While the top two seeds in each conference will have to wait a few days to know their first-round opponents, four playoff matchups are already set. Two series are rematches from the Orlando bubble with the Milwaukee Bucks looking for revenge against the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks facing the Los Angeles Clippers. The Denver Nuggets meet up with the Portland Trail Blazers in a matchup of teams going under the radar and the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks square off in a showdown between two young cores looking to take the next step. Here’s what bettors should know about each series.
No. 4 Knicks (-114) vs. No. 5 Hawks (-112)
As the odds show you, this series is projected to be close. The Knicks and Hawks are both young and many key players lack playoff experience. Head coaches Tom Thibodeau and Nate McMillan are more than familiar with the postseason atmosphere and should have their teams ready to go. The Hawks finished the season ninth in offensive rating while the Knicks ranked fourth in defensive rating. In a matchup of strength vs. strength, this series will go down to the wire.
Pick: The Hawks are flying high under McMillan and Trae Young can get hot. The Knicks may have the best player in the series with Julius Randle. New York has home-court advantage and that might be the difference in a series expected to go to six or seven games.
No. 3 Bucks (-315) vs. No. 6 Heat (+235)
While no one will admit it, the Bucks will be relishing the chance for redemption in this series. In the bubble, the Heat neutralized Giannis Antetokounmpo and no one else could pick up the slack. Jimmy Butler was the best player on the floor and Miami’s youngsters absolutely cooked Milwaukee’s veterans. The Bucks are heavily favored in this series, but Butler’s playoff heroics from last season can’t be dismissed.
Pick: Antetokounmpo is searching for playoff success and this series is his chance to erase last season’s demons. Without Victor Oladipo, the Heat won’t have enough to pull off another upset. This series will go past five games, but Milwaukee should get the job done.
No. 4 Clippers (-400) vs. No. 5 Mavericks (+300)
This series was tied 2-2 after Luka Doncic’s stunning stepback jumper in Game 4, but the Mavs ran out of gas once Kristaps Porzingis got injured. The Latvian big man is healthy this time around and Doncic has further elevated his game. The Clippers will be looking to make up for an embarrassing exit from the Orlando bubble and appeared to have done their best to avoid playing the Lakers in the first round. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moved heaven and Earth to join forces; this is where they need to step up. Los Angeles is heavily favored.
Pick: Doncic is a phenomenal, rising talent but Leonard and George have more playoff experience and something to prove. The last time people had doubts about Leonard, he averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game while carrying Toronto to a title. The Clippers are likely to make this one quick.
No. 3 Nuggets (-117) vs. No. 6 Trail Blazers (-107)
This is a rematch of the 2018-19 conference semifinals, which went to seven games. The Trail Blazers come in relatively healthy while the Nuggets will be without star guard Jamal Murray. Nikola Jokic is having an MVP season and Michael Porter Jr. has emerged as a star in the making. Damian Lillard’s playoff history gives the Blazers a slight edge according to the book, but this series is a toss-up.
Pick: “Dame Time” is real, but Lillard has also lost in the first round three times. Portland is the healthier team, but the Nuggets have the likely league MVP and have shown enough with Murray sidelined to pull through. Like the Knicks-Hawks matchup, expect this series to go six or seven.
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