The regular season has drawn to a close and despite a relatively lackluster regular season — by their high standards at least — the Warriors are heavily favored to come out of the West while the Bucks project to win the East for the first time since 1974.
Can the Warriors be beat?
Golden State lost 25 regular-season games this season — their worst mark since the 2013-14 season – but still finished tops in the West. With few teams jumping out to beat them, the two-time defending champs look destined for another title. Last year their win total fell by nine, but once the playoffs rolled around only the conference finals against Houston went beyond five games. They led the NBA in field goal percentage and points per game, they possess two league MVP winners and six All-Stars and they have won 32 of their last 38 playoff games. The Warriors can only beat themselves. As a betting proposition, now is the time to begin backing them again. They covered just 35 of 82 this regular season but are 37-25 against the spread in playoff games over the last three seasons.
Round 1 party crashers: Spurs
San Antonio ended up as the seven seed but Gregg Popovich probably doesn’t mind, as that resulted in matchup against Denver in the opening round of the playoffs. The Spurs have won 14 of their last 18 first-round series and have not suffered opening-round playoff exits in consecutive years since 1991-92. The Spurs have won 17 of their last 22 against the Nuggets and the teams split their season series 2-2 this year. The teams rank sixth and seventh respectively in offensive efficiency. The margin is razor thin between these teams and the Nuggets have dropped nine of their last 10 first-round series. The Spurs offer great value at a series price of +200.
Top team to fade: Raptors
Of all the one and two seeds, Toronto looks like the most vulnerable. The Raptors have lost the in the conference semifinals as a one seed two consecutive years and have only reached one Eastern Conference Finals. They’re on track to meet the 76ers in the second round and despite winning 13 of their last 16 against Philly, the teams are nearly identical statistically — save for Philadelphia’s major edge in rebounding. Toronto have a tough road back to the conference finals.
76ers 4-2 vs. Nets (+400)
Brooklyn played the Sixers well this season, splitting their four games. The Nets have won 19 of their last 27 home games, so expect them to prove stout against a much more talented Sixers team.
Warriors 4-1 vs. Clippers (+150)
The Warriors have won two of their last three opening-round series 4-1 and off a less-than-convincing regular season it seems likely that they will drop one road game to the Clippers. LA went 1-1 at home against the Warriors this season.
Bucks to win the East (+160)
Milwaukee has been the clear-cut best team in the East this year. They are on the right side of the draw with a ragged Boston team waiting and they will have the best player in every series they play, which is usually a strong indication that a team will advance.