The first round of the NBA playoffs continues Sunday at 1 p.m. ET with a four game main slate. The Nets-Celtics game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and the Eastern Conference showdown between the Bulls and Bucks tips off at 6:30 p.m. ET. Let’s survey the slate and pick the best bets for Sunday.
Bucks -10 (-110)
Ten points seems like too many for a playoff game, but is this really a playoff game? Ten teams from each conference qualified for the playoffs. Not just half of the teams in the league are playoff teams, two-thirds of the league are playoff teams. Saying the competition is watered down is being nice. Saturday night’s matchups revealed that the real season has begun and the winners are ready to separate themselves from the losers. The 76ers humiliated the Raptors and the Warriors put the league on notice. The Bucks are fully healthy and poised to make an even bigger statement on Sunday in the Easter evening spotlight.
The Bucks closed the season 15-7 and have the fourth-best offense since the All Star Break. Their defense is lacking but that shouldn’t hurt them against the Bulls’ weak offense (25th over that same span). The Bulls were banged up over that stretch, but even when most of their lineup returned, their offense still sputtered (23rd over the last 10 games). The Bucks have won and covered the last three games between these two teams. Their average margin of victory in those contests is 18 points. The Bucks are the defending champs and the Bulls’ big three have been a disappointment. Maybe the story would be different if Lonzo Ball were healthy and they had a big four, but he’s not.
Celtics -4 (-110)
The Boston Celtics cannot get any respect this season. Arguably, they’re the best team in the NBA, and it’s not a complex argument. Since the All-Star Break, the Celtics have the best offensive efficiency rating and the third-best defensive efficiency rating. Even if one doesn’t believe in Boston’s roster or considers them to be a regular season team, Brooklyn’s roster is worse, and they’re neither a regular season team or a playoff team. Brooklyn has a top-10 offense, but they’re defense ranks 18th since the break. The Nets are 13-10 over that span, while the Celtics are 17-5 (the best record in the NBA since the break). The four-point line is a slap in the face of the Boston Celtics.
On Jan. 29, the Celtics forgot how to lose and transformed into the big green monster that they are. Boston is 26-6 and 20-11-1 ATS over that span. At home, they’re 12-3 but their ATS slides to 7-7-1. That is concerning, but the Celtics were double-digit favorites in three of the contests that they failed to cover at home. In fact, Boston was larger than four-point favorites in all but one home game on this run (Boston was 1.5 point favorites in their 120-107 win over the Grizzlies on Mar. 3).
The Celtics are the better team. They’re the better team on paper. They’re rested and at home. The Nets have bigger names, so they received a boost in the line based on public perception. Quantitatively, the Celtics should be double-digit favorites. If Boston is wise, they’ll knock out the Nets in Game 1 and eliminate all the hope that the Nets might have.
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