Author: Alex Christodoulou
May 03, 2019 07:01 PM
Lillard to shoot lights-out in Portland
The NBA playoffs are really heating up now, with three of the four series poised at 1-1 heading into game three.
We've provided a match preview and a free NBA pick for those games below, so you can kick back and enjoy the action over the weekend.
First the Raptors will try to wrest back control from the star-studded Sixers.
Then, the Greek Freak will be out to prove a point in Boston.
But all eyes will be on Damian Lillard, with neutrals hoping he can replicate his eye-catching 50-point game when the Nuggets come to town.
Toronto Raptors @ Philadelphia 76ers
NBA Odds: Raptors $1.88 (-1.0) / 76ers $1.96 (+1.0)
The series is locked at 1-1 as the Raptors make the trip to Philly to take on Ben Simmons' Sixers.
After the 76ers won the second game in Toronto, they hold the upper hand, knowing that a victory in all of their home games will see them go to the conference final.
And because of their superb recent record at the Wells Fargo Center, this is well within their capabilities.
However, the Raptors won't be at all intimidated by a vocal Philly crowd.
Indeed, in their last game at the Wells Fargo Center, Toronto won convincingly after a dominant first half.
Jumping out of the blocks will be their intention again, as it will help silence the crowd and make for a very nervy atmosphere.
Kawhi Leonard will be the key man for the visitors.
If there was an award for trade of the season, you'd have to think that Kawhi would win it.
He was the top-scoring Toronto player when they last came to Philadelphia, with 24 points to go alongside his 7 boards.
But his game has only jumped to another level in the post-season.
His performance in Game 1 of this series was nothing short of remarkable. He scored 45, at an insane shooting percentage of 70%.
No matter how many star players the 76ers have, they'll be no match for the Raptors if Leonard replicates this shooting performance.
With Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry also capable of having huge games, the Raptors have a dangerous support cast if Leonard misfires.
Speaking of depth, the amount of talent Philly has is remarkable.
The one player of their superstar starting five who hasn't really lived up to the hype has been Jimmy Butler.
That was until Game 2 of the series, where "Jimmy Buckets" took over with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
Considering that Butler's main strength is his defensive game, to score 30 points is a stellar effort.
He'll be guarding Leonard here, in a 1v1 contest that will decide the outcome.
Key NBA Stat
The Sixers have won 9 of their past 11 home games:
76ers to win @ $1.96
Free NBA Pick
: 76ers to win @ $1.96
Reasoning: Leonard will need have a big game for Toronto to win. But it's hard to see him replicating another 70% shooting night with Butler guarding him.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Boston Celtics
NBA Odds: Bucks $2.01 (+1.5) / Celtics $1.84 (-1.5)
Another series poised perfectly at one each is this one, where Boston hold the higher ground after splitting the pair in Milwaukee.
Their Game 1 victory over the Bucks was a timely reminder of just how good they can be, and why they were touted as the Eastern favourites in the pre-season NBA odds.
While there are plenty of teams jam-packed with star quality, none have the depth of the Celtics.
To have players like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier coming off the bench is staggering, and why Boston can go all the way.
Especially if Kyrie Irving replicates his game one performance.
Irving ended the night with 26 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds, in an inspirational display that spearheaded the 22-point win.
But the main reason behind this big win was how they were able to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo quiet.
The Greek Freak made just 4 of his 16 attempted 2-point shots.
This is where he usually dominates, using his enormous wing span to get close to the bucket and make easy shots.
Indeed, Giannis averages 63.1% when shooting 2-pointers in the 2018/19 NBA season- the 6th best in the entire league.
This NBA stat also suggests that you can't keep a player of his quality down for long.
This was proved in game two, where Giannis responded with 29 points, although at an only slightly better 2-point percentage of 42%.
Rather it was Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe's three-point shooting that proved the difference.
These two combined for an incredible shooting night from deep, making 10 of their 15 attempts.
It's hard to see them replicating this effort in Boston, on an unfamiliar court.
And based on Giannis's shooting numbers, it appears that the Celtics have figured out how to defend him.
This points to a win for the home side.
Key NBA Stat
The Celtics have won 4 of their previous 5 at the TD Garden:
Boston to win @ $1.84
Free NBA Pick: Boston to win @ $1.84
Reasoning: With so many avenues to the basket, and a good recent record at home, the Celtics are ready to show why there was so much pre-season hype.
Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trail Blazers
NBA Odds: Nuggets $2.47 (+4.0) / Blazers $1.57 (-4.0)
Saturday's second game sees the Nuggets make the difficult trip up to Portland, where they'll try to spring a surprise result.
Denver had a great regular season, with the superb campaigns of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading them all the way to second spot on the Western leaderboard.
However, their post-season form has been far from convincing.
They needed 7 games to overcome the Spurs, and have since dropped a game at home to the Blazers.
This is especially surprising given what a fortress the Pepsi Center was during the regular season.
But they'll need to forget about their home record for now, as they head to the Moda Center, which has long been a fortress for the Trail Blazers.
It was the scene of Damian Lillard's recent heroics, where he netted a half century of points, including a 3-point buzzer beater from way downtown.
This basket knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs, and sent the home fans into raptures.
In the first game back after that exhilarating display, Lillard and the Blazers will be confident of another top performance.
With the series tied at 1-1, Portland are in the box seat to progress into the conference final.
This would be a remarkable achievement after their star seven-footer Jusuf Nurkic suffered a horror broken leg late in the regular season.
Without Nurkic's skill and presence, many expected Portland to crash out in the first round of the playoffs once again.
Luckily for them, they had the foresight to recruit Enes Kanter in the mid-season trade period.
Kanter has proved the perfect cover for Nurkic, and in Portland's recent win in Denver, it was he who stood out with 15 points and 9 boards.
It was also the defensive job he did on Jokic that was impressive, checking his influence on the game.
If Kanter can repeat the dose, then Lillard and long-time backcourt partner CJ McCollum have the ability to lead Portland to a big win.
Considering what Dame did in his last game at home, you couldn't bet against the Trail Blazers here.
Key NBA Stat
The Nuggets have lost 5 of their past 6 road games:
Portland to win @ $1.57
Free NBA Pick: Portland to cover the -4.0 point line @ $1.92
Reasoning: The Blazers and Lillard in particular are playing with a newfound confidence that should prove too hot for Denver to handle.