The NBA Playoffs officially begin today, and the quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy may be even more wide open than it was in the bubble just two seasons ago. Six teams have futures odds sitting at either +1000 or less, and that group doesn’t even include the 56-win Memphis Grizzlies. Even though only two of those seven teams – Golden State and Memphis – are in action, we’ve broken down all four matchups on today’s card.
Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks
Best Bet: Jazz -4.5 / -110 (BetMGM)
Dallas Mavericks’ All-Everything guard Luka Doncic has officially been ruled out for this afternoon due to a calf injury, leaving the door open for the 5th-seeded Jazz to steal Game 1 on the road.
Utah and Dallas split their season series this year, with each team going 2-0 in their home arena. Both of the Mavericks’ wins came last month, and in those games, Doncic averaged 33.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 6.0 APG. With all due respect to Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie, that offensive production is going to be hard to replace.
The Jazz finished the season ranked first in Offensive Rating (116.7), but it’s their defense – anchored by Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neal – that’s going to cause a lot of sleepless nights for Mavs’ fans. Dallas is more than capable of winning a couple of games without their star playmaker, but expect Utah to pounce on a wounded Mavericks team and take control of the series.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies
Best Bet: Grizzlies -6.5 / -110 (BetMGM)
The Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves square off this afternoon in what is arguably the most exciting series in the first round, thanks in large part to the star power of Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards. Much like Utah and Dallas, the Timberwolves and Grizzlies split their season series this year, but only one of the four games was decided by more than seven points.
The second-seeded Grizzlies are Southwest Division champions for the first time in franchise history, and are heavy favorites to advance to the conference semifinals. The Timberwolves’ offense has been stellar since the All-Star break (123.0 PPG), but it should be noted that 10 of those 23 games were played against teams firmly entrenched in the NBA Draft Lottery.
Despite Minnesota’s emotional victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in tournament on Tuesday, it’s hard not to side with Memphis in Game 1. Even if you factor in their season-ending blowout loss to the Celtics last Sunday, the Grizzlies are 17-4 against the spread at home since New Year’s Eve. Conversely, the Timberwolves ended the regular season 1-6 ATS – a stretch that included three losses by 18 points or more.
Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers
Best Bet: Sixers -4.5 / -106 (UniBet)
Nearly three years later, Philadelphia’s Game 7 loss to Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals continues to motivate Joel Embiid, and the Sixers’ perennial MVP candidate will look to impose his will on a Raptors team that doesn’t have a player on its roster taller than 6-9.
This is one of those times where you ignore the trends (Toronto is 3-1 against Philadelphia this season) and go with the team that needs the game the most. Let’s not kid ourselves: The pressure is on the Sixers to take control of this series from the jump, especially with wing defender Matisse Thybulle unable to play in Toronto due to his vaccination status.
Philadelphia (5-2 overall in their last seven at home) simply can’t afford to drop either of these games at the Wells Fargo Center. Toronto has played all of two road games since March 21, and will be facing an energized Sixers’ fan base hot for revenge. Let the record show that the Raptors are historically slow starters in playoff series, going 5-14 ATS in Game 1s in franchise history.
Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Best Bet: Warriors -6 / -112 (FanDuel)
All signs are pointing to Stephen Curry being in the Warriors lineup for Game 1, and if that’s the case, expect Golden State (31-10 straight up at home this year, and 29-9 as a home favorite) to easily cover the spread this evening.
Trying to slow down Curry is one thing, but attempting to stop him, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins is another beast entirely. Sure… Nikola Jokic will likely put up MVP numbers even as the Warriors – who rank second in the league in Defensive Efficiency – throw Draymond Green and the kitchen sink at him. But Denver simply won’t be able to keep pace with a multi-faceted Golden State attack that outscored its opponents by more than 13 PPG in April.
Due to injuries, tonight will be the first time in five contests this season where both Golden State and Denver will face each other at (relatively) full strength. In the most recent matchup between these two teams (March 10), Curry and Poole combined for 55 points in a 113-102 win in Denver.