If you tuned into the first round of the NBA Playoffs hoping for miraculous upsets, you’ve got the wrong league; the NBA is simply too top-heavy. Sure, the Bulls, Bucks, and Grizzlies made things interesting, but all eventually fell to higher-seeded opponents. The only lower seed to advance was the Utah Jazz, but a no. 5 over a no. 4 isn’t much of an upset, especially when you consider the Clippers were without Blake Griffin and, even when healthy, choke harder than a two-year old with a box of Lego.
To the average fan, the most entertaining part of the first-round came via the one-man Russell Westbrook show (37.4 PPG, 10.8 APG, and 11.6 RPG). In spite of the great individual performances, Westbrook’s Thunder were only able to take one game from the Rockets.
For those whose appreciation for the game goes a little deeper, your first-round hero likely came in the form of a much quieter, and much more efficient, player. (We’ll unmask this brave knight later.)
Without Westbrook in the second-round who will step up and entertain the masses? Does a smaller field mean more competitive matchups, or will we have to rely on solo efforts again? Here’s what the odds say.
NBA Championship Odds
Golden State Warriors: 3/5
Cleveland Cavaliers: 9/2
San Antonio Spurs: 10/1
Boston Celtics: 24/1
Houston Rockets: 33/1
Toronto Raptors: 55/1
Washington Wizards: 99/1
Utah Jazz: 150/1
The Warriors flexed their might in a first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, and did so with Kevin Durant only suiting up for two games. The former MVP is back to full speed and ready for the second round.
Meanwhile, the East’s top-seed (Boston, in case you forgot) had to dig itself out of a hole, after falling down 0-2 to the Bulls. Don’t let the Celtics’ first-round stumbles — or their comeback — misguide you; Boston never had a very good chance of emerging from LeBron’s East.
Second-Round Series Odds
Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors (1/9)
This series will provide all those who oppose the “defense wins championships” cliche with some ammo. No team allowed fewer points per game during the regular season than the Utah Jazz (96.8), while no one scored more points per game than the Golden State Warriors (115.9).
Do I expect the Warriors to score as much as they did against the Blazers? Absolutely not. But Joe Johnson and Gordon Hayward won’t have as much success on the offensive end, either. While the Jazz were tops in points-against per game, the Warriors were actually the second-best team in defensive efficiency.
Golden State simply has too much. I just wonder how much Matt Barnes and the Warriors will be affected by the lack of nightlife in Utah …
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs (2/3)
Though there will be (at least) eight other players on the floor at all times, all eyes will be on James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. The two superstars have been masterful all season, and continued to perform in the opening round of the playoffs.
What becomes problematic for the Rockets in this series is how perfectly Harden and Leonard epitomize their respective rosters. To put it nicely, outside of Patrick Beverley, the Rockets exert all their energy at the offensive end, while the Spurs get it done on both.
Gregg Popovich was able to slow the Rocket offense in four meetings this season (102.7 PPG). He threw a lot of different looks at Harden in an attempt to remove the ball from his hands. I expect to see much of the same in this series. Defense will prevail.
Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics (8/13)
Just to be clear, these are the odds after knowing the Celtics won Game 1 on Sunday. Why did the NBA choose to schedule these two to play back-to-back games while the Raptors and Cavaliers got more rest? We’ll leave that for another day.
Strong play from Rajon Rondo and dominance on the glass allowed the Bulls to grab a 2-0 lead on the Celtics in round one. The Wizards may have a guard (or two) of their own who will give Boston trouble, but they also have their own struggles on the glass, ranking 19th in total rebounding percentage (49.6-percent).
These two split their regular-season meetings, with the home team winning all four. Boston’s depth and adaptability will be too much for Washington to handle in a seven-game series. Gear yourself up for at least six games, though.
Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (1/2)
LeBron James used the Cavaliers’ first-round matchup with the Pacers to remind us that “playoff LeBron” is really good at masking his team’s numerous flaws. James averaged 32.8 PPG on 54.3-percent shooting, while adding 9.8 RPG and 9.0 APG in the four games against Indiana.
However, Cleveland’s defensive woes were still on full display, allowing 108.8 PPG and 11.8 offensive rebounds per game. The Raptors may not have an offensive talent of Paul George’s caliber, but they do have more dominant bigs and a much deeper offensive attack than Indiana.
This is not the same Raptors team that was thwarted by the Cavs in six during last year’s Eastern Conference finals. This time around, Toronto can compete on both ends of the floor. The additions of PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka have turned the Raptors into a top-tier defensive team, while DeMar DeRozan’s willingness to swing the ball has resulted in a much more efficient offense.
If Tucker and DeMarre Carroll can slow LeBron, and Kyle Lowry can not only defend Kyrie Irving, but also find his groove on offense, Toronto will have a chance at a colossal upset. But those are some pretty big “ifs.”
Odds Westbrook’s 51-point playoff game will be topped in the second-round: 7/4
Odds to have the highest-scoring game in the second-round
Kawhi Leonard, Spurs: 7/1
LeBron James, Cavaliers: 8/1
James Harden, Rockets: 17/2
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: 9/1
Isaiah Thomas, Celtics: 10/1
John Wall, Wizards: 10/1
Kevin Durant, Warriors: 11/1
Steph Curry, Warriors: 11/1
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: 16/1
Gordon Hayward, Jazz: 16/1
Remember that hero whose identity I promised to reveal later? Well, now is the time. Kawhi Leonard was a beast in the Spurs’ first-round matchup with the defensive-minded Grizzlies. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year quietly averaged 31.2 PPG on 54.8-percent shooting. Now facing a much weaker defensive unit in the Rockets, Leonard won’t be stopped.
Steph Curry’s odds take a hit with a fully-recovered Kevin Durant, plus the fact that the Warriors have to deal with the best defensive team in the league in the second-round.
Odds Westbrook’s three triple-doubles are topped in the second-round: 9/1
Odds anyone records more than three triple-doubles in the entire playoffs: 13/7
Odds to record the most triple-doubles in the second-round
LeBron James, Cavaliers: 2/1
James Harden, Rockets: 7/3
Draymond Green, Warriors: 3/1
Al Horford, Celtics: 10/1
Aside from Westbrook, LeBron is the only player to record a triple-double in the playoffs thus far. LBJ may need to take matters into his own hands more often in a second-round matchup with the Raptors, so look for him to fill up the stat sheet.
Al Horford was one rebound shy of becoming the third player to record a triple-double on Sunday, and he has a chance for a big series against a Wizards team that likes to play small.
But the only two who can match LBJ’s potential numbers are Harden and Green. Harden recorded triple-doubles in two of the Rockets’ four games against the Spurs this season, while Green prides himself on his ability to contribute in every aspect of the game. The latter sees slightly longer odds since he’ll likely play fewer games.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.