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Monday, 1 May 2017

NBA Play Offs Conference Semi Final Picks 2017 (April 30-May 15)

I am actually away for the first week of the NBA Play Offs Conference Semi Final games so there are potentially going to be moments where I am unable to provide the usual level of comments for a game and instead will just have to put my pick down.

That is only a big issue in the first week of the Semi Final series which included missing Game 1 of the Boston-Washington series as I was flying away during that time.

The First Round picks proved to be a little up and down, but ultimately returned with more winners than losers and I am looking for more consistency during the Semi Final Round.

Monday 1st May
Today is a big day for me on a personal level so I really don't have a lot of time spare to cover my research for the picks from the two games today.

I have the time to read up and make my pick, but writing the thoughts down won't be possible until much nearer to the time the games are due to tip off.

With that in mind, I am simply putting down my picks in the 'MY PICKS' section below.

Tuesday 2nd May
There is nothing stranger than seeing an NBA game being played while you're eating your breakfast and having to watch late night Premier League and European Football at around 11pm but that is the situation for me over the next few nights.

Yesterday it wasn't worth it so much as San Antonio were stunningly blown out by the Houston Rockets in what could be the best series of the Semi Finals. A big response is going to be needed there in Game 2, while the Golden State Warriors get their home series with the Utah Jazz underway on Tuesday.

That is the last of the series to get underway with both Eastern Conference Semi Final series already underway and actually moving into Game 2 on Tuesday.

Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics Game 2 Pick: The Washington Wizards do feel they may have let the Boston Celtics off the hook in Game 1 of the series after building a big First Quarter lead. Poor play either side of half time prevented the upset from being secured and that means the Wizards are now hoping to turn things around and get this series back to 1-1 before heading home for two games later this week.

Scott Brooks was not really happy with the play in the middle two Quarters of Game 1 which cost Washington. He will be looking for more overall effort, although the likely absence of Markieff Morris is a big blow for the Wizards especially if they are still feeling a little sorry for themselves.

Washington have now failed to cover in six visits to Boston, but know they are not going any further in the Play Offs without taking at least one game here. The effort defending the three point range particularly hurt the Wizards and all of the talk over the last couple of days is making sure they are better at that one aspect of their Defensive schemes.

That has to be the most unsurprising element coming out of Game 1 after Boston hit 19 three pointers in the win, with those points sparking the big comeback and then finishing off the Wizards. Both Bradley Beal and John Wall have spoken on forcing the Celtics to settle for long two point efforts or forcing them to make contested shots at the rim, but they have urged the rest of the team to make sure Boston are not allowed their free aim from three as they were in Game 1.

While that looks the smart move, Washington also will be hurting with some of their big men banged up. Morris says he will suit up, but he will be limited and Ian Mahinmi is expected back when the series moves to Washington. The only positive news is Jason Smith is likely to have more minutes as the Wizards try and change the tempo and feel of Game 2.

I can see why Boston are favoured again in Game 2, but this is not a number I want to be dealing with as I am expecting a positive response from the Wizards. That positive response will have to be on the Defensive side of the court though and I can't see them letting Boston dominate from the three point range as much as they did in Game 1.

The over is 7-3 in the last ten in Boston so going against that might be an issue. However this is a very big number and I think the way Game 1 turned out might see both teams produce a better performance Defensively which could see Game 2 end under this total.

Utah Jazz @ Golden State Warriors Game 1 Pick: The only First Round series that needed a Game 7 to resolve it was the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers, but it is Utah who moved through to the Conference Semi Finals. That came after three consecutive road wins in the series and now there isn't much time for the Jazz to prepare for Game 1 at the powerful Golden State Warriors who have had plenty of rest ahead of this one.

That rest has gotten the players thinking about other factors as they bemoaned not being able to spend some time in Los Angeles rather than Utah over the next week. The majority of those same players then spoke about this being the Play Offs and location not the issue, but the Warriors should be 'welcomed' to Salt Lake City in Game 3 and Game 4 later this week.

Those comments could also potentially fire up the Utah Jazz who are going to be the underdog in a second series in a row. However, the Warriors should be focused enough for the opening of a series against a team who might be feeling a little fatigued compared to themselves and who may also be missing Derrick Favors on Tuesday.

Steve Kerr is set to miss out for the entirety of this series as Head Coach for Golden State, but Mike Brown is an able replacement and this roster is full of experience that Kerr's absence should not be a factor. Getting to a third consecutive NBA Finals is the goal for the Warriors who are the big favourites to win the NBA Championship and who have the likes of Matt Barnes returning to the rotation.

The lay off should have seen the Warriors rested significantly and I do think they can put together a statement win on Tuesday in Game 1. It is up to Golden State to speed up the tempo and make the Jazz feel the First Round series in their legs, while the absence of Favors does weaken Utah.

