Editor's Note: For complete access to Mackenzie's NBA Player Values chart (updated each round during the playoffs), which assigns point values to the top 80+ players across the league and supplements his free weekly NBA Power Ratings below, click here to learn about our new Betting Predators NBA premium package. For the complete details of my updated NBA 2021 Power Ratings, which include each team's net rating, offensive rating, defensive rating, current record and more, you can view the full spreadsheet here.
In order to create a betting line between two of the teams listed below, simply find the difference between the two teams' power rating and give the home team an additional 1.5 points for home court advantage (HCA). Example: the Los Angeles Lakers play the Golden State Warriors in L.A., and the Lakers are 6 points better according to the power ratings. The Lakers are also home, which is worth 1.5 points. The line in this case should be Lakers -7.5 (6 points added for PR difference, plus 1.5 points added for HCA). To adjust for new player injuries, rest days and minutes restrictions throughout the week, I recommend pairing these power ratings below with my weekly NBA Player Line Values in order to create the sharpest lines.
Brooklyn Nets - Current: +7.5, Last: +8.5, Start: +4.5
Without James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets are still the best team in the world. How could I come to any other conclusion? The Nets have a '2016-17 Warriors-style +18.2 Net Rating in non-garbage time through their first 7 games of these playoffs. Moreover - and more recently - the Nets eviscerated the Bucks (my 3rd best team in the league right now) in back-to-back games. Granted, we do not want to overreact, but there was absolutely nothing fluky about these Nets wins. BKN created great shot after great shot while holding their own on the boards vs. one of the NBA's top frontcourts in Lopez & Giannis.
L.A. Clippers - Current: +7, Last: +7.5, Start: +5.5
Colin Cowherd recently asked on The Herd - "Why did this go 7?" - in a cynical tone, implying that the Clippers should not have let their first-round series be so close. He may not have seen anything redeeming in the Clippers' first round series victory over the Dallas Mavericks (it seems like most people didn't), but I did. Over the 7 games in that series, the Clippers won on average by 5.1 points per game. That’s pretty much what we would expect over a larger sample size too. The Mavericks pulled upset wins in both Games 1 & 2, shooting 50%+ from three-point range. Other than the Clippers starting 0-2, the series did not vary much from expectations in my opinion. Long story short here: the Mavericks are good, and a win is a win.
Milwaukee Bucks - Current: +7, Last: +7.5, Start: +6.5
Earlier I spoke about the Nets creating great shot after great shot in this series vs. the Bucks; the exact opposite could be said of Milwaukee’s offense. The Bucks had exactly 0 shots at the rim in the first quarter of Game 2 and began the game with 4 consecutive contested mid range jumps shots. The Nets got a 3-0 lead on a deep Kyrie three and never looked back en route to winning wire-to-wire and leading by as many as 49 points (!). MIL has no answer for BKN on offense, but, having that said, nobody does. What’s worse for the Bucks in this series is that despite their size advantage, they have no clear strategy on how to exploit BKN's supposedly mediocre defense. Even sans-Harden we've still got BKN rated higher than MIL.
Phoenix Suns - Current: +7, Last: +7, Start: +2
Underestimate this team at your own peril. The Suns are 5-2 ATS in these playoffs, and one of those losses came with Chris Paul sitting out the 4th quarter and unable to play on a bum shoulder. What may be scarier for the West is that 24 year-old Devin Booker and 22 year-old DeAndre Ayton will only get better and more seasoned as Chris Paul leads them through these and possibly future playoff runs.
Philadelphia 76ers - Current: +6.5, Last: +6.5, Start: +2.5
Center Joel Embiid looked no worse for the wear coming back after missing time with a partially torn meniscus. He played excellent in Game 1 vs. Atlanta, posting 39 Points and 9 boards and even better in Game 2. You might think well, he's not 100% physically and just had a hot a few hot shooting nights at home in Philadelphia. Other statistics, however, illustrate Embiid's floor game was nearly as good as ever - Embiid posted three blocks and a steal in that same Game 1, and the Sixers were +13 with him on the floor. The Sixers were -17 in 10 minutes without Embiid on the court in that loss as well, but rebounded nicely to even the series in Game 2. Like with the Milwaukee Bucks & Giannis, Embiid & the 76ers may not have the dynamic guard play to make deep playoff runs as currently constructed, but at least they have a shot with him on the court and playing at peak levels despite his current injury. I expect continued dominance here.
Utah Jazz - Current: +6, Last: +6, Start: +2.5
The Utah Jazz led the league in Net Rating this season, largely because they lead the league in another statistic - most "wide open" three-point attempts. Against average NBA opponents, no team matched the Jazz in terms of what opportunities they were able to make for their guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell to drive and kick, drive and kick again, until the team got a great shot. Against the Los Angeles Clippers though, the Jazz are facing a huge offensive hurdle. First of all, the Clippers have a bevy of a strong perimeter defenders – all of whom can switch with one another easily - and secondly, both Conley and Mitchell are dealing with nagging injuries. If one or both of them are significantly hindered, I would project this Jazz offense to grind to a halt against Kawhi and company, despite their Game 1 victory at home.
Atlanta Hawks - Current: +3.5, Last: +2.5, Start: +0
Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan finally got out of the first round after getting swept out of his last three playoff series. Since McMillan has taken over the Hawks have seen their title odds jump from 200/1 in March to around 20/1 after their domianting Game 1 win at Philly. Feels to me at this point - much like 22-year-old Trae Young - that McMillan and the rest of Atlanta are playing with house money.
Denver Nuggets - Current: +3, Last: +3.5, Start: +3.5
Nikola Jokic faces the following problem - DeAndre Ayton - and I mean that in two ways: first off, Jokic's immediate problem is attempting to score/assist on and around Ayton in this series. In 4 games vs. Ayton this season, Jokic is averaging only 24.8 PPG on 48% shooting. Compare that to his season average numbers of 26.4 PPG on 57% shooting. Secondly - and philosophically - Ayton represents the prototypical NBA big man that Jokic is not. Ayton was picked #1 in the 2018 draft due to the certainty of his abilities and skill set. For the most part, Ayton is the biggest, most physically daunting player on any court he steps onto. Ayton anchors the Suns' defense and he finishes plays that his more talented guards set up for him on offense. Jokic is the opposite of all that. So far, his skillset has transcended any traditional NBA orthodoxy. However, until proven otherwise, the last 70 years of NBA basketball says that the center position represents the most important defensive player on the team. If Jokic cannot become elite defensively, then these Denver Nuggets may have a hard ceiling on how good they can ultimately be.