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NBA Playoffs – Eastern Conference Preview

The NBA’s Eastern Conference is down to four teams as the Knicks take on the Pacers, and the Cavaliers look to upset the Celtics.

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers

This series is an exciting matchup for NBA fans. It has something for everybody with the New York Knicks style of physicality and defence against the speed and offensive firepower of the Indiana Pacers.

Both the Knicks and Pacers knocked off relative giants on their way to the second round.

While the Milwaukee Bucks have had their struggles this season and played without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Pacers should have won it earlier if not for a disappointing performance in Game 5. Similarly, the Knicks gave the Philadelphia 76ers a sniff by dropping Game 5 in overtime before sealing the series in Game 6.

The Knicks are expected to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals at $1.32 to win the series. Sealing it in Game 5 is the favourite series score result at $3.70.

Jalen Brunson is on a tear and should help the Knicks set the pace of this series. He’s averaged 31 points per game since the NBA All-Star break while his usage rate (35.5%) is up there with Luka Doncic. Against the Pacers, in particular, he put 35.7 points per game on them while shooting 49.4% from the field.

We witnessed the official end to the ‘Brunson is too small to lead a team through the playoffs’ narrative in the first round. He scored at least 37 points in four consecutive playoff games, becoming the first player to do that since Michael Jordan in 1993.

His matchup with Tyrese Haliburton will be the defining factor of the series. It’s up to Haliburton to increase the speed of the game for the Pacers to play to their strengths. He’s the $1.40 favourite to lead the series in total assists.

Playoff basketball is different. Indy was kept to below 100 points only once throughout the regular season, but against the Bucks in the first round, they failed to reach the mark twice in four games. Pascal Siakam will be an important piece for Indy. He averaged 22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists against the Bucks, including two 30-point double-doubles.

At his best, Haliburton is one of the top players in the league. If the Pacers are to cause an upset, it’s Haliburton who will need more than the 19.7 points he averaged against the Knicks during the season—while maintaining his 13.3 assists—to do so.

The Knicks are the rightful favourites. They’re better placed to deal with the uncertainties of playoff basketball. Brunson is the best player in the series, and playing at home is another tick. In contrast, everything needs to go right for the Pacers to take the series. It starts in Game 1, where they’re $2.45 and +5.5 underdogs.

Best Bet Series Handicap - Knicks -1.5 @ $1.70*

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics are $2 favourites to win the NBA championship, so it’s no surprise to see them as heavy $1.15 and -11.5 favourites to win Game 1 of the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They’ve been the benchmark of the league all season. While they did drop one game to the Miami Heat in the first round, they won the rest by an average of 22 points.

Kristaps Porzingis remains sidelined, but the Celtics are still a force to be reckoned with. Al Horford is a reliable contributor. He gives the Celtics a different look; one they used to make life miserable for the Heat defence. If nothing else, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will pile up points.

The idea that you need a top-five player in the NBA at the time to win the championship is still a factor. It’s enough to be cautious of the Celtics as such heavy favourites to win the title. However, with Tatum averaging 21.8 points, Brown 22.8 points, and Derrick White 22.4 points against the Heat, the Celtics have the depth in their roster to make up for the lack of top-end elite talent.

Boston did it easy over Miami in the end. They face a tougher challenge here, though. While winning the season series 2-1 will give them confidence, all three games were decided by five points or fewer. Notably, the home team won in each.

Donovan Mitchell caught fire in Game 6 and 7 of the Cavaliers series win over the Orland Magic.

“With 39 points to lead the Cavaliers to a 106-94 win over the Magic, Mitchell made it 89 points across the final two games of the series. It’s the most of any Cavaliers player in Games 6 and 7 of a playoff series, which includes LeBron James.” NBA Week In Review

However, Mitchell will need more support around him if the Cavs are to advance. They scored only one point per possession throughout their seven games against the Magic. That won’t cut it against a Celtics team that finished the NBA regular season with the best offense in the league scoring 123.2 points per 100 possessions. Boston can crowd Mitchell and put a number of different defenders on him throughout the night, too.

Jarrett Allen’s health will be crucial after spending time on the sideline. The Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the NBA at getting to the rim, and he’s a major part of it. Darius Garland must improve on the 14.9 points he averaged against the Magic, while Evan Mobley’s 12.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3 blocks per game will need to hold up, if not improve, in this series.

Boston’s ability on offence is well-documented at this point. It’s worth noting that they rank inside the Top 3 defensively, too. They allowed the Heat to score only 100.7 points per 100 possessions in the previous series. Only two teams, one of which was the Cavaliers, scored fewer as the Celtics rattled off their best five games defensively of an already impressive series.

Both teams can score the ball, but this one will be won on the defensive end. Cleveland is capable after leading the league defensively last season and at points in this one. But the Celtics are an elite team on both ends. They should get the job done relatively comfortably on their way to another Eastern Conference Finals.

Best Bet Game 1 - Total Points Under 209.5 @ $1.90*

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