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Enduring the unwatchable farce of a game that was the 4th quarter “fix” in Los Angeles last night, the entire Wahlberg family cannot help but question the legitimacy of the NBA. But, with that said, our Irish ancestry makes two vices unavoidable: 1. Alcohol. 2. Gambling. Fortunately for us, and the rest of you degenerates, the NBA playoffs guarantees 7 weeks of nightly wagers that don’t require soul-crushing boredom (here’s looking at you, baseball). In our experience, betting individual games is fun, but series prices are the better overall investment, especially combined with total games wagers. Translation for those not as addicted to sports gambling: betting not just the Cavaliers to win their first round series against the Pistons, but doing so in less than 5.5 total games will pay far better than simply taking the series money line. Though I do hope we’re not 4 games away from a lack of Stan Van Gundy. Anyway, here’s how the first round will play out. Follow me to the land of increased alcohol budgets.
1. Cavs vs. 8. Pistons
Lebron James has never lost a first-round series in his 13-year career, nor has an 8-seed taken down the regular season conference champion in a decade. The Pistons are likely the worst matchup of any of the 7-10 teams in the East for the Cavs, with dominant young big Andre Drummond surrounded by a host of floor stretching shooters like former top 5 pick Kentavius Caldwell-Pope. However, they are at least a year away from making any real noise in the East. Detroit’s core, comprised of Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, the aforementioned KCP and Drummond, averages just 3.8 years of total NBA experience, with all players under the age of 26. The Pistons play some of the worst on-ball defense in the league and are terrible against the pick and roll, a staple of Cleveland’s attack under new coach Tyronn Lue.
Cavs in a sweep.
2. Raptors vs. 7. Pacers
The Raptors gave Cleveland a bit of a scare throughout April, finishing the season just one game short of the top seed in the East. Led by guard combo Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan, the Raptors emphasize isolation offense at a clip higher than any other 2016 team. Coach Dwayne Casey, long considered one of the best teachers of defense in the league, has the Raptors ranking in the top 5 overall in defensive efficiency, steals, and points allowed per possession. The Pacers, on the other hand, have gone an entirely different direction, shifting from a plodding offensive strategy based on interior passing, offensive rebounds, and last season’s 3rd worst 3-point percentage, to a more run and gun offense with the addition of guard Monte Ellis and loss of Roy Hibbert. Rookie Myles Turner, perhaps the best first-year player in the conference, will be a matchup nightmare for the Raptors, but home court will pay huge dividends in a far more evenly matched series than seeding would suggest.
Raptors in 6.
3. Heat vs. 6. Hornets
The last time we saw this matchup, the Lebron-led Heat dispatched the then 8th seeded Hornets in 4, winning every game by double figures. This, however, is a matchup of totally different teams, as the Heat have lost both James and Chris Bosh for this playoff rematch from 2014. The Hornets, which actually equaled the Heat’s regular season win total for the 3rd overall seed in an unprecedented 4-way tie, are still the third youngest team in the conference. Charlotte, led by blossoming star point guard Kemba Walker, have endured Michael Jordan’s insistence on drafting every BIG 10 center (Zeller, Kaminski, Vonleh) benefitted mightily from the loss of team killer Lance Stephenson, and the acquisition of one of the league’s most underrated players: Nicholas Batum.
The Heat, somehow still bolstered by D-Wade in his 13th season in Miami, are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the entire NBA, relying more heavily on the midrange jumper than any other team. The question here will be Big Al Jefferson versus Hassan Whiteside. Can the aging former star keep up with the 7’1” shot blocker in Miami, and can Hassan keep his head on straight, after trailing only Demarcus Cousins in technical fouls amongst centers this season? Wade slides by the Hornets one more time with a throwback performance.
Heat in 5.
4. Hawks vs. 5. Celtics
Our beloved hometown Celts are indisputably on the upswing under Coach Brad “I might be 14” Stephens. Somehow utilizing a roster largely comprised of players that make you say “yea, I mean, he’s an ok player,” the Celtics earned the league’s second-best record post All-Star break. Isaiah Thomas, perhaps Boston’s most recognizable player and former castoff of both the Kings and Suns (how’d that turn out for you guys?) fuels a high-powered offense unlike any seen in the Garden since the “Big 3” of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. The Hawks, however, are still the 3-point shooting Spurs of the East, running a motion based offense under Coach Budenholzer incorporating outside in concepts reminiscent of Budenholzer’s former boss, Gregg Popovich. The Hawks scored nearly 4 points per game more in April than the rest of their season, perhaps suggesting a “peaking at the right time” narrative going into the playoffs. The key here will be the play of the Hawks front line of Paul Millsap and Al Horford. This will likely be their last run together (Millsap is a free agent, Horford rumored to be traded) ending one of the best front line duos in recent memory. Celtics will struggle to score late, lacking a true “star” to overcome Atlanta’s machine-like efficiency.
Atlanta in 6..
Image via YouTube