March Madness ended, Koepka just melted the Masters, and the NBA playoffs are upon us; One of my favorite three week sequences every year. And no, the play-in tournament is not the “playoffs” per se, but I do enjoy the purgatory this week presents. A brief break allowing me to forget the disgusting basketball I’ve consumed for the last month while watching 10 teams trot out G-League lineups. A whole week where matchups are set, the schedule is released, and Doc Rivers begins cycling through his handbook, “I Am Not Him”. In the meantime, we do still have meaningful basketball being played. Albeit, by nobody I see going past the first round of the playoffs (besides maybe one). But that’s neither here nor there because we’re concentrated on one thing and one thing only for the next two days: crushing the books, and building the roll ahead of el cream e’ le crop on Saturday. Let’s. Get. That. Loot.
Hawks @ Heat (MIA -4.5)
Heat won the season series 3 to 1, including 2-0 at home by a combined 10 points. This is a strong data point because those two games came just over a month ago, consecutively on 3/4 and 3/6. Clearly Vegas doesn’t even know what to do with this spread besides split the difference between previous results. Which frankly, I understand. These two teams are wildly unpredictable. The Hawks are HORRIFIC defensively. And the Heat are the epitome of mediocrity offensively, and as of late, defensively too. Playoff Jimmy will bring it, but will everyone else? Can Trae and Dejounte finally find some consistency on the court together when it matters most? Who the hell knows!? By far my least favorite matchup to handicap of this year’s play-in experience, but I will say this… Playoff basketball slows down and generally features more effort. This lessens two things: the possessions in the game, and the effort-based differential between the teams, which is usually in the Heat’s favor (they play harder). Add those two things to the fact that I believe Atlanta actually has the more talented roster, and I do think the Hawks lose this game, but by 2 or 3, not 4.5.
Pick: ATL Hawks +4.5
Wolves @ Lakers (LA -8.5)
This is another grimy one because of what we saw from the Wolves two days ago after a stretch of games where they played relatively well…
So obviously they’re both out… Gobert for 1 game with a sprained ego, and Jaden Mcdaniels indefinitely with a broken hand. Oh, and the Wolves are on the road against a Laker team that is 18-9 since their midseason acquisitions from who? You guessed it. The Timberwolves. DeAngelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jared Vanderbilt are going to be absolutely fired up for this game. I mean Malik and Vanderbilt have now both been traded TWICE in the span of three seasons by the same GM, Tim Connelly. Once from the Nuggets, and then again from the Wolves to the Lakers only a half season into Connelly’s tenure there. If that’s not enough to light a fire under your ass, I don’t know what is. Sprinkle in Anthony Davis without Gobert, and Lebron without the Wolve’s best wing defender, Jaden McDaniels, and the Lakers are going to win this game. No doubt in my mind about that. But 8.5 points is STEEP. Either find a way to money line parlay the Lakers with something else (Not the most economical option), take a teaser to get them from 8.5 points down to 4.5, or stay far, far away from this game.
Pick: Lakers Teaser
Bulls @ Raptors (TOR -5)
The Bulls have quietly begun playing some of their best basketball of the year over the course of the last month which was kicked off with a blowout win in Denver, crawling from 30-36 to 40-42 over that span. They’ve also boasted a top 10 defense over that same stretch. The Raptors are 2-0 at home against the Bulls this season, and ended the season similarly, going 9-6 in their last 15. Toronto makes your skin crawl offensively, but they have a ton of bodies they can throw at Derozan and Lavine in an attempt to slow them down. Furthermore, the addition of Jakob Poeltl at the deadline, may be a saving grace on the glass against 260 Ib. Serbian Nikola Vucevic. With both teams being bottom half of the league in pace this season, and even more so over the last month, I expect this to be an exquisitely slow-tempo game. What do you get when you add all those^ together? The UNDER.
Pick: Under 214.5
Thunder @ Pelicans (NO -5.5)
The Thunder are young and inexperienced. Throughout the month of March, they sporadically rested Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leaving many of us to wonder whether or not they even wanted to make the playoffs. Yet, they were one of the most profitable teams in the league this year going 45-34-3 against the spread. Look… The organization may see the writing on the wall that this team is not title-ready, but I can assure you, the young DOGS in that locker room do not share the same outlook. Youth gives you mystifying self-confidence, maybe out of ignorance, but nonetheless. And this team has a lot of it. The key to this matchup will be how they neutralize Jonas Valanciunas without a true Center. They will have to throw a ton of different defensive schemes at the Pelicans while hoping that players not named CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram, miss some decent looks from deep. It’s a tough matchup, but I believe it can be done. The Pelicans ended the year 7-3 through their last 10, playing particularly well at home, but Ingram and CJ’s backs have got to hurt. Both have been playing 38 min. and above down the home stretch. Give me the rested young bucks plus the points!
Pick: Thunder +5.5
About the Author
Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche, Broncos ‘till I die. San Diego State grad – Go ‘Tecs. My whole world revolves around sports and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s party!