NBA-Saturday-Play Offs-The battle for the ring begins…Its SHOWTIME!!!

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 7 Indiana at No. 2 Cleveland (ABC, 3:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Cavaliers 3-1)
Nov. 16 Cavaliers at Pacers (-2.5) 103-93 (Under 208.5)
Feb. 8 Cavaliers (+3.5) at Pacers 132-117 (Over 216)
Feb. 5 Pacers at Cavaliers (-6) 113-104 (Under 219)
Apr. 2 Pacers at Cavaliers (-8) 135-130 (2OT) (Over 214)

Oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag opened Cleveland as a healthy minus-1100 favorite (Bet $100 to win $9) to win their opening round series against the Pacers, who are plus-700 underdogs.

The line seems a little out of whack when you consider the form for both clubs. Cleveland closed the final quarter of the season with a losing record (9-13) and they enter the playoffs with a four-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Indiana enters the postseason with five consecutive wins.

Despite the struggles for Cleveland and its inability to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, it still has LeBron James and nobody in the East has been able to slow him down the last six years.

Cleveland took three of four against Indiana in the regular season and coincidentally, LeBron did not dress for the loss at Indiana back in November. For those keeping track, the Cavaliers went 0-8 without him in the lineup this season.

The Pacers will rely on All-Star Paul George and he appears confident for this series.

“We’ve got to go out and challenge them,” George said. “It’s going to be tough. They’ve been struggling of late, but they’re still one of the best teams in this game and have one of the best players in the world. It’s going to be a fun matchup. I’m looking forward to it. If you ask me, it’s who I’ve wanted to match up against.”

I believe Indiana can steal at least one game in this series but it’s hard to back a team that went 18-26 this season against clubs above .500. Plus, the Pacers own the worst road record (13-28) amongst the 16 playoff teams.

For betting purposes, Indiana has gone 16-25 against the spread on the road which tells you that they’ve only managed to cover three times in their 28 losses.

Cleveland is holding steady as an 8 ½-point favorite as of Friday evening and its gone 31-10 SU and 19-19-3 ATS at home this season. When laying less than 10 points at home, the Cavaliers have gone 13-6 SU and 7-10-2 ATS.

Since LeBron returned to Ohio, the Cavaliers have played in six Game 1’s at home and they’ve gone 5-1 in those contests while winning by an average of 13.6 points per game.

The Pacers were eliminated in the first round of last year’s playoffs in seven games to the Raptors and they went 1-3 at the Air Canada Centre in the series. However, Indiana was 3-1 ATS and the losses came by an average of 6.3 PPG.

Obviously a lot of new faces surrounding George in Indiana but it should be noted that they’ve been a steady investment (12-12 ATS) as visitors in the playoffs since 2012.

Oddsmakers sent out a total of 213 ½ for Game 1 and that number has been steamed down to 210 ½ and other than expecting more defense in the postseason, I can’t figure out why the pros are leaning to the low side in the opener.

Our friends at ASA recently noted how poor Cleveland has been defensively this season and Indiana has averaged 112.6 PPG during their recent five-game winning streak. The Cavaliers have proven that they can score on Indiana, averaging 126.6 PPG versus the Pacers when LeBron plays.

Game 2 will take place on Monday from Quickens Loan Arena.

Eastern Conference First Round
No. 6 Milwaukee at No. 3 Toronto (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Raptors 3-1)
Nov. 25 Raptors (-3.5) at Bucks 105-99 (Under 207.5)
Dec. 12 Bucks at Raptors (-8) 122-100 (Over 212.5)
Jan. 27 Bucks at Raptors (-6) 102-86 (Under 213.5)
Mar. 4 Raptors at Bucks (Pick) 101-94 (Under 204)

Milwaukee (+300) hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2001 playoffs and the oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag aren’t expecting that to change against Toronto (-380) in the first round.

The Bucks will enter this matchup with a 15-7 mark over the final quarter of the season but it should be noted that nine of those wins came against non-playoff teams. When Milwaukee steps up in class, it hasn’t answered and that was evident against Toronto this season and dating back to the 2013-14 campaign. During this span, the Raptors have gone 13-2 versus the Bucks and even more impresssive, they’re 10-4-1 agaisnt the spread.

The lone win this season came on Mar. 4 when Toronto was without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry due to an injury. When they did face him, Lowry averaged 23 PPG, 6.3 APG and he shot a blistering 52.4 percent from 3-point land.

