nba playoffs

The NBA playoffs are officially here.

They may be four months behind schedule, but we’ll finally get a resolution to the longest season in NBA history relatively soon. The 2019-20 postseason officially begins Saturday, when the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers will battle for the rights to serve as sacrificial lambs for the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round later next week.

Memphis has to beat Portland twice over the weekend to advance, while the Blazers will move on with just one win over the Grizzlies. Every other first-round matchup is already set, and NBA betting sites have been quick to slap odds on every series.

How should you bet the first round of the 2019-20 NBA playoffs?

Can Utah Upset Denver?

Team Odds at Bovada
Utah Jazz +150
Denver Nuggets -195

Denver will take on Utah in what looks like the least compelling of the four Western Conference first-round matchups. We have a couple of Northwest Division rivals going toe-to-toe, but the Jazz have looked particularly underwhelming since the restart.

Utah is playing without a key starter in Bojan Bogdanovic, who is out for the year after undergoing wrist surgery during the hiatus. His absence has left Quin Snyder’s wing rotation incredibly thin, which means the Jazz are relying on their starters to play even heavier minutes than normal. Utah went just 3-5 across the eight seeding games.

Denver, meanwhile, has used the seeding games to get healthy. Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Jamal Murray have all missed time leading up to the postseason, but they should be ready to roll for this series. The restart has given Mike Malone the chance to give extra minutes to youngster Michael Porter Jr., who has quickly established himself as the key to unlocking the Nuggets’ long-term potential.

With Porter and Nikola Jokic in the fold for the next several years, Denver suddenly looks like a viable championship contender. It may not come to pass this year, but the Nuggets just have too much firepower for an undermanned Jazz squad. Throw in the potential discord between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and you have the makings of what could be a pretty short series.

Denver at -195 looks like a lock to get past Utah, and the current odds still present some value.

The Pick: Nuggets (-195)

Revenge-Filled OKC-Houston Matchup

Team Odds at Bovada
Oklahoma City Thunder +290
Houston Rockets -370

Russell Westbrook was traded to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul last summer, and the trade has already paid dividends for both sides. The Rockets have looked rejuvenated since the restart with their small-ball approach, while Oklahoma City is one of the league’s most pleasant surprises.

The animosity between Paul and James Harden was evident at the time CP3 was sent to OKC, so one would imagine both players will take pleasure in potentially knocking the other out of the postseason just a year later. One unfortunate aspect of this series is that Westbrook is expected to miss at least the first couple of games after injuring his quad during the seeding schedule.

Westbrook’s health will likely determine how deep the Rockets are able to go. With him on the sidelines, Houston will lean even more heavily on Harden to get past the Thunder. Oklahoma City has held Harden to just under 29 points per game this season, which is impressive when you remember his per-game scoring average for the entire season is north of 34.

Can the Rockets survive without Westbrook in a series in which they’ll get dominated on the glass? The Thunder aren’t used to playing without a true center on the floor at all times, which presents an interesting matchup. Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel should feast on the glass, but will the Thunder’s defense be quick enough to chase the tiny Rockets all over the floor?

The safe money is on Houston to find a way to pull this out, but Oklahoma City makes for a compelling underdog bet at +290. This has been one of the more impressive defensive teams in basketball this season, and the Thunder have plenty of motivation on their side. Paul will give Houston’s defense sits, but in the end, I think the Rockets just have too much firepower for OKC to overcome.

At the very least, Oklahoma City is worth a flier at +290 to pull the upset. That said, the Rockets are still your safer option.

The Pick: Rockets (-370)

Clash Of Stars in LAC-DAL

Team Odds at Bovada
Dallas Mavericks +370
Los Angeles Clippers -500

Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis looks like one of the NBA’s next great twosomes, but I think this team is at least a year away from winning anything substantial. While Dallas has put together one of the most prolific offenses in NBA history with an average of 113.7 points per 100 possessions, the Clippers have enough defensive wherewithal on the wing to make things tough for the Mavs.

Depth is a serious issue for the Mavericks, and the Clips happen to be the deepest team in basketball. Once you get past Doncic and Porzingis, Dallas doesn’t have a consistent go-to scoring option. Doncic will likely see a snoot full of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley in this series. Porzingis can get any shot he wants against a smallish Clippers frontline, but that likely won’t be enough.

Let’s not sleep on a Clippers offense that rattled off 111.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranked second behind Dallas during the regular season. The Clippers come at their opponents in waves. This should be a high-scoring series, but it could also be a quick one. LAC getting through to the next round in five games isn’t far-fetched.

The Pick: Clippers (-500)

Can Portland or Memphis Slow Down LA?

Team Odds at Bovada
Portland Trail Blazers/Memphis Grizzlies +1200
Los Angeles Lakers -1500

To answer that question: No. The Lakers have had all sorts of offensive issues during the seeding schedule, but LA also wasn’t really playing for anything. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and co. locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference early on, so they spent the majority of the regular-season schedule getting into shape.

