Kim Klement/Associated Press
The first round of the NBA playoffs may not match the high level of excitement we saw during the two weeks of seeding games in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, but there is intrigue surrounding a few series.
The four Western Conference matchups appear to be more even as a group compared to the Eastern Conference.
Both Los Angeles teams face more strenuous tasks than their counterparts in the East since they have to go up against two of the best scorers in the league.
Milwaukee and Toronto are expected to cruise through their respective first-round series, and that is shown in the disparity in the Game 1 and series odds.
The matchups pitting teams closer in the standings should produce the most competitive first-round series, and once more teams are sent home, the clashes will carry more interest across the board.
NBA Postseason Picture
No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando
Series Odds: Milwaukee (-15000); Orlando (+3000)
Game 1 Odds: Milwaukee (-11.5); Over/Under 224
Milwaukee struggled to find consistency during a 3-5 run in the seeding games, but that should not be cause for concern, at least for the first-round series.
The Bucks won each of their four meetings with the Orlando Magic, with three of them coming by double digits.
If there is a pathway to an Orlando victory or two, it will be through stopping Milwaukee’s three-point prowess.
Mike Budenholzer’s team did not shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc in any win over the Magic despite attempting at least 35 three-point shots.
Even if Milwaukee struggles from deep, it could still find success against an Orlando side that conceded an average of 116 points per game in the seeding games.
Orlando could have trouble matching the Bucks’ output, as it only scored over 110 points on four occasions, with one of those coming in an overtime matchup.
No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Brooklyn
Series Odds: Toronto (-5000); Brooklyn (+1500)
Game 1 Odds: Toronto (-9.5); Over/Under: 221.5
Toronto was the best East team over the last two weeks, and its title defense should begin with a fairly easy win over Brooklyn.
But the Nets could give the Raptors trouble in parts of games, or by stealing one win, since they showed so much fight with a depleted roster.
With Tyler Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and other unlikely stars adding to the scoring mix that includes Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, the Nets reached 115 points on seven occasions.
That production would lead you to believe the Game 1 over is an easy bet, but Toronto held three opponents under triple digits and have only let two foes hit 120 points since the return of play.
Given Toronto’s title-winning experience and depth throughout the roster, it shouldn’t face much of a challenge in a series that likely won’t last longer than five games.
No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
Series Odds: Boston (-400); Philadelphia (+330)
Game 1 Odds: Boston (-5.5); Over/Under: 218.5
Philadelphia holds the head-to-head advantage over Boston this season, but that is the only edge you can give Brett Brown’s team going into the first round.
The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons and have not developed a consistent third scorer behind Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris.
Josh Richardson, Shake Milton and Al Horford showed well in spurts, but it was not enough to convince you that the team can overwhelm the Celtics.
With Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker now at full strength, the Celtics have enough offensive options to spread Philadelphia thin on defense.
If that combination of players finds a way to limit Harris’ opportunities and frustrate Embiid on occasion, Brad Stevens’ squad could have an easy path to a potential semifinal clash with Toronto.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami
Series Odds: Indiana (+260); Miami (-310)
Game 1 Odds: Miami (-3.5); Over/Under: 216
If an underdog in the eyes of the oddsmakers advances from the East first round, it will be Indiana.
T.J. Warren was the breakout star of the seeding games, and if he can shake Jimmy Butler’s defense, he could provide Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon with the necessary support to overwhelm the Heat.
But even if the Pacers break Butler’s defensive deadlock, it could be difficult for them to stop the Heat’s scoring depth.
In Miami’s 114-92 win over Indiana a week ago, it had seven players, including all five starters, reach double digits. Indiana did not have a player eclipse 15 points.
If Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Herro remain consistent off the bench to support Butler, Bam Adebayo and the starters, Miami could make quick work of the Pacers.
Miami’s X-factor may be Andre Iguodala, whose veteran presence on both sides of the hardwood could help the Heat win some key possessions.
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland
Series Odds: Los Angeles Lakers (-550); Portland (+425)
Game 1 Odds: Los Angeles Lakers (-5.5); Over/Under: 229.5
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are the darlings of the bubble after their conquering of the field for the West’s No. 8 seed.
Lillard’s shooting has been off the charts and his team has added scoring depth from Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony and Jusuf Nurkic.
Even if Portland plays a perfect offensive game, though, it may still come out on the losing end against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers scored 136 and 128 points in their two regular-season wins over Portland, and the Blazers allowed over 120 points in seven of their last nine games.
If LeBron James and Anthony Davis exploit Portland’s defensive weaknesses, the series could be over fast.
However, the one guarantee you could make about the series is most games will likely hit the over because Portland has struggled defensively.
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas
Series Odds: Los Angeles Clippers (-450); Dallas (+375)
Game 1 Odds: Los Angeles Clippers (-6); Over/Under: 230.5
The Clippers appear to be the most susceptible No. 1 or No. 2 seed to an upset, but even saying that feels like a stretch.
Betting on Luka Doncic to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a first-round series victory is a wishful thought, as he has not done enough against the Clippers to prove that is possible.
The 21-year-old produced 29 points in their August 6 meeting, but he was held to 10-for-21 from the field and only made six trips to the free-throw line.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George shot at a similar percentage in that game, but they received more support down low from Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac, who combined for 37 points and 20 rebounds.
If Zubac and Morris can negate Kristaps Porzingis’ impact, the Clippers can absorb whatever Doncic throws at them.
Just like the Lakers-Blazers series, the Clippers-Mavericks matchup could be set for high offensive outputs, which may make the overs the best bets.
No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Utah
Series Odds: Denver (-200); Utah (+160)
Game 1 Odds: Denver (-4.5); Over/Under: 215.5
The first series to kick off Monday may have the most potential to go the distance.
The Denver-Utah series also possesses one of the best individual battles of the first round between Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert.
In the August 8 double-overtime matchup, they both recorded double-doubles and the Denver big man was three assists away from a triple-double.
Both teams have lead guards in Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray who are capable of taking over the game, and they have shooters in Joe Ingles and Michael Porter Jr. who can get hot in an instant.
Denver’s Jerami Grant and Monte Morris and Utah’s Jordan Clarkson are difference-makers off the bench and may be vital to any surge triggered by the second unit.
Each of the three regular-season meetings were decided by six points or less, so at minimum, we should see a handful of close contests.
No. 4 Houston vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City
Series Odds: Houston (-175); Oklahoma City (+155)
Game 1 Odds: Oklahoma City (-1.5); Over/Under: 227
The No. 4 vs. No. 5 showdown in the West will be without one key figure for at least Game 1. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni confirmed Russell Westbrook is out for Game 1, per Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix.
Houston is 8-7 in games in which the 31-year-old did not participate due to rest or injury. It went 2-2 without him in the bubble.
The good news for Houston is Eric Gordon returned to the lineup at the end of the seeding games and will replace Westbrook in the starting five. If he supports James Harden in the scoring column, Houston should be able to weather the storm without their star point guard.
As long as Houston’s guards score at a high level, it will be in the mix to win every game.
Houston’s difference-maker could be its defense on Steven Adams, who has 21 points in 51 minutes against the Rockets this season.