The Raptors went 14-7 in his absence and newly acquired players via the trade deadline Serge Ibaka (Orlando) and PJ Tucker (Phoenix) certainly filled the void. Both of those veterans can shoot the ball and play defense, two critical factors in the playoffs.

Milwaukee’s success relies heavily on All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a knack of doing everything well (22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG). Outside of the Greek standout, the Bucks have a mixed bag of talent but veteran guards Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova do own championship rings.

Fast forward to Saturday and bettors might be leaning to the Bucks based on the Game 1 playoff tendencies for the Raptors. Toronto has dropped five straight postseason series openers over the past three years and they’re 1-10 all-time in Game 1 as a franchise. What’s a little more suspect is that four of those five aforementioned setbacks came at the Air Canada Centre.

For whatever reason, Toronto has struggled in all home playoff contests and not just Game 1. Over the last three postseasons, the Raptors have gone 10-7 SU and 5-11-1 ATS in Canada. As a favorite, the record drops to 8-6 SU and 3-10-1 ATS.

Toronto opened as a seven-point favorite and that number hasn’t moved as of Friday evening. During the regular season, the Raptors went 28-13 SU and 21-19-1 ATS at home and they’ll be facing a Milwaukee squad (19-22 SU, 17-24 ATS) that enters the playoffs with a losing record on the road.

Total bettors should note that the Raptors saw seven of their final eight games played at home go ‘over’ the total and they did average 110.9 PPG in front of their fans this season, which was the fifth best mark in the NBA.

The total for Game 1 opened 201 ½ and is listed as low as 199 ½ headed into the weekend.

The pair will meet again in Game 2 from the Air Canada Centre next Tuesday.

Western Conference First Round
No. 7 Memphis at No. 2 San Antonio (ESPN, 8:00 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Feb. 6: Spurs at Grizzlies (-1) 74-89 (Under 200.5)
Mar. 18: Spurs (-4) at Grizzlies 96-104 (Over 196)
Mar. 23: Grizzlies at Spurs (-8) 90-97 (Under 197.5)
Apr. 4: Grizzlies at Spurs (-9) 89-95 (OT) (Over 195.5)
**Game 2 will take place from San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Monday.

If they had their way, the Grizzlies would’ve likely preferred to be matched up with a team that it could more effectively throw off their rhythm. Golden State and Houston prefer to run and would’ve been more vulnerable on nights when outside shots weren’t falling.

San Antonio relishes a more deliberate tempo. It helps the veteran team focus and lock in defensively. This is a problem for Memphis, especially since top wing defender Tony Allen is probably out for the series with a calf sprain. The Grindfather sets the tone for the Grizzlies with his ability to lock up opposing catalysts and held Kawhi Leonard to 39 percent shooting over three of the season’s four meetings. Memphis won two of the three games Allen played, but lost the most recent encounter in overtime on April 4.

Leonard feasted with 32 points and 12 rebounds. In games where Allen was on the floor to shadow him, Leonard shot 14 percent from 3-point range. With him absent, Leonard shot up to 58 percent from beyond the arc. The combination of younger forwards JaMychal Green and James Ennis must now step up to try and bother Leonard, likely getting help from rookie wing Wayne Selden off the bench. With Allen and Chandler Parsons sidelined, the Griz are down two of their top three projcted wings coming into this season, left only with 40-year-old Vince Carter. Carter shot just 37.5 percent against the Spurs, averaging 8.5 points.

The Spurs have Danny Green back from a quad contusion they were cautious with, further complicating matters for Memphis. LaMarcus Aldridge has been in and out of the mix with a sprained thumb but looked sharp in shooting 9-for-14 in the regular-season finale, so the No. 2 seed is the healthier team in this pairing too.

Memphis went 2-3 with Marc Gasol sidedlined with a foot injury that sabotagd their chances of catching Oklahoma City for the No. 6 seed. He’s played in five straight games entering the playoffs, but has shot just 43.5 percent, averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. He has hit 8-for-16 from 3-point range, relying on a dimension to this that he’s turned to for the first time this season. That could be an x-factor here in helping clear space in the paint by pulling older brother Pau Gasol, Aldridge and starting center Dewayne Dedmon out on to the perimeter.