Portland is a fun story with a dynamic offense, but their defense is problematic. The Blazers have allowed over 111 points per 100 possessions, which is the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league this season. The Blazers’ defense should be a bit better with Jusuf Nurkic back in the fold, but it remains to be seen whether the big man can keep up with the more spry Davis over the course of a long series. Memphis is just tiny once you get past Jonas Valanciunas, as well.

The Blazers and Grizzlies just don’t have any defender remotely capable of stopping James, either. Regardless of who wins the play-in series, there just isn’t much merit to betting the underdog here.

The Pick: Lakers (-1500)

Will Jimmy Butler Fight TJ Warren?

Team Odds at Bovada
Indiana Pacers +170
Miami Heat -210

As usual, there isn’t quite as much drama in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, we do have a solid 4-vs.-5 matchup with Miami taking on Indiana. Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren got into a skirmish earlier this season, and the two engaged in some postgame antics on social media, too.

These two teams met in a seeding game just a couple of days ago. Warren began bubble play on fire, averaging over 39 points per game through the first three contests. However, Butler made it a point of shadowing Warren all game long on August 10, and he wound up limiting the Pacers’ swingman to just 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting from the floor.

The Pacers are also shorthanded for this series with All-Star Domantas Sabonis done for the year with a foot injury. Nate McMillan has been able to help keep the Pacers relevant despite a number of injuries to key contributors all year, but Miami is a team built to make a playoff run.

Butler is essentially obsessed with trying to thwart Warren at all costs, so it would be a surprise if Indiana’s swingman made a huge impact in this series. When he’s motivated, Butler is still one of the game’s premier defenders. Frankly, the main source of intrigue from this series will likely stem from whether the two players eventually wind up coming to blows.

The Heat will be too much for a thin Pacers team to handle in a long series.

The Pick: Heat (-210)

Celtics Look To Oust 76ers

Team Odds at Bovada
Philadelphia 76ers +230
Boston Celtics -305

The Sixers looked primed for a deep run at the beginning of bubble play, but that was before Ben Simmons was lost for the rest of the year with a knee injury. Now, Philly is having to lean even more heavily on Joel Embiid to work his magic, while Al Horford has been promoted back into the starting unit in place of Simmons.

Boston has flown under-the-radar all year long, and I’m not totally sure why. Jayson Tatum has made the leap into superstar mode this season, and Boston’s supporting cast is among the strongest in the league. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward give Tatum some high-octane supporting weaponry offensively, while Marcus Smart is capable of slowing down any opposing team’s best scorer on the wing.

The Celtics went 5-3 in the seeding games, including a very impressive 22-point win over the Raptors with both teams playing at full strength. Boston is a legitimate championship dark horse, and it’s very hard to imagine the wounded Sixers mounting much of a battle across a long seven-game series.

The Pick: Celtics (-305)

Can the Nets Shock the World?

Team Odds at Bovada
Brooklyn Nets +1400
Toronto Raptors -5000

The Nets will be a team to watch next season. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant set to join a solid young core featuring Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn will likely be among the trendy championship favorites among NBA bettors.

While Jacque Vaughn did an amazing job getting the ragtag Nets to go 5-3 during the seeding schedule, this team just isn’t equipped to actually challenge a well-coached team like Toronto in a playoff series.

The Raptors are quietly the NBA’s best defensive team. You can be sure that Nick Nurse will have a plan to slow down LeVert, who is really Brooklyn’s only dangerous offensive weapon. I’m certainly skeptical of the Raptors’ chances of winning back-to-back titles without Kawhi Leonard in the fold, but Toronto also hasn’t really skipped a beat without him this season.

So, no, the Nets cannot shock the world.

The Pick: Raptors (-5000)

Will The Magic Win One Game?

Team Odds at Bovada
Orlando Magic +1400
Milwaukee Bucks -5000

The Milwaukee Bucks have looked a little less convincing than usual during the seeding games, but they were essentially in the same boat as the Lakers. All they had to do was to get through the final eight games healthy. Winning games was a secondary concern, at best.

So, it’s not concerning at all that Milwaukee went 3-5 during the eight-game sprint to the playoffs. They rested their starters for several of those games, while Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the last game after getting a one-game suspension for headbutting Moe Wagner.

Getting past a quality defensive team like Orlando in the first round won’t be easy, but it would also be legitimately stunning if the Magic managed to take more than one game in this series. The Bucks have done an excellent job defensively against centers this season, which means Nikola Vucevic is in a tough spot. Other than Vucevic, Orlando really doesn’t have many consistent offensive threats.

It also won’t help that the Magic’s best chance of trying to limit Giannis, Jonathan Isaac, is out for the year after tearing his ACL a few games ago. This series has sweep written all over it. While Orlando could steal a game, the Bucks will almost surely be one of the first teams to reach the conference semis.

The Pick: Bucks -5000