It took all 82 games of the regular season to determine the hierarchy, but the 2017 NBA playoff matchups are finally set. The first round kicks off this Saturday (April 15th).
The pecking order looks a little out of whack at first glance. If you haven’t been paying attention, you’re likely surprised to see Cleveland as the two-seed in the East and Memphis all the way down at no. 7 in the West. But both of those teams “earned” their final resting places. Cleveland, in particular, deserved to fall from top spot in the East given how awful the defense has been.
Yet, if you check the matchups below, you’ll see they remain massive favorites over the Pacers. Everyone thinks LeBron and company will suddenly flip the switch when the playoffs start. They were able to do it in a late-season game in Boston, routing the Celtics, 114-91. So the Cavs aren’t offering much value in the first-round series with the Pacers.
Which teams are? First, the odds…
no. 1 Boston Celtics (-500) vs no. 8 Chicago Bulls (+405)
no. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers (-1250) vs. no. 7 Indiana Pacers (+850)
no. 3 Toronto Raptors (-365) vs. no. 6 Milwaukee Bucks (+305)
no. 4 Washington Wizards (-205) vs. no. 5 Atlanta Hawks (+175)
no. 1 Golden State Warriors (-7500) vs. no. 8 Portland Trail Blazers (+3000)
no. 2 San Antonio Spurs (-1000) vs. no. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (+725)
no. 3 Houston Rockets (-360) vs. no. 6 OKC Thunder (+300)
no. 4 LA Clippers (-220) vs. no. 5 Utah Jazz (+190).
Yeah, the Cavs are probably going to be back in the finals. That’s just what LeBron does. But -1250 is way too short a price for a team with a defense this bad, not to mention the fact that they’re going against one-man playoff wrecking crew Paul George. (Don’t mishear me, though; I sure ain’t taking the Pacers, either.) This Wizards aren’t inspiring much confidence right now, and the Hawks are thoroughly flawed. I’m not comfortable putting my money on either of them at this point.
That leaves Boston/Chicago and Toronto/Milwaukee. The higher seeds are very likely to advance in both series. Boston and Toronto are remarkably similar teams. They’re balanced teams but not really at the top of the league either offensively or defensively. They both hover around tenth overall in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are the slightly more dangerous opponent, but the Raptors matchup well after acquiring elite defender PJ Tucker at the deadline. In reality, the Celtics and Raptors are about equally likely to win their first-round series. So the Raptors at -365 are offering significantly better value.
Next stop, Dino Town!
I won’t bury the lede with this one. Bet on the Clippers to top the Jazz. They’re getting the best odds among the favorites, but there’s ample reason to like them. First, the Jazz are a bit injured (see Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood). Second, the Clippers are healthy, and when at full speed, have been one of the best teams in the league. Their playoff history is chequered, at best, but that also means they’ve been there before and won’t be in awe of the spotlight.
Same can’t be said for the young Jazz. They have a tremendous defense, but when they get late in close games, where are they going to turn for that much-needed basket? Gordon Hayward? Fine, but I’d rather ride with Paul and Blake Griffin.
Photo credit: michalkajzerek (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
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