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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

NBA Conference Finals Picks 2017 (May 14-29)

And then there were four...

The Eastern and Western Conference Finals have been set on Monday when the Boston Celtics booked the final place in that spot and they will get underway on Wednesday as they host the rested Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Western Conference Finals will already have put the first two games in the books by the time the Eastern Conference Finals get going but the NBA Finals are not due to be played until June 1st, while the two Eastern Conference Finals games are played before Game 3 of the Western Conference series.

Tuesday 16th May
San Antonio Spurs @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: The big story out of Game 1 will have been the injury suffered by Kahwi Leonard which makes his status for the entire series questionable. That remained the big headline even though the San Antonio Spurs blew a huge lead in the second half where they should have been leading this series 1-0 and having already stolen home advantage away.

The collapse came at the same time Leonard left the game and it is the reason the spread has moved three more points in favour of the Warriors from Game 1. The absence of Leonard is going to be big, but I wouldn’t rule out the San Antonio Spurs making this a competitive game as they have already beaten the Houston Rockets on the road without their superstar player.

There have also been accusations of unfair methods used by the Warriors to target the already sore ankle Leonard had been playing on. Some have suggested Gregg Popovich is using the issue to hide the manner in which San Antonio collapsed and to get a reaction from his players, but ultimately it was an all-time epic collapse in Game 1.

It was so bad that you wonder if it could have a lingering effect on Game 2 which takes place just two days after Game 1. Manu Ginobili was suggesting the same thing and it is key for the Spurs to come out fast if they are not going to let the Golden State Warriors pick up from where they left off.

Picking a winner on the spread is not easy and I think my focus is on the total points line and looking for these two teams to surpass the number. The ‘over’ has some strong trends in recent San Antonio and Golden State games, while the ‘over’ is 4-2 in the last six in the series between these two.

The ‘over’ has also been successful in the last three in Golden State between these rivals and I can see the teams producing another high-scoring game.

Wednesday 17th May
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics Game 1 Pick: The Eastern Conference Finals will begin in earnest on Wednesday after the Number 1 Seeded Boston Celtics needed Game 7 to see off the Washington Wizards in the Conference Semi Finals. That does mean the Celtics have only had a day of rest between that Game 7 and the opening of the Eastern Conference Finals and it is no surprise the oddsmakers have set them as the home underdog.

While Boston have been battling back from 2-0 down in the First Round and being forced into a Game 7 in the Semi Finals, their opponents the Cleveland Cavaliers have swept through both Rounds to earn an 8-0 record in the Play Offs. It also means they have been off for nine days since beating the Toronto Raptors and long lay offs in the Play Offs have not always produced winning teams against the spread.

You have to expect the Boston Celtics have some elements of fatigue in the rotation, but they will be in rhythm compared with the Cleveland Cavaliers who will be looking to get back into real game competitiveness after the lay off. That could potentially take some time for them to get back to the level they were producing earlier in the Play Offs and makes the spread a little harder to figure out than you may think.

Cleveland have been speaking about the anxiety some players have to get back out on the court, and the Cavaliers will be confident having beaten Boston in three of four games in the regular season. However potentially being out of rhythm is part of the reason I am going to back 'under' the total points line in this one.

If Boston are feeling tired, that could mean their intensity is not quite as high as they would like in Game 1 which could see them struggle to make their shots as effectively as usual. The 'under' is actually 10-4 in the last fourteen games between these teams and also 6-0 in the last six here in Boston and I can see these teams failing to reach what is a very high target for Game 1.

I am anticipating both teams will just have some issues finding the kind of scoring needed to cover this total points line with Boston off an emotional series and Cleveland being rested for ten days ahead of this one. That looks to be the best play from Game 1 as the Eastern Conference Finals gets underway before Game 2 is played on Friday.

Friday 19th May
The Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals saw a bad beat prevent the pick coming in as the second half exploded with 40 points in under six minutes played immediately after the break. It was a ridiculous lack of Defense by either team and I deserved a winner for capping the game almost perfectly.

The Western Conference Finals pick was better with the two teams scoring a tonne of points with the games now coming on a daily basis until we get through to the NBA Finals which begin on June 1st.

Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics Game 2 Pick: It was a frustrating end for the Game 1 pick which saw the over land by two points despite looking like it was under the cosh for the majority of the game. The Cleveland Cavaliers won't care about that though as they have stolen home court away from the Boston Celtics and can really turn the screw by making it 2-0 ahead of a return home later this weekend.

