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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

NBA Conference Finals Picks 2016 (May 16th-30th)

I've been on my honeymoon for the past couple of weeks so I have not been on the internet as much as usually is possible, which has also meant taking a break from the picks.

The NBA First Round and Conference Semi Finals were completed in the time I have been away and the Western Conference Finals have begun with a big surprise in Game 1 as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Golden State Warriors on the road.

That looks like being a very good series, but the Eastern Conference Finals begin on Tuesday with most expecting the well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers to be too strong for the Toronto Raptors in their best of seven series.

Tuesday 17th May
Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 1 Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers have looked the team to beat in the NBA during the post-season as they are on the right side of injuries and look well-rested for a deep run. Last season both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving missed extended time in the Play Offs, but both are playing well this time around and helping LeBron James, while the role players are battering down the doors from the three point arc.

The Cavaliers are looking very good and have won all eight post-season games played while seeing off Detroit and Atlanta. Of course the Toronto Raptors look their toughest challenge to date, but the Raptors have to show more than they have in their tight wins over Indiana and Miami.

The latter were banged up which meant the Raptors were expected to come through easier than they did and although winning Game 7's can build character, it also means they are going to be a little fatigued when taking on the best team in their Conference.

Toronto did win two of their three games with Cleveland, but the sole visit to Cleveland ended in defeat. The lay off may have cooled the three point shooting the Cavaliers have displayed, but I am not sure that is the case and I think Game 1 could be a high-scoring one.

The Raptors finally got something consistent going in their last game with Miami and Cleveland have been lights out from three point range while the over is 4-1 in the last five in the series. There does look to be enough scoring in both teams to help this one go over the 201.5 Total Points being asked and that is what I am backing to happen.

Wednesday 18th May
It was a frustrating end to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a game that looked certain to go over the total points I expected failed to by just three points. A lot of that was down to the fact that both benches were cleared throughout the Fourth Quarter in a blow out win for the Cleveland Cavaliers and it is a big ask for the Toronto Raptors to recover on just a day of rest.

Before that we have Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals as the Golden State Warriors look to recover their 0-1 deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder after a stunning Game 1 upset.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: Not many would have picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi Finals, but even fewer would have predicted a win over the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Finals. Those views may have changed after their second half comeback in Game 1 to take a 1-0 lead in this series and take away home court advantage in the Conference Finals.

There has to be a reaction from the Golden State Warriors who have yet to be beaten in two straight games through the length of the season. They will be disappointed with the way they played the second half of Game 1 having been held to just 14 points in the Fourth Quarter, while Golden State struggled from the three point range in a manner they don't usually.

Of course the other side of the coin is the Thunder will know they can play a lot better than they did in Game 1 despite stealing home court. The combination of using Steven Adams and Enes Kanter against the small ball line up of the Warriors was very effective in Game 1, but it is a big ask to get the same production out of them in Game 2 with a desperate Golden State team taking to the court.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played some big minutes in Game 1 too and with only a day of rest between that one and this one, I can see Golden State perhaps being able to hold onto a big lead through the game. It was a poor second half that cost them but the Warriors are 4-1 against the spread in the last five at home against Oklahoma City.

Desperation should see the Warriors produce their best and I like them to cover the spread in Game 2 and set up two big games in Oklahoma City in the coming days.

Thursday 19th May
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals went the way most people would have expected it to go, especially in the second half of that one. The Golden State Warriors are back to 1-1 in the series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the big question is whether the Toronto Raptors can compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals or whether the Cavs are going to run through another team in their Conference in a best of seven series.

Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 2 Pick: Game 1 was another blow out for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Play Offs, but it was just Game 1. That is what the Toronto Raptors have to keep telling themselves while this battle hardened team have already dropped Game 1 in the first two Play Off series only to come through in seven games.

Of course those were against teams not of the standard of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but I do think the Raptors will have been able to overcome some emotional downtime from Game 1. That means I am expecting a lot more from their starters, especially the back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, than we saw in the first game.

Adjustments have to be made.

