Monday’s NBA Playoffs Primer

It took an unconventional route, but the NBA Playoffs have finally arrived.

The first round begins today and bettors have a full slate of games providing investment opportunities. The card begins at 1:30 p.m. Eastern this afternoon and wraps up late tonight, with ESPN broadcasting all of the action.

Here is a breakdown of Monday’s four-game slate:

Denver (-4.5) vs. Utah (215)
Denver was -3 or -3.5 on Saturday and Sunday and the total was around 217. However, Utah’s starting point guard Mike Conely left the bubble Sunday to attend the birth of his son.

Therefore, he’ll miss Games 1 and 2 and most likely Friday’s Game 3. The only way he can play in Game 3 is if he gets back to the bubble at some point today, and he’s not expected to do so.

Conley is in Columbus, OH., with his family. He plans to get back to Orlando as soon as possible, but he has the blessings of the organization and his teammates. Conley, who averages 14.4 points and 4.4 assists per game, shouldn’t be expected back with the Jazz until Game 4 at the earliest. Remember, he has to quarantine for four days upon his return before he can play again.

As of early this morning, the Nuggets were 4.5-point favorites, wit the total down to 215 or 215.5 points. The Jazz were +175 on the money line.

The season series was swept by Denver, which took all three games in narrow fashion. Big man Nikola Jokic averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists in those contests.

He will be countered by Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who averaged 15.1 points and 13.5 rebounds this season. Utah lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, while the Nuggets were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals.

Utah All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell averaged 24 points per game for Utah this season. The Jazz and Nuggets both went 3-5 in the bubble.

Denver was -205 to win the series, but that number is now around -300 or higher. Michael Porter Jr. emerged in seven bubble games, scoring at a 22.0 PPG clip, and will be a key factor in the series.

Denver’s Gary Harris and Will Barton remain ‘out’ for the Nuggets. Neither players has played since the restart due to injuries.

The ‘over’ has cashed in all eight bubble games for Denver. The ‘over’ is on a 5-1 run for the Jazz in its past six outings.

Toronto (-9.5) vs. Brooklyn (222)
Toronto is not expected to have any issues in its opening-round series against Brooklyn. The reigning NBA champs have been a surprise this season, coasting to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference despite losing Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors won the season series against the Nets, 3-1.

Brooklyn has dealt with major injury problems before it even arrived in Orlando. In addition to losing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for the season, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan never made it to the bubble.

Nevertheless, the Nets are 5-3 straight up and 6-2 against the spread in Orlando. In fact, they nearly denied Portland a chance to defeat Memphis in the West’s 8/9 play-in scenario this past Thursday night. However, Caris LeVert’s potential buzzer-beating game winner was off the mark in a 134-133 loss.

Toronto is at full strength after dealing with some injuries in the regular season and has the second-best defense in the league. Pascal Siakam is scoring 22.9 PPG this season and should be able to feast on this Nets’ team.

LeVert is leading the Nets with 25 points and 6.7 assists per game in Orlando. Joe Harris is adding 20.0 PPG and is shooting 54.1 percent from beyond the arc.

After missing the game vs. Portland with a groin injury, Brooklyn’s Chris Chiozza practiced all weekend and will play today. Jamal Crawford remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, though.

I like Toronto to make a statement and set the tone for the series in Game 1. The Raptors have experience in the postseason and have shown they are the superior team during the regular-season meetings.

Boston (-5.5) vs. Philadelphia (218.5)
The headline leading into this series is the absence of Ben Simmons for Philadelphia. He is unlikely to return this season and will definitely miss this series. Simmons was scoring 18.3 points, grabbing 8.5 rebounds and dishing out 5.8 assists in four games against Boston this season.

Philadelphia won the first three matchups against Boston this year before losing by 21 points on Feb. 1. The Celtics are 5.5-point favorites in Game 1 and went 41-27-4 against the spread this season.

Without Simmons, veteran Al Horford has moved back into the starting lineup for the 76ers.

Gordon Hayward is averaging 4.9 free throw attempts in Orlando, which is almost twice as many as he was shooting before the restart. His attacking play on offense will make the Celtics much more dangerous, especially against a Simmons-less Sixers’ defense.

Boston is a heavy -400 ‘chalk’ to win the series.

Los Angeles Clippers (-6) vs. Dallas (230)
The final game of the day will pit the Clippers against the Mavericks in an enticing first-round affair. Los Angeles is one of the favorites to win the NBA title, while Dallas boasts one of the best young players in the league in Luka Doncic. He scored 28.8 points, grabbed 9.4 rebounds and dished out 8.8 APG this season.

Doncic turned the ball over 15 times in three games against the Clippers, shooting 42.6 percent from the floor. He will be hounded by Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard throughout this series, although Beverley (calf) is ‘questionable’ for Game 1.

Leonard has proven himself as a postseason player and will be looking for back-to-back titles after winning one with Toronto last year. He will have Paul George as his running mate this time around, as George scored 21.5 PPG in the regular season. If Beverley can’t go tonight, George will help Leonard and defend Doncic at times.

Clippers’ guard Landry Shamet is also ‘questionable’ for the series opener, but power forward Montrezl Harrell is poised to make his bubble debut tonight.

Dallas had the best offensive year in NBA regular-season history based on offensive rating, averaging 115.9 points per 100 possessions. Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Tim Haraway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith are expected to join Doncic in the starting five. This group creates great spacing because each player can effectively shoot from the perimeter.

Los Angeles is -600 to win this series and advance in the Western Conference, with Dallas priced at +460 to pull off the upset. These are two of the top offensive teams in the league, but Los Angeles has more experience and more depth than the Mavericks. Doncic will garner attention from the Clippers’ elite defenders throughout the contest.

I like Los Angeles to cover this spread and get off to a strong start in the series. The ‘under’ probably has some value here too, as the Clippers should really ramp up their defense and nerves could be a factor in the early stages.

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