The Boston Celtics were 2-0 down in the First Round of the Play Offs after dropping back to back home games to open the post-season against the Chicago Bulls. They recovered by winning four straight against the Bulls, but they were a healthy favourite coming into that series and coming back from dropping two home games against the defending NBA Champions is not really a position from which I can see them recovering.

There has to be some big adjustments made by the Celtics who couldn't make consistent stops throughout the game. They showed little energy on the boards until the game was a blow out and even the shooting only heated up when the game was unmanageable.

Confidence won't be shot by one loss, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have been playing so well that it is hard to see how they will drop off from the form they have been showing throughout the Play Offs. LeBron James is at an extremely high level and you can see why the oddsmakers in Vegas have moved the spread a couple of points further in Cleveland's direction in the light of their performance in Game 1 and the domination they showed throughout.

Defensively there is still some room for improvement and I think the Cavaliers are going to want to prevent the three point shooting that Boston displayed in the second half of Game 1. Keeping Isaiah Thomas down will give Cleveland a real edge, although I also think Boston will be better Defensively with a little more energy in the legs with a day off between Game 1 and Game 2.

The 'under' burned me thanks to over 120 second half points, but even then the total was barely surpassed. I am going to stick with that in the expectation both teams play better Defensively in Game 2 and I have to expect some of the three point shooting will be challenged much more effectively this time. The total hasn't moved and I will go back to the well and look for more fortune than Game 1 and having the 'under' hit.

Saturday 20th May
Golden State Warriors @ San Antonio Spurs Game 3 Pick: After losing Game 1 in epic fashion, there were clearly some mind games being played by Gregg Popovich to make sure his team were fired up for Game 2. However that was not the case at all for the San Antonio Spurs who were not only beaten by the Golden State Warriors, but were actually run off the court with very little belief in their own game.

They are not being helped by the absence of Kahwi Leonard and it looks like their star player at both ends of the court is going to be missing for at least one more game. By that time the decision may be made by the San Antonio Spurs that there is no reason to risk Leonard's health, especially if they are to drop Game 3 at home and move to the brink of elimination.

Popovich will have been working on the confidence of the San Antonio Spurs players over the last few days as he tries to give them the belief they can compete with the Golden State Warriors. It is a big ask and he will need help from the veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge who just simply didn't show up as expected in Game 2.

Losing Leonard also means losing their best Defensive player and the Golden State Warriors have had their way with the Spurs since he exited in the Third Quarter of Game 1. The Spurs have been outscored by a huge margin since then and it is a big ask for them, even in the emotion of being at home, for San Antonio to challenge the Warriors who have a deep rotation of players that can score points.

There is some concern that Draymond Green could miss out for the Warriors, although I am not convinced that will be the case. Golden State look to have too much scoring for the San Antonio Spurs and a fast start should take out the emotion from the Arena and allow the Warriors to move into a 3-0 lead.

Golden State do have a poor 9-19 record against the spread in their last twenty-eight games in San Antonio, but they blew out the Spurs in their last visit here. It won't be as wide a margin as Game 2, but I still think the Warriors can cover the spread in Game 3 and I will back them to do that.

Sunday 21st May
Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 3 Pick: Everyone would have expected the Eastern Conference Finals to be far more competitive than the first couple of games in the series have been. There is no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers are someway clear of the Boston Celtics in terms of where they are in their experiences and quality of rotation, while LeBron James is peaking at just the right time.

It looks like the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are set for a collision course in June and they are trying to up one another's performances in the Play Offs. Neither team has been beaten and both are putting up a lot of points as they have crushed all opposition in front of them.

The expectation is that the Cleveland Cavaliers will end this series in the next couple of days and they are set as a huge favourite to win Game 3 after news of Isaiah Thomas' injury came out. Thomas has been ruled out for the rest of the Play Offs and the Boston Celtics are going to have to do something special to make this any closer than the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals have been.

The problem with a number of this size is whether the Cleveland Cavaliers take the foot off the gas as they did in Game 1 when opening up a huge first half lead. While the absence of Thomas is a blow for Boston, it does mean Cleveland have to make some Defensive adjustments to change the way they have been closing things down for Thomas.

Any lack of effort in the second half with the game firmly in hand will mean Boston have every chance for a backdoor cover, but I can't see Cleveland sitting back in this one. It is the return home and Cleveland will want to make sure they are fresh and ready to take on the Golden State Warriors who look set to sweep the San Antonio Spurs and that means James and company will likely be very focused to move into a 3-0 lead in the series.

