Second-placed Golden State Warriors take on seventh-placed San Antonio Spurs without star player Stephen Curry, and they come into the post-season with 10 defeats in their last 17 matches, first match at Golden state.
The Warriors still boast the same core of outstanding players that went all the way to the championship past year, making them the favourites to go back to back this season. However, if this past regular season has proven anything, it's that the Warriors and Cavaliers matchup we've grown accustomed to isn't going to last much longer.
Three of the four selections are from the final week of the season: Philadelphia and Cleveland's instant classic in a matchup for the leg up in the race for the three-seed in the Eastern Conference, and the postseason play-in game between the Timberwolves and Nuggets. The rule for determining home court advantage in the NBA Finals is winning percentage, then head to head record, followed by record vs. opposite conference.
Portland Trail Blazers (-210) vs. John Wall has played in just four games since January 27, and the Wizards have oddly looked better without the star point guard.
Oklahoma initially struggled for chemistry after recruiting George and Carmelo Anthony to play alongside the irrepressible Russell Westbrook, but with such a talented roster they stand every chance of a deep run.
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National Basketball Association playoffs 2018: Predictions, picks for Warriors vs. Spurs first-round series
The discount allowed the team to re-sign Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, something general manager Bob Myers appreciated. In this state, in which they are 7-10 in their last 17 games and Curry is hurt and they just lost by 1,000 points last night.
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But Utah's potential Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell has been sensational, providing several clutch moments, and rangy center Rudy Gobert provides staunch defence.
Over the last four decades, a top-seeded team has claimed 28 championships. Backup guard Marcus Smart could miss the whole series with a hand injury, and more importantly, Kyrie Irving is done for the season with a knee injury. The Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo will be looking to advance past the first round for the first time (he's 0-for-2 thus far).
Meanwhile, New Orleans have won five straight - including triumphs versus the Spurs and the Warriors - and will hope power forward Anthony Davis can continue to carry them, having lost DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles tendon rupture in January. Joel Embiid will at least miss Game 1, giving Miami an opportunity to steal a contest on the road and put pressure on a bunch of players that have never competed in the postseason. The 76ers should advance, but inexperience and injuries could make this a tougher series than some might imagine it to be.
The National Basketball Association's so-called "real season", i.e., "the playoffs", is about to start, the time when even casual fans jump on the hoops bandwagon and pay attention. The Pacers will probably win a game in which Cleveland's defense is atrocious, but that should be it.