The first round of the NBA playoffs rolls on with four more games on Sunday. The action begins at 1 p.m. ET with the Buck-Bulls game. Golden State begins play at Denver at 3:30 p.m. ET and the Eastern Conference showdown between the Heat and Hawks tips off at 7 p.m. ET. Finally, the Suns and Pelicans close out the day at 9:30 p.m. ET. Let’s survey the night slate and pick the best bets for Sunday night.
Heat -2 (-110)
Atlanta avoided the sweep, now they can go away. Not so fast. The Raptors stuck around on Saturday and the Timberwolves recovered from a demoralizing loss in Game 3. With the NBA’s modern love affair with the 3-point shot, there’s almost no such thing as an underdog anymore unless the favored team launches the long ball at a better clip. Bad news for the Hawks, the Heat were the best 3-point shooting team in the league (37.9%). Time to go away.
The Heat went cold and blew a 16-point lead in Game 3, and Trae Young got hot again. Every time the Hawks have won, two things have occurred: Young got hot and the other team got cold. Young is not an elite superstar. He is very good, but he cannot carry a team on his shoulders. He can get hot and stuff the stat sheet, and the Hawks can still lose. There is a reason why the Hawks were in the play-in tournament. Young hasn’t developed into a superstar yet. He still needs support like most young stars. If he doesn’t get support, and he never does and never will for the rest of this season, then he needs his opponent to lay an egg. That happened in Game 3, and the Hawks squeaked by with a 1-point home win — that and Jimmy Butler took one of the worst last-second shots ever. The Heat shot 44.1% from the field and 31.1% from beyond the arc in Game 3. Both numbers were significantly lower than their season averages. Teams can’t be average in the playoffs. They need to step their game up, not step down.
Young can turn into Johnny Blaze tonight and it won’t matter if the Heat just play a normal game. This line suggests that Young goes nuts again and the Heat remain ice cold. An average Heat team beats the Hawks by two points. A below-average performance by the Heat still covers as long as Young isn’t unconscious from the field. The Hawks made 51.3% of their field goals and 37.5% of their 3-pointers in Game 3, much higher than their season averages (45.9% FG% and 31.5% 3P%). With everything going their way, they won by a point.
Suns -2.5 (-110)
The Suns lost Devin Booker and that rattled the team enough that they dropped Game 2. Without him in Game 3, the Suns regrouped and took care of business. It wasn’t an easy win, but they pulled away in the last five minutes. The Pelicans had their chance. They had their shot at the king and they missed. The Suns played without stars during the regular season, but the playoffs are a different beast. Teams get to practice and game plan for a specific team. The Pelicans had an opportunity to exploit a weakness in Game 3 and they failed. That’s as close as they’re going to get.
The Suns didn’t even play particularly well in their Game 3 win. They were out rebounded (45-35) and outshot from beyond the arc. The Suns shot a putrid 4-for-26 from three and made fewer free throws. However, when it comes to discipline, which is expected from the Suns, they controlled the game. The Suns had significantly more steals and fewer turnovers, and their free throw percentage was much better. That’s why the Suns are the Suns and the Pelicans are a play-in team. Expect the Suns’ shooting to improve while continuing to do all of the little things right. What cannot be expected is the Pelicans making 56.7% of their 3-point attempts like they did in their Game 2 win. That number fell by over 20 percentage points in Game 3, and they lost to the Suns, who couldn’t buy a three (15.4%).
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