron James and company enter the NBA playoffs in pretty much the same state as they did before winning it all in 2016.

Having weathered a 19-game absence from Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors are the -160 favorite on the odds to win the NBA championship, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ price will only drop farther as the playoff field gets whittled down, assuming they don’t have an epic collapse.

James and Cleveland are listed at +333 after going just 9-11 straight-up and 8-12 against the spread in their final 20 games against the Eastern Conference. However, the Cavs had a so-so stretch run last year, when they were listed at +400 going into the playoffs.

Thirty of the league’s last 35 champions were either a No. 1 or 2 seed, and the last four were No. 1. Based on their championship experience, the No. 2 seed in the West, the San Antonio Spurs, are third on the board at +600. The No. 1 Eastern seed, the Boston Celtics, are a distant +1600, level with the Houston Rockets. That’s not surprising, considering Boston’s per-game point differential (2.7) is the lowest of a No. 1 seed since 1979.

The Cavaliers are a -275 favorite on the Eastern Conference champion odds, which reflects that James’ team has made the last six NBA Finals. The Celtics are at +425. The Toronto Raptors, whose seeding puts them on course to meet Cleveland in the second round, are listed at +900.

The Western Conference board is very similar, with the Warriors at -250 followed by the Spurs (+300) and Rockets (+750).

Among the four major pro leagues and March Madness, the chalk prevails most often in the NBA. Some general trends to be mindful of is that home teams who lose Game 1 – looking in your direction, Toronto – are 49-10 SU in Game 2 since 2003. Higher-seeded teams who win the first two games are also 40-111 SU in Game 3 (on the road) during that span.

Historically, No. 5 seeds win about a quarter of the time and No. 6 seeds win about 20 per cent of the time. In terms of first-round series prices, the Atlanta Hawks (+175) do stand a decent chance of knocking out John Wall and the Washington Wizards (-205), since Washington might struggle to find a defensive matchup for Hawks big man Dwight Howard.

The No. 8 seed Chicago Bulls (+405), with their savviness at point guard with ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo and former champion Dwyane Wade (who’ll have more recovery time for his 35-year-old legs), could be capable of taking out the Celtics (-500). Eighth seeds have a much better success rate than No. 7 seeds.

Cavaliers, Warriors clear leaders on NBA Conference odds boards

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While oddsmakers have an expectation that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are on a collision course for a third consecutive NBA Finals clash, there is some interesting movement among the challengers.

Just more than a week out from the start of the playoffs, the Cavaliers are the -300 betting favorites on the Eastern Conference futures while the Warriors’ odds are -250 atop the Western Conference board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers had a losing record (6-10 straight-up) in March, their victory against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday put them in a good position to finish first overall in the East and have home-court advantage for the first three rounds.

The Celtics (+425), led by PG Isaiah Thomas, draw in as the biggest challenger on the Eastern side. Boston is 20-10 SU over its last 30 games, slightly better than Cleveland’s 18-12 SU mark over the same number of games.

The Cavaliers clearly do have issues, particularly with tightening up their defensive play. An opponent could pounce early in the playoffs before James and Kyrie Irving find a groove.

Both the Washington Wizards (+900) and Toronto Raptors (+1200) are neck-and-neck to earn the No. 3 seed, which might mean playing Boston in the second round. The Wizards have great leadership from PG John Wall. The Raptors will have to rely on their defense – that’s why they got PF Serge Ibaka at the deadline – until PG Kyle Lowry, who’s just back from wrist surgery, is 100 percent.

On the Western Conference board, the Warriors’ odds are slightly better than the -333 they were listed at in late February. The absence of Kevin Durant (sprained MCL), who’s expected back just prior to the playoffs, has enabled SG Klay Thompson to rediscover his all-star form, while two-time MVP Steph Curry has also gone a hot streak.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs (+325) are seen as posing the biggest challenge to Golden State, as their price has come down from +500. The red-hot second half that MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets (+750) have put together has led to their odds dropping from +900.

Oddsmakers see the Western Conference as a three-team race, at most, with the Los Angeles Clippers (+2500) and Utah Jazz (+2500) each drawing very long odds on the NBA betting futures at the sportsbooks.