Toronto simply can't allow LeBron James to continuously make appointments with the rim as he did in Game 1, while they overplayed the three point shooting and didn't protect the paint. Better Defensive effort has to be expected, but going too far one way may see Cleveland get back to the barrage of three pointers that have impressed in the opening two series.

I picked the total points to be surpassed in the first game and we would have seen that in a closer game as both benches were cleared in the Fourth Quarter. I think both teams will shoot better from the three point line in this one and that could see Game 2 surpass the number which has shrunk by a few points although the sharps seem to be moving that number in a upward direction.

Tuesday 24th May
The Eastern Conference Finals have been anything but the blow out most of us would have expected as the Toronto Raptors tied up the series 2-2 with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.

The Western Conference Finals have also captured the imagination with the Oklahoma City Thunder leading the Golden State Warriors 2-1, although it is the Warriors who remain the favourites to win the NBA Championship even now.

Golden State Warriors @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game 4 Pick: This will be a memorable season for fans of the NBA having seen the Golden State Warriors smash the record for wins in the regular. However no one in the Bay Area are going to look back with pride if the Warriors do not add the NBA Championship to that record and join the likes of the 1996 Chicago Bulls as one of the best teams in history.

Winning the Championship is far from the mind at the moment as the Golden State Warriors were run out of town in Game 3 as they were blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder. That means it is the Thunder who lead this best of seven series 2-1 as we head back to the Chesapeake Energy Arena for Game 4.

The Warriors have not lost back to back games this season but were once again knocked out of their stride by the Thunder in Game 3 as they were in the second half of Game 1. However, this is a familiar spot for this roster who were 2-1 down twice in the post-season last season only to win those series against Memphis and Cleveland in six games so that is a big warning for the Thunder.

On the other hand Oklahoma City have to feel good about where they are and know they can compete with this Golden State team. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook keep playing to the standards they have set and the big Thunder team can keep disrupting the timing on the three point shot for the Warriors, the upset is most definitely on.

I like Oklahoma City, but you can't ignore the 12-0 record Golden State have after a loss. The Warriors have Draymond Green available after he avoided a suspension and this is a team that has shown they can rally when under the gun. I will look for them to do that here and I like the Warriors to cover on the road and get the Western Conference Finals all tied up like the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday 25th May
Well, well, well, who would have thought the Golden State Warriors, a team that has won 73 regular season games and have the first unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA, would not be able to get into a position to defend their title from last season?

It isn't over for the defending Champions and I wouldn't want to rule them out with any confidence, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are in a very strong position at 3-1 up in the series.

The Thunder might just have the kryptonite for the Warriors having dismissed the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Semi Finals and Game 5 on Thursday is going to be memorable.

Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 5 Pick: If someone had said one of the Conference Finals will be at 2-2 and one will be at 3-1, I am convinced most would have thought the latter was the Eastern Conference Finals. After two blow outs to open the series, the Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to roll through the Toronto Raptors but the latter are a gritty squad and have not read the script.

Not reading the script meant Toronto won both of their home games to get back to 2-2 in this series as Game 5 heads back to Cleveland.

I don't think anyone will doubt that the Raptors are much more comfortable on their home court and the key for Toronto is getting both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to take their game onto the road. Doing that will give Toronto a much better chance of earning an upset on the road and especially making it a lot more competitive than the last two games in Cleveland have been.

In fact the last three games Toronto have played in the Quicken Loans Arena have seen them lose by at least nineteen points each time. However they should have been given a shot in the arm with the way the Raptors have played in the last couple of games in beating Cleveland at home.

On the other hand, Cleveland may feel they have missed some open shots in the last couple of games and they were close to getting back and beating Toronto in Game 4. I don't think the Cavaliers will feel they need a big adjustment, but they will be hoping Kevin Love can rediscover his shot which has been missing in the last couple of games. Getting more out of Love to go with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving should be enough for Cleveland to avoid the upset.

