Both teams from Los Angeles once again proved how tough it is to overcome a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Playoffs and went on to victory and advanced in the West. However, both are decided underdogs to be the representative from their conference in The Finals, with the Lakers at +600 and the Clippers at +1900 at JustBet.cx.
The actual favorite is top seeded San Antonio who is at -150 and Oklahoma City is the second choice at +140. The action commences on Monday and here is a betting review and pick for each.
(1) San Antonio vs. (5) L.A. Clippers
For just the second time since heading West in team history, the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers have advanced to the second round.
The Clippers are not 100 percent healthy which poses problems against a rested and offensively skilled team like San Antonio. Chris Paul is revisiting prior leg issues and Blake Griffin would probably miss a week or two of the regular season with his sore left knee, but it’s the playoffs. Because this is not the same defensive-minded Spurs teams of the past, LA/2 has to worry about defense more than offense.
The Clips have three options to use on Tim Duncan in Griffin, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans. Each has a certain skill set that can slow Duncan down and make him exert effort on defense because of their mobility or desire to fight for positions on the floor. Chris Paul has the foot and hand speed to compete with Tony Parker in what should be a fun matchup.
The wild card in the series is the Los Angeles bench. Nick Young, Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe, K-Mart and Evans bring diversity and potential scoring options. The first three players listed are often erratic scorers, thus if the Clippers are to compete in this series, each must be consistent and continue to have active hands for steals and deflections. Coach Vinny Del Negro’s frontcourt has to rebound well for second chance point opportunities and run-outs off the defensive glass.
So how exactly did San Antonio return to the top spot in the Western Conference? It starts with coach Greg Popovich putting together a different kind of dominant team. It’s not just about the Spurs big three, though much of the system flows thru them. This is Tony Parker’s club; his inside-outside scoring abilities can only be matched by Paul. Expect Popovich to use high or side-angle screens to free Parker to make his forays into the lane.
Popovich used Duncan like the Washington Nationals use Stephen Strasburg, managing his playing time. While Duncan is no longer the spry character he used to be, he had a hop in his step against Utah and with all the rest before this series, Mr. Fundamental should be ready for the L.A.
While the Clippers have a solid bench, San Antonio really has eight starters or the depth of the Chinese Red Army. Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are in the starting lineup, but none of the three play heavy minutes which helps maximize what they do best and covers up deficiencies.
Manu Ginobili is instant offense off the bench, either scoring himself or creating it for others. The Spurs have bangers like Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair, who can play very physical and never back down to a challenge. They have shooters like Matt Bonner and Gary Neal, who can stretch defenses with their three-point shooting ability and a veteran combo-guard like Stephen Jackson, who can shoot from the outside and put the orange on the deck and drive to the rim. None of these players is a superior individual defender, but how Popovich uses rotations and double teams at different points which make the Spurs at least adequate defensively.
San Antonio won and covered all three matchups with the Clippers this season. They are more rested, much healthier, have veteran playoff experience and a coaching edge.
3DW Pick– San Antonio (-3000) in five over L.A. Clippers (+1500)
(2) Oklahoma City vs. (3) L.A. Lakers
The very first questions of this series have to do rest, will Oklahoma City’s nine days off hurt them or help them? The other is, are the Lakers likely to be spent to start the series after seven games with Denver or do they have the carryover of momentum gathered? The answer lies somewhere in between, with the Thunder probably rusty early before finding their sea legs and the Lakers more likely to be affected later in the series than the beginning.
Oklahoma City absolutely feels their time has arrived; they are young but experienced, talented and deep, and a superior team defensively compared to the group that went to the West Finals a year ago. The Thunder has a wicked transition game, which just gave LA/1 fits vs. Denver and OKC has finishers deluxe in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Coach Scott Brooks did a splendid job on selling this team on the importance of defense, both individually and collectively. Two measuring sticks of Oklahoma City’s real strength compared to their opponent is a +6.1 to +1.4 edge in scoring margin and record against teams over .500 (OKC 27-15 SU vs. LAL 23-19).
As the Game 7 clincher against Denver proved, Kobe Bryant needs teammates to can depend on to play with passion and Metta World Peace’s return did just that. The Lakers made a couple of in-season moves to be more athletic and younger and this is where they need it to pay. Los Angeles cannot run with Oklahoma City, but they have to force turnover-prone Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins to make miscues and generate run-outs that lead to easy points. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have to mentally ready each contest and if Perkins ends up being less than 100 percent healthy, this twosome has to finish. Kobe will be guarded by several different Thunder players and has to maintain his poise and not get frustrated. There is always pressure on the Lakers in L.A., but being the underdog has to relax them some.
If Harden isn’t hammered in the head by the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, it is pretty easy to make the case the Thunder go 3-0 SU and ATS this season in this matchup. OKC is 28-7 at home, while the Lake Show is 16-20 (12-23-1 ATS) on the road. Oklahoma City is also an impressive 23-12 in away games.
3DW Pick: Oklahoma City (-460) in six over L.A. Lakers (+380)