The home team is 7-2 against the spread in the last nine in this series and Golden State are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven at home against Utah. Recently they have covered spreads of 12.5, 14, 14 and 9 points at home against the Jazz and I am looking for the Warriors to beat this spread on Tuesday.

Wednesday 3rd May
Picks are below for the two Wednesday NBA Play Off games.

Thursday 4th May
It was a better day for the picks on Wednesday and hoping going back to the well on Thursday for two picks that missed out on Tuesday will work out. Only another Overtime will scupper one of those picks and I am looking for Golden State to kick on and win by a larger number than Game 1.

Sunday 7th May
The Conference Semi Finals are failing to find the expected challenges for the two favourites to compete in the NBA Finals for a third season in a row. Both of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are on the brink of another sweep to move into their respective Conference Finals and their collision course for June looks set to be repeated.

There are three games on Sunday although two of those series are guaranteed to need a Game 5, while the Cleveland Cavaliers look to move through with a sweep of the Toronto Raptors and get some more rest ahead of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers @ Toronto Raptors Game 4 Pick: Last season the first four games in the Play Offs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors all went with the home team, but there has been a different feel about this series from the opening tip off in Game 1. The Cavaliers have come out with a focus and intensity that Toronto have failed to match which has led to three blow out wins for the defending NBA Champions.

It has been a tough series for Toronto and it won't be easier if they can't find the Defensive formula they need to slow down Cleveland in this last chance saloon game. The Cavaliers have scored at least 115 points in each of their three wins in the series and things have become tougher for Toronto now that Kyle Lowry has been banged up and likely to miss another game.

Toronto have not been able to match Cleveland on the boards which has been a surprise and they just haven't found the consistent shooting that LeBron James has been able to give the Cavaliers. LeBron has been so comfortable in the series that he has been trying out new moves on the court and still averaging huge numbers as he looks to push Cleveland through to a eleventh consecutive Play Off win since June 2016.

Cleveland have now covered on their last four visits to Toronto and the road team is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight in the series. The Cavaliers have also been a covering machine in their last few Play Off games, but this spread has moved almost 4 whole points from Game 3 and there is a risk that Cleveland don't produce another A+ effort with a 3-0 lead built up.

I can't really back Toronto with any confidence, but a slightly relaxed Cleveland may not shoot the ball as well as they have and instead focus on shutting down the Raptors. The 'under' is 21-6 in the last twenty-seven of this series and I can see Game 4 going the same way as Game 3 and that is the total points failing to be surpassed. With Cleveland firing on all cylinders, that is a risky pick but I am expecting the best Toronto effort to at least try and slow them down and so Defensive play might be the focus for both teams in Game 4.

Either that or another blow out win for Cleveland could see them shut down Toronto again and I think the under is the best way to go at Game 4.

Boston Celtics @ Washington Wizards Game 4 Pick: There hasn't been much love lost between the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics, but all that came to the fore in Game 3 as Kelly Oubre Jr was thrown out for charging Kelly Olynyk after being hit by a hard screen. Don't think either team will have forgotten about that even though Oubre Jr has been suspended for Game 4 and this is going to be another tense and tough battle between these two quality teams.

One of the stand out trends of the first three games in the series has been the leads Washington have been able to build up through the First Quarter. They couldn't hold them in Game 1 and Game 2 to drop both on the road at Boston, but Washington led from start to finish in Game 3 to blow out the Celtics.

It has not be unnoticed by Brad Stevens and Boston and the Head Coach has demanded his team come out with more energy from tip off. There are only so many times you can go to the well and come back from a big deficit and Boston saw themselves come unstuck in Game 3.

For Washington it is simply a case of trying to back up the Game 3 effort through 48 minutes to try and even this series before it moves back to Boston for Game 5. They have the size to win the battle on the boards as they have shown through the series and the Wizards have two star players in John Wall and Bradley Beal who can match the output of Isaiah Thomas which proved to be a key in Game 3.

The Celtics have been a strong team to back coming off a double digit loss, but they have not played well when having two days rest between game. On the other hand, Washington are 7-0 against the spread in their last seven in that rest period and they are now 5-2 against the spread in their last seven at home.

The favourite has covered in the last four games in the series between these teams, while the home team has covered in seven in a row. I think the Wizards can make another strong start and I expect the energy of the crowd to help keep them focused throughout in this one and pull out Game 4 to level up the series.

Opposing Boston with this kind of number is not an easy decision, but I am going to back Washington to cover in Game 4 and send the teams back to Boston at 2-2.

San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets Game 4 Pick: The response of the San Antonio Spurs to their shellacking at the hands of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 has been very impressive. The Spurs have dominated the last two games to move into a 2-1 lead in the series and recovered lost home court advantage which means all the pressure has shifted to the Houston Rockets when it comes to Game 4.

The loss of Tony Parker would hurt any team, but San Antonio will have belief in Patty Mills