In saying that, I do think Toronto can make this a more competitive game than the first two in Cleveland. They are getting a healthy dose of points in Game 5 and I am looking for them to try and use the momentum behind them to keep this one competitive. The Raptors will need Cleveland to at least help out by missing some of the same looks they have been missing in Games 3 and 4, but getting double digits worth of points in a tense contest like this one might be too many for Cleveland to cover.

Thursday 26th May
The Eastern Conference Finals are on the brink of being concluded after the Cleveland Cavaliers blew out the Toronto Raptors at home yet again.

On Thursday the Golden State Warriors will be looking to extend their own Conference Finals as they trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by three games to one as they host Game 5 in a bid to keep the series alive.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors Game 5 Pick: This is the last chance saloon for the 73 game winners Golden State Warriors as they return home 3-1 down in the Western Conference Finals. Twice in a row they have seen their identity taken away from them by the Oklahoma City Thunder as they have lost both games in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and they will need the full support of the Oracle Arena in this one.

There have to be some adjustments made by Golden State to try and find some room for Steph Curry who has been harassed by the big Thunder Defenders in the Offensive side of the court. On the other side Russell Westbrook has given him too much to do Defensively and coupled together it is a big reason the Warriors are down in the series.

Another issue has been the poor play of Draymond Green as their inspirational player has found himself struggling to shoot the ball. The Thunder have also dominated the boards and have both Westbrook and Durant playing to an extremely high level.

Slowing down those two won't be easy, but Golden State have to find the open shots and knock them down. They have struggled to do that in the last two games which has led to blow out losses and twice the Thunder have held them to fewer than 100 points which suggests they are winning the Coaching battles.

We should see a desperate Golden State team and I think they are going to keep this series alive. Oklahoma City might be in great form, but I think the defending Champions can show they are still up for the fight and I like Golden State to cover on Thursday in Game 5.

Friday 27th May
The Golden State Warriors have stayed alive in the Western Conference Finals with a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it was yet another close call for them. On Saturday they will bid to stay alive one more time and get the series back home for a Game 7, but it won't be easy.

Another team pushing for a Game 7 is the Toronto Raptors who were blown out for the third time in a row in Cleveland. They return home hoping to give themselves one more chance to head to Ohio and show they are better than what they have in the series in road games so far.

It is a big game for the Raptors on Friday as they host the Cavaliers for the last time this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers @ Toronto Raptors Game 6 Pick: For the fifth straight time in the Eastern Conference Finals, the home team held onto home court advantage. While the two Toronto Raptors wins have been tight at times, the Cleveland Cavaliers continue blowing out their opponents at home and will be heading to 'The North' hoping to complete the series win and move onto the NBA Finals.

Kevin Love was back to his best in the Game 5 win over Toronto and the Cavaliers will be looking for more of the same from him. In all honesty, Cleveland have had the shots in Game 3 and 4 but simply were not hitting them with Love being the main culprit so his return to form might be the edge the Cavs need to close the series.

It won't be easy though, far from easy in fact.

There is no doubting that Toronto thrive on their home crowd's excitement and this is a team that has been stronger at home than on the road for most of the season. In saying that they did drop Game 1 here in both First Round and Semi Final series so Toronto will be more than aware that they have to produce their best form if they are going to force a Game 7 back in Ohio on Sunday night.

Kyle Lowry in particularly has been a lot better at home so Toronto will be confident they can extend the series, but most of this series has been down to Cleveland and how hot they are from the field. The games in Toronto have seen them struggle with their shot but at home Cleveland have shown they are capable of getting going and I think they can ride some momentum into this one.

The Under is 4-1 in the series so far, but I am backing the teams to combine for at least 197 total points in this one. All of the games have come close to surpassing that total but Fourth Quarter blow outs have meant the starters are out of action and the misses have come by narrow margins. I don't think either team will blow out the other in Toronto in this Game 6 and I think the shooting both teams can produce will give this game every chance to surpass the total points being asked of them.

I will be hoping Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry both come out to play in this one to help that, but will back the over total points in this one.

Saturday 28th May
The Eastern Conference Finals are over thanks to yet another blow out in favour of the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Toronto Raptors. The big talent edge for the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shone through in 'The North' after four losses in Canada this season and now they can be well rested for the NBA Finals.

