The first round of the NBA playoffs gets underway on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET with a four game main slate. There are two games on the evening main slate. The Raptors-76ers game begins at 6 p.m. ET and the Western Conference game between the Nuggets and Warriors tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET. Let’s survey the evening slate and pick the best bets for Saturday night.
Raptors +4.5 (-110)
The 76ers were favored in every matchup with the Raptors this season. They lost every game. Philadelphia is once again favored to win, and the public is all over them. The public is smitten by the combo of James Harden and Joel Embiid. That tandem lost both of their matchups against the Raptors. Furthermore, Fred VanVleet was only active for one of the games against the Philadelphia 76ers this season. He scored 32 points in a win on Nov. 11.
Those were regular season games. Scheming and game planning virtually do not exist in comparison to 7-game series. Seven games against Harden and Embiid are going to be tough, but the Raptors must have an idea of what they’re doing if they were able to upset the 76ers in all four matchups. Eventually — likely in Game 2 — the 76ers will catch on to the Raptors’ tricks and build a solid counter attack. The series will likely go to the team with more stars in Philadelphia, but Game 1 is at least a cover by the gritty Toronto Raptors.
Nuggets +6.5 (-110)
The Warriors won their final five games of the regular season, but the last four were against four of the worst teams in the Western Conference. Before that streak to close out the season, the Warriors were 7-16 from early February to the end of March. Stephen Curry missed some of those games due to injury, but he played in the majority of those contests. His return will surely help, but when the calendar changed to 2022, this team changed. The Warriors’ role players have been inconsistent this season, and the return of Curry may return the role players and second-unit scorers to their nonplused roles that resulted in inconsistent production.
The regular season is not a complete joke in the NBA, but it’s a shaky data point at best. The end of the season games are an even worse leading indicator because of the strange nightly lineups and the plague of apathy that covers the league in its final month. However, a 15-game sample size is almost a fifth of the season, so it means something. Over the last 15 games, these two teams have excelled in opposing categories. The Nuggets are sixth in offensive efficiency (113.8), thanks in most part to Nikola Jokic. Their defense has been lacking in comparison, but 15th is the league average. The Warriors rank second in defensive efficiency and 16th in offense. That is what one would expect with the absence of Stephen Curry. In theory, with the return of Curry, the Warriors defense should remain constant and the offense should improve making the Warriors the easy favorite.
The biggest weakness for the Warriors in Game 1 is their greatest strength — Stephen Curry. There is little doubt that he can return on Saturday night and look as if he never missed a beat. That’s not the problem. The problem during the Warriors’ struggles this season was their lack of synergy on offense. Curry was reluctant to carry the load on most nights and none of the other contributors stepped up. On other nights, Curry would erupt and the role players would fizzle, contributing even less. The Warriors will likely figure it out during the series and rely on good defense, but there are good reasons to be concerned about this offense in Game 1. There are two big clues that the Warriors may struggle in this matchup on Saturday night. Steve Kerr has hinted about a minutes restriction for Curry and the DraftKings Sportsbook is clearly listening because they have yet to post any Curry prop bets.
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