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After Wednesday, May 26th, every playoff series has played two games. Four of the eight opening round series now yield 2-0 leads, with the higher seed holding serve and winning both home games in three of those matchups, and with Dallas surprisingly winning both road games at Staples Center against the Clippers. In this article below we’re going to look at the best betting spots for each series as the teams shift venues. Before doing that, we want to note that only 21 times in NBA history has a team rallied from an 0-2 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and never has a team come back from 0-3 down.
1 Philadelphia 76ers vs 8 Washington Wizards
Philadelphia leads 2-0; Game 3 on Saturday night at 7 PM ET on ESPN
Analysis: I lean towards playing the Wizards first half team total over as this series plays its first game in the nation’s capital. If you’ve watched the first two games of this series, you probably see why Washington is the eighth seed in the East. The Wizards don’t bother playing any defense, they’re not very deep and there hasn’t been much fight in them once they get behind in the second halves of games. It would be a surprise to many if this series went any longer than five games, which would make Saturday and Monday the last two home games of the season for Russ, Beal & Company. Given the Wizards were fighting for their playoff lives down the stretch of the regular season and into the play-in round, however, desperation should be nothing new for them. In Washington’s last 10 home games the Wizards won nine of those 10 games and went 7-3 against the spread in that stretch. The common thread during that time was high-scoring first halves too, as the Wizards averaged 62.9 first half points in those 10 games. I’d expect a similar desperation from Washington in the first half on Saturday night at home, but simply am not willing to trust the Wizards for 48 minutes given their putrid defense. While I wouldn’t blame you for playing Washington on the first half spread, I believe that correlates to Washington scoring a lot of points in the first two quarters as well, and I trust Washington’s first half team total be the safer (and better) bet here.
Best Bet: Wizards First Half Team Total Over
2 Brooklyn Nets vs 7 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn leads 2-0; Game 3 on Friday night at 8:30 ET on ABC
Analysis: Let’s start this one off with a trend I always like to tail - from 2007-2019, teams down 0-2 in an NBA playoff series are 64-32-7 ATS in the first half. You’ll notice we stopped at 2019, since last year’s playoffs were in a bubble without fans and the entire handicap here is predicated upon the team down in the series being uplifted by the crowd and going back home in a must-win spot/playing with a purpose early on. Including their two playoff games so far, the Boston Celtics are 0-5 straight-up and ATS against the Nets this season. After leading by six at halftime of Game 1, Boston has now been outscored 187-148 over the following six quarters. With the Celtics having squandered an opportunity in the first game to make this a series, the Nets seem to have taken command and have no plans of looking back. Having said that though, it’s clear that the only path for Boston here is to hunker down early on and defend. The Nets scored 71 points in the first half in Game 2, a game that was never competitive, while the Celtics held them to just 47 points in the first half of Game 1 and had a chance to steal the game, if not for a brief moment. The C's have too much pride to lay down and not at least come out reinvigorated by the crowd in Beantown on Friday night. I’m not sure they win, but I do believe they’re right there at halftime in Game 3.
Best Bet: Celtics First Half at +3
3 Milwaukee Bucks vs 6 Miami Heat
Milwaukee leads 2-0; Game 3 on Thursday night at 7 PM ET on TNT
Analysis: I don’t believe the same desperation elements that would normally apply to a team down 0-2 apply to the Miami Heat in this first-round series. Not that the Heat won’t want to get back in this series, no, but remember how soundly MIA beat MIL in the second round of last year’s playoffs? Remember how soundly the Bucks responded in Game 2 after eking out the first game in overtime? I look for the Bucks to win at least one of these two games in South Beach, and I don’t ever expect them to take their foot off the gas either, especially considering what happened against the Heat last year in the bubble. The Bucks smell blood in the water after a 132-98 win in Game 2 on Monday and this simply isn't looking like the lengthy series many fans might have hoped for. I don’t want to totally discount the reigning Eastern Conference Champions here in this spot, but I also can’t back them in this spot. If you’re looking for a gambling angle in this series, I would use the zig-zag theory and play the loser of this game on the full-game spread in Game 4. Either Milwaukee will respond the moment it looks like Miami has signs of life, or the Heat will win a close game - like they couldn’t in Game 1 - and prevent their season from ending at home to the Bucks.
Pass: Play on the loser of Game 3 for Game 4
4 New York Knicks vs 5 Atlanta Hawks
Series Tied 1-1; Game 3 on Friday night at 7 PM ET on ESPN
Analysis: The zig-zag theory proved profitable in its first opportunity to do so in this series in Game 2 with the Knicks responding with a 101-92 win at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday after the Hawks won a tight game one. We’ll bank on another zig-zag theory profit and lay the short number to back the Hawks as home chalk in Game 3 as well. In a closely-contested series like many expect this one to be the entire way, utilizing the zig-zag theory in your handicap is usually wise as these type of NBA playoff series are akin to 12-round boxing fights where each opponent trades one devastating punch after the other. While much was made when this series started about the Knicks being back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, Friday night is also the first playoff game in Atlanta in four years. Like the Knicks' postseason naivety, the Hawks are also a young, upstart team with a few exciting young players that should only just be starting a run of playoff appearances. Four years might not seem like much, but Atlanta has completely turned its roster over since last being in the playoffs. There’s a lot of excitement in Atlanta surrounding these Hawks and where they’re headed under newly-hired head coach Nate McMillan, who went 27-11 in the 38 regular season games he coached after taking over for Lloyd Pierce in March. I’m expecting the crowd to aid the Hawks the entire way in this one, not just the first 24 minutes. Play the full game spread.
Best Bet: Hawks -4