There will be an eye on the Western Conference Finals Game 6 which is played on Saturday as the Oklahoma City Thunder try to close out the series with the Golden State Warriors.

Golden State Warriors @ Oklahoma City Thunder Game 6 Pick: There is a feeling that it all comes down to Game 6 for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Leading 3-2 in the series with the Golden State Warriors, you wouldn't fancy them to win a Game 7 back at The Oracle Arena if they have lost two in a row from 3-1 up in the series.

The Thunder were close to closing the show in Game 5 and clearly feel this is a match up that works for them against the defending Champions. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook produced big games for Oklahoma City, the supporting cast were not there for them in Game 5 like they were in Games 3 and 4, yet the Thunder will point out they were still competitive right down to the wire.

It will be all about more of the same for Billy Donovan and his players when they host Golden State in an Arena where they have won Games 3 and 4 by an average of 26 points per game. The layers in Vegas have shifted their sentiments by making the Thunder the favourites in a game for the first time in the series and Oklahoma City are still plenty confident despite the loss in Game 5.

That will inspire the Golden State Warriors you would feel but they have to keep up the momentum from Game 5 if they are going to get this series back home. Steph Curry made some big plays in that game, but he is still being harassed on the Offensive side by the Oklahoma City bigs, while Westbrook is looking to expose his Defensive limitations.

The Warriors did get a big game out of Draymond Green, but the emotions have to be contained to a certain extent if the Warriors are going to overcome a big challenge of coming back from 1-3 down in a series. I am finding it hard to keep the belief in the defending Champions because I think they have run into the one team that can match up really well with them and Donovan has beaten Steve Kerr so far in the coaching department.

I would have preferred people to still be unsure about the Thunder and have them come into Game 6 as the underdog, but I will back them as the small favourite to book their place in the NBA Finals.

Monday 30th May
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors Game 7 Pick: The Oklahoma City Thunder were dominant through the first four games of the Western Conference Finals and took a deserved 3-1 lead in the series. A close loss in Game 5 was forgivable, but I do wonder where the emotional counter is at after blowing Game 6 and giving the Golden State Warriors new life.

The favourites to get back to the NBA Finals are the Warriors as they get to host Game 7 and the momentum is certainly behind them. A big issue in Game 6 was the three point shooting differential between the teams with Golden State outscoring Oklahoma City 63-9 from beyond the arc and that is not going to get the job done for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City actually had more baskets than Golden State in Game 6, but they blew a late lead after failing to execute down the stretch with turnovers being fatal to their chances of closing the series. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had big games, but they will be expecting more from themselves if they are going to win at The Oracle Arena for a second time in the series and get their team into a second NBA Finals appearance.

Personally I think the Thunder might have missed their opportunity in Game 6 and it will be tough for them to pick themselves up from that defeat. They now head into a loud and passionate Arena where the Golden State Warriors are very difficult to beat, but the Thunder will know they have won here once already in the series and have to play a near enough perfect game to win this one.

The key for Oklahoma City is to try and play strong Defense against their hosts and try and slow them down, but the Warriors are also an improved team on that side against the Thunder. The Under is now 5-1 in the last six games between these teams at The Oracle Arena and it is 5-2 in the last seven overall and I am going to back the Defenses to be strong enough to hold two high-powered Offenses to fewer than 218 total points in this one as Game 7 tensions perhaps makes it tougher for the shooters to get going.

MY PICKS: 17/05 Cleveland-Toronto Over 201.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
18/05 Golden State Warriors - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
19/05 Cleveland-Toronto Over 198.5 Points @ 1.95 Betway (1 Unit)
24/05 Golden State Warriors - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
25/05 Toronto Raptors + 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
26/05 Golden State Warriors - 7 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
27/05 Toronto-Cleveland Over 196 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
28/05 Oklahoma City Thunder - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
30/05 Golden State-Oklahoma City Under 218 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Conference Finals Update: 4-5, - 1.28 Units

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