NBA playoffs, betting odds, picks: Hawks among Game 1 winners on opening weekend; Lakers underdogs for reason

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been there. You’re going to money line parlay several of Saturday’s favorites together, aren’t you? It’s the NBA. Low seeds never beat high seeds. What could possibly go wrong? It’s free money! 

Famous last words. The first weekend of the NBA postseason is a minefield. Teams look healthy. Their flaws haven’t been exposed yet. The vast differences in record and net rating between top seeds and lower ones lull you into a false sense of security. You forget about shooting variance and wildcard strategies and human nature. Sometimes it just takes the best teams a game or two to rev up. They have a four-game cushion to do so. Your wallet doesn’t. 

Both No. 1 seeds lost their playoff opener last season. Both No. 2 seeds lost Game 1 of the first round in 2019. The list goes on and on. If you have a single favorite that you like? Sure, go for it. If you think this year’s crop of contenders is upset-proof, you’re going to lose money. There are going to be upsets this weekend, so let’s go through each game and try to pick out the danger spots. 

All lines via William Hill Sportsbook

(Saturday’s games)

Featured Game | Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

Miami is going to be a popular upset pick, but not necessarily a wise one. The Bucks have the fifth-best home net rating in basketball at plus-7.7, while the Heat were outscored on the road by 0.7 points per 100 possessions. Remember, last season’s victory in the Orlando bubble was played on a neutral floor. This time around, the Heat have to win in Milwaukee, and they have to do it without Jae Crowder, who not only played a critical role in defending Giannis Antetokounmpo last time, but also made 22 3-pointers in that series.

Featured Game | Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks

It’s hard to take Dallas too seriously defensively at this stage. Maxi Kleber defended Kawhi Leonard for most of last season’s series, and though he will likely play through this series, he is nursing an Achilles injury. Kristaps Porzingis has regressed on that end of the floor, and the Clippers will likely happily concede a few post-ups to draw him away from the rim in smaller lineups. The Clippers no longer have players like Montrezl Harrell or Lou Williams for Luka Doncic to exploit defensively, so this matchup looks better for them on paper. 

Featured Game | Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

Brooklyn played Boston three times this season and won those games by a combined 45 points. The Nets didn’t have all three of their healthy stars for any of those matchups. They will for Game 1. Boston won’t have Jaylen Brown. This seems like a slam dunk. 

Featured Game | Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Here’s our first upset on the board. The Nuggets might’ve been able to make a real postseason run without Jamal Murray if the rest of their guards had stayed healthy, but now P.J. Dozier and Will Barton are out as well. That’s disastrous in a series against Portland’s guards. Who is going to defend Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell? Is Denver willing to make the offensive sacrifices necessary to play Shaq Harrison? Can Austin Rivers provide starter minutes? These aren’t encouraging answers. 

(Sunday’s games)

Featured Game | Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards

Washington lost all three of its regular-season matchups against Philly, but covered this spread in two of those games. Joel Embiid is going to dominate in this matchup overall, but he’s lost his past four Game 1s. The Wizards are battle-hardened after playing two play-in games. The 76ers might be a bit rusty after sitting for a week. If ever there was a moment for Russell Westbrook to take over a game on his energy and at least make this series slightly interesting, it would be Game 1.

Featured Game | Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers

This is a strange series from a gambling perspective. The Lakers are favored to win the series, but are underdogs in Game 1. Vegas seems to have caught on to a favorite trend of the gambling community: picking against LeBron in Game 1s. He lost two of them last season. Take a look at his per-game averages in each stage of a playoff series. He’s noticeably worse in opening games: 

His health only exacerbates these issues. James is likely to get stronger as this series progresses, and mentally, he tends to need a game or two to master his opponents’ tendencies. The Lakers are fair favorites in this series, but in this game, Phoenix is the likelier winner.

Featured Game | New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks

Nobody would blame you for taking the Knicks on emotional grounds. The Madison Square Garden crowd is going to go absolutely wild for its first home playoff game in eight years. In basketball terms, though, this matchup is favorable to Atlanta. The Knicks don’t have the sort of high-scoring guards that can exploit Trae Young’s defensive weaknesses. New York’s regular-season effort advantage shrinks in the playoffs. Game 1 might be a tall order, but if you like Atlanta in the series, don’t be afraid to ride the Hawks on a game-to-game basis as well.

Featured Game | Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Donovan Mitchell is expected to play in this game, but after missing more than a month with a sprained ankle, we don’t know what version of him we’re going to get. Reintegrating him back into the offense is going to take time, and while the Jazz are more than capable of winning this series comfortably even without him at 100 percent, asking for a Game 1 blowout might be a bit ambitious. 

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