Sunday's Early Tips
April 14, 2018
By Kevin Rogers
First Round Series Odds
Eastern Conference First Round
No. 7 Milwaukee at No. 2 Boston (TNT, 1:05 p.m. ET)
2017-18 Regular Season (Tied 2-2)
Apr. 3 Bucks (-4.5) vs. Celtics 106-102 (Over 204)
Dec. 4 Celtics (-4.5) vs. Bucks 111-100 (Over 203)
Oct. 26 Celtics (+4.5) at Bucks 96-89 (Under 207)
Oct. 18 Bucks (+1.5) at Celtics 108-100 (Over 203.5)
The expectations were sky-high for the Celtics (55-27 SU, 50-30-2 ATS) entering this season with the acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. However, Boston will not have either player in the postseason as the Celtics will have a tough road trying to duplicate last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Hayward suffered a devastating leg injury in the first five minutes of the season at Cleveland, as the forward won’t return until next season. Irving put together terrific numbers (24.4 points per game, 5.1 assists per game) in 60 games, but has been sidelined since March 11 with a left knee injury. The former Cavaliers’ standout will also be on the shelf for the playoffs, as the Celtics will have to depend on many of their young guys to pick up the slack.
Among those players, rookie Jayson Tatum played in 80 games this season and produced the third-highest scoring average on the Celtics with 13.9 ppg, while second-year guard Jaylen Brown more than doubled his scoring output by posting 14.5 ppg. Former Louisville guard Terry Rozier blossomed in his third season with Boston by scoring 11.3 ppg off the bench, while participating in 80 contests.
The Bucks (44-38 SU, 34-43-5 ATS) also were a team that were predicted to make strides in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland. However, the team fired head coach Jason Kidd on January 22 after going 23-22 through 45 games. Milwaukee finished 21-16 under interim coach Joe Prunty and six games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the Central division.
The face of the franchise, Giannis Antetokounmpo set career highs in points per game (26.9) and rebounds per game (10.0), while averaging a double-double for a whole season for the first time in his five-year career. Small forward Khris Middleton rebounded from a 29-game campaign in 2016-17 to play in all 82 games this season and put together a career-best 20.1 ppg. Eric Bledsoe helped solidify the backcourt after the Suns traded the disgruntled guard to the Bucks in November as he averaged 17.8 ppg.
These two teams split their four meetings this season as three of the matchups came before New Year’s Day. Milwaukee caught Boston with no rest after losing Hayward in the season opening defeat at Cleveland, as the Bucks went into TD Garden on October 18 and grabbed a 108-100 victory as 1 ½-point underdogs. The Bucks outscored the Celtics, 32-20 in the final quarter as Antetokounmpo torched Boston for 37 points and 13 rebounds.
The Celtics picked up quick revenge eight days later in Milwaukee at the old MECCA on the campus of UW-Milwaukee. Al Horford scored 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while Irving put up 24 points in a 96-89 victory for Boston. Bledsoe didn’t play in the first two matchups for the Bucks, while the Celtics were limited to 42% shooting from the floor in those first two contests.
Boston knocked off Milwaukee in early December at TD Garden, 111-100 as 4 ½-point favorites. The Celtics’ offense finally busted out against the Bucks by hitting 55% of its shots, while Irving posted 32 points in the win. Antetokounmpo scored 40 points in the loss for Milwaukee, who suffered its only loss in a seven-game stretch from November 28 through December 9.
Milwaukee evened the season series in early April, 106-102 as 4 ½-point home favorites. Bledsoe scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor, while Antetokounmpo posted another double-double against the Celtics with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Three of the four matchups sailed OVER the total, including both meetings at TD Garden.
The Bucks closed the season on a 15-2 run to the OVER, including five consecutive OVERS on the highway. Milwaukee lost six of its final nine games in the role of a road underdog, but two of those wins came at Golden State and Toronto. Boston finished off March with six straight wins, but stumbled in April by going 2-4 SU and 3-3 ATS, while hitting the OVER five times.
The Celtics and Bucks are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1987, while Milwaukee is looking to advance past the opening round for the first time since 2001.
Eastern Conference First Round
No. 5 Indiana at No. 4 Cleveland (ABC, 3:35 p.m. ET)
2017-18 Regular Season (Pacers 3-1)
Jan. 26 Cavaliers (-6) vs. Pacers 115-108 (Push 223)
Jan. 12 Pacers (+1.5) vs. Cavaliers 97-95 (Under 221)
Dec. 8 Pacers (+3.5) vs. Cavaliers 106-102 (Under 221.5)
Nov. 1 Pacers (+10)vs. Cavaliers 124-107 (Over 217.5)
One of the most remarkable feats in sports is how LeBron James has managed to make the NBA Finals for seven consecutive seasons. That means in four seasons with the Heat and three with the Cavaliers, James’ teams have never lost a playoff series to an Eastern Conference team, going 21-0 in those series.
Last season, the Cavaliers pulled off a four-game sweep in the opening round of the playoffs against the Pacers. It was the third straight season Cleveland needed only four games in the first round to advance, but the Pacers gave the Cavs all they can handle as all four contests were decided by six points or less. In Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Cavaliers erased a 26-point deficit to shock Indiana, 119-114 as James put together a triple-double (41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists) to end any hopes of the Pacers creeping back in the series.
Fast-forward to this season where the Cavaliers (50-32 SU, 32-49-1 ATS) blew up their roster at the All-Star break as guard Isaiah Thomas was sent to the Lakers, while Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, and Iman Shumpert were also sent elsewhere. The new nucleus of Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, Jr., and Jordan Clarkson to go along with James and Kevin Love compiled a 20-12 record in the final 32 games to overtake Indiana for the Central division crowd.
The Pacers (48-34 SU, 47-35 ATS) exceeded expectations as this team opened the season with a win total of 30 ½. Paul George’s seven-year tenure with Indiana ended last summer after the All-Star forward was dealt to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo, whose NBA career never lived up its potential after a successful college career at University of Indiana, exploded for 23.1 ppg and shot a career-best 37% from three-point range.
Indiana captured three of four meetings from Cleveland this season, including a pair of wins in Indianapolis. However, the Pacers shocked the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in their first matchup on November 1 as 10-point underdogs, 124-107. Indiana knocked down 16 three-pointers in the victory, while the backcourt duo of Oladipo and Darren Collison combined to score 48 points. James paced the Cavs with 33 points and 11 assists, but Cleveland was limited to 7-of-31 shooting from three-point range.
In the next contest in early December at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers limited the Cavaliers to 39 second half points in a 106-102 triumph. Oladipo led Indiana with 33 points, while Indiana drilled 15 treys in the victory. The Pacers erased a 22-point first quarter deficit in the following meeting in January to shock Cleveland, 97-95. The Cavs struggled again from long distance by going 7-of-34 from three-point range, including a 2-for-9 effort from James.
Cleveland avoided the sweep by beating Indiana, 115-108 to barely cash as six-point favorites. James posted a triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, but also committed 11 turnovers. The Cavaliers owned the worst ATS home record in the league at 13-27-1 ATS, but 14 of those non-covers came against non-playoff teams.
In the last three first round series openers, Cleveland has cashed the OVER each time, while going 1-2 ATS in those games. The Pacers have been a solid road team to back in the playoffs since 2016 by cashing in five of the last six opportunities, including in both visits to Cleveland in last season’s first round.
You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.
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