The Celtics do have a decent record against the spread in Cleveland, but I am going to back the Cavaliers to cover the huge number in Game 3 and underline their status as the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Monday 22nd May
When I left the Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at half time, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the way to another big win. Instead they blew a 16 point half time lead and actually were beaten with a late three pointer which means the Boston Celtics have given themselves surprising life in a series that looked destined to end with a sweep this week.

On Monday, the San Antonio Spurs will be looking to start the long road back from 0-3 against the Golden State Warriors when Game 4 is played in Texas.

Golden State Warriors @ San Antonio Spurs Game 4 Pick: The San Antonio Spurs came out in Game 3 swinging from the hips and they rattled Golden State for a brief moment. However it wasn't long before the Warriors showed why they have been considered the favourite to win the NBA Championship from the day they signed Kevin Durant as the All-Star made some huge plays to see off the challenge of the Spurs.

It is a big ask for the San Antonio Spurs to come back and win the series from 0-3 down against a team as good as the Golden State Warriors. Injuries haven't helped the cause with Tony Parker and Kahwi Leonard both banged up and it seems a long shot for Leonard to return for Game 4 despite him telling the media he was ready to go for Game 4.

Gregg Popovich will not risk the health of the face of the franchise for years to come in a series that might feel it is already beyond them. Instead he will look to the healthy players to show some pride and at least force this series to head back to Oakland for Game 5 by finding a way to win Game 4 in front of their own fans.

The problem is that San Antonio don't have the depth to really hurt an opponent who has stars shooting from all angles. If you slow down Durant, Steph Curry takes over or Draymond Green or Klay Thompson and I do think the Warriors will close the show on Monday, although I am not convinced I want to back them to cover what looks a big number.

As good as the Warriors are Defensively, they have not been able to shut down the San Antonio Offense which is run smoothly and will find shots for the players on the court. I am not convinced they will have the shooting to stay with the Warriors, but this is another game that could move 'over' the total point line.

The 'over' is 4-0 in the last four between these teams including in all of the Western Conference Finals Play Off games and I am going to look for enough shooting to cover this number too.

Tuesday 23rd May
The Western Conference Finals came to a close on Monday as the Golden State Warriors swept past the San Antonio Spurs. Most would have expected the Eastern Conference Finals to be on the brink of being completed on Tuesday too after the Cleveland Cavaliers took the first two games on the road, but they blew a 16 point half time lead in Game 3 which has given the injury hit Boston Celtics new life.

Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 4 Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers were extremely disappointed with the second half effort in Game 3 which saw them blow a huge lead over the Boston Celtics and allow the latter to get back into the Eastern Conference Finals series. No one was more upset with themselves than LeBron James who had a terrible second half, but James has shown many times throughout his career that he is at his most dangerous off a performance like that.

The Cavaliers will also have to step up their Defensive play which allowed the Boston Celtics to get plenty of open looks from the three point range. Even without Isaiah Thomas, who is missing for the rest of the Play Offs, the Celtics continue to shoot very well from beyond the arc with Marcus Smart stepping up in Game 3 and Avery Bradley hitting the go-ahead three pointer with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.

The Defensive performance from the Boston Celtics was highly praised for the work done on James, although there wasn't much credit given to them by James himself. Instead James felt he just played poorly and I can't imagine that is going to happen for another game in the Play Offs.

James was well supported by the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Game 3, but I am expecting the best player in the NBA to take things on himself early and often in Game 4. The Celtics have to hope for another sub-par effort and continue to hit the three point shot at their current clip to have a chance of earning another upset as a big underdog.

This time I am not going to go against the big spread, but I do think the Cavaliers have a big reaction to the way Game 3 went down. That could see them produce a third blow out in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals series, but I can't really pick against the spread in this one.

Instead I am going to back these teams to surpass the total points line with the high number of three pointers that both teams have been launching. Both have the ability to shoot well from that range too and all three games in the series would have at least hit this total that has been set for Game 4.

With more efficient shooting from the three point range, this game could cover the total point line even if there is a blow out response from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

MY PICKS: 16/05 Golden State Warriors-San Antonio Spurs Over 208.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/05 Boston Celtics-Cleveland Cavaliers Under 219.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
19/05 Boston Celtics-Cleveland Cavaliers Under 219.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
20/05 Golden State Warriors - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
21/05 Cleveland Cavaliers - 16.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
22/05 San Antonio Spurs-Golden State Warriors Over 216 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
23/05 Cleveland Cavaliers-Boston Celtics Over 216 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

Conference Finals Update: 4-3, + 0.64 Units

Golden State-San Antonio: 3-0, + 2.73 Units
Boston-Cleveland: 1-3, - 2.09 Unit

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