TORONTO RAPTORS (-6) over Philadelphia 76ers
I said after Game 1 that Philly would need more out of Jimmy Butler if they had a chance of breaking through Toronto’s defense. After scoring 10 points on 4-12 shooting in that game, Butler’s made me look very smart, averaging 27 points, 10 boards and 6 assists over the last three games and evening the series for the Sixers. He’s spent most of the series matched up against Danny Green, with Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry adding their contributions as well. In their Game 4 loss, however, Jimmy came face-to-face with Kawhi Leonard second only to Green and he showed a reticence to shoot the ball, attempting only two shots against Toronto’s superstar-for-hire. He still managed 29 points on the whole, but I expect him to face a heavier dose of Leonard in this next game. Butler has succeeded in slowing down Leonard on the other side of the ball, while Kawhi absolutely abused Ben Simmons in Game 4. Still, there’s really no one to slow down Leonard when he’s playing this well and I anticipate Toronto grabbing control of the series.
DENVER NUGGETS (-4.5) over Portland Trail Blazers
I thought Denver was toast after dropping that epic 4 overtime Game 3, but they bounced back in Game 4, led by another triple double outing from Nikola Jokic and a 21 point effort from Paul Millsap. Yet it was Jamal Murray who has given Portland the most trouble during this series. Murray made half of his field goals and went 11/11 from the free throw line on Sunday to steal home court advantage back for Denver. Portland has tried a combination of Moe Harkless, Damian Lillard and Rodney Hood to slow down Murray and none of them have shown much success on the young guard. The Nuggets absolutely owned their home court during the regular season, going 34-7 in Denver and while they’ve surrendered two home games during these playoffs, this team has the momentum moving forward. I don’t expect a road team to win again during this series and I look for the Nuggets to win this fabulous series in 7.
Boston Celtics (+9) over MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The Celtics very well may be done for, but those 9 points are hard to bet against. Also consider the fact that the Celtics are 3-1 on the road during these playoffs despite Kyrie Irving averaging nearly ten points less on the road that he does at home. I liked Boston throwing Al Horford on Giannis earlier in the series but it hasn’t worked. Giannis is averaging 30.5 points per game in this series and is scoring most of those against Horford. Boston has tried Jaylen Brown on Giannis on a very limited basis both during the series and regular season with some relative success. If Boston can throw some new looks at him, they can slow down the onslaught and try to salvage this series and their season. Even if they can’t gut out a win, look to Boston to keep it close on Wednesday night.
Houston Rockets (+6) over GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
I think Golden State pulls this game out, but all four games of this series have been within 6. During the first two games in Oakland, the Warriors ran Houston off the three point line but gave up more opportunities from the foul line. Similarly, Harden on the road has averaged 7-22 from the field but has gotten to the line 11 times per game during the playoffs as a whole, keeping Houston in a lot of games. The Rockets have controlled the pace of the series so far, forcing a Warriors team that averaged 101.8 possessions per 48 minutes during the regular season down to 96. It’s muddied up the series and kept it competitive. Yet this is the exact situation that the Warriors brought in Kevin Durant to assist with. In the head-to-head match up between Durant and Harden, I’m going to roll with Durant pulling it out but with Harden mucking things up and keeping Houston within 6.
Odds taken from Bovada