Mike Conley shot just 40 percent against the Spurs this season, averaging 18 points per game, so he’ll have to be better to give Memphis any chance at pulling an upset. In Year 1 after signing one of the NBA’s richest contracts, Conley has had his most productive offensive season, averaging career-bests with 20.5 points, .459 field goal shooting and a .407 3-point clip. His 171 3-pointers and 420 attempts also blow away previous career-highs, so it will be interesting to see whether he can put the Grizzlies on his back since he seemingly has the advantage over veteran Tony Parker and diminutive backup Patty Mills.

The teams have played four times since Feb. 6, including three times since March 18. After losing the first two games by margins of 89-74 and 104-96 in Memphis, the Spurs took care of buisness at home 97-90 and 95-89 to split the series. Only the Clippers won a series against San Antonio this season. The under has prevailed in seven of nine in this series. The Spurs have won three of four playoff series against Memphis, sweeping twice. They won 4-0 in the first round last year. The Griz pulled off a memorable upset in the first round back in 2011, beating top-seeded San Antonio in six games as the No. 8.

Western Conference First Round
No. 5 Utah at No. 4 L.A. Clippers (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET)

2016-17 Regular Season (L.A. won 3-1)
Oct. 30: Jazz at Clippers (-7.5) 75-88 (Under 190)
Feb. 13: Clippers at Jazz (-8) 88-72 (Under 207)
Mar. 13: Clippers at Jazz (-2) 108-114 (Over 202.5)
Mar. 25: Jazz at Clippers (-5) 95-108 (2OT) (Over 200)
**Game 2 will take place from L.A.’s Staples Center on Tuesday.

Although defeating the Kings on Wednesday night was never in doubt, the Clippers would be in Salt Lake City for this series opener if they had failed to do so. The homecourt edge should come in handy in the series computer models view as the most evenly matched of the NBA’s first round, but all it takes is one Jazz win over the next few days for them to wrestle it away.

Utah will take its first stab at an upset with a healthy lineup that it hopes will be able to make the difference. Derrick Favors played in three of the last four games and becomes the x-factor for the Jazz after being limited by injuries most of the season. The former No. 3 overall pick shot 6-for-19 in the two games he played against L.A., both losses, but has the size, skill and ahtleticism to make life difficult for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. If the Clippers have to worry about both he and Gobert patrolling the paint, this becomes a different series.

First-time All-Star Gordon Hayward, point guards George Hill and Shelvin Mack, Favors and scoring wing Rodney Hood all dealt with injuries over the season’s last few months. That made it all the sweeter that they were all available to take the floor in Wednesday night’s impressive win in a back-and-forth game against San Antonio. Since losing the final regular-season meeting on March 25, the Jazz have picked up home wins over the Pelicans, Wizards, Blazers, Wolves and Spurs in addition to a road upset at Golden State. In all, they’ve gone 7-2 to pull off their first 50-win season since 2010.

The Clippers are even hotter, entering the playoffs owners of the league’s longest winning streak at seven straight. The Wizards, Spurs and Rockets have been among their victims and their last five wins have all come by double-digits, so Doc Rivers has his team in a great groove. They’re 43-18 with Chris Paul in the lineup and 8-13 without him, so the Clips may have had a shot at catching Houston for No. 3 had they not been without their floor general for more than a quarter of the season. Instead, they’ve got a much tougher road, forced to deal with one of the top defensive teams in the league in Utah before facing the top offensive group in Golden State.

Griffin pulled back his intensity level over the regular season’s final week, but for the first four wins on this seven-game surge, he averaged 31.3 points on over 70 percent shooting, chipping in 7.3 boards and 5.7 assists. Being able to run offense through him to keep the Jazz defense from keying on Paul is going to be critical to getting out of the series.

Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert and two-time All-Defensive First Teamer DeAndre Jordan will look to stay out of foul trouble so they can serve as anchors protecting the rim. Jordan averaged 9.0 points and 12.8 boards and was successful in avoiding the whistle over the four regular-season meetings

Another key matchup to watch will be how Hayward deals with the physical defense of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who helped hold him to 10-for-30 shooting over the two losses the Jazz suffered with him in the lineup. He scored 27 points and shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the win, so his ability to generate offense will be critical to the Jazz since they often struggle to score.

The under has prevailed in three of the last four Jazz games, but went 2-2 during the regular season between these teams, topping the posted total in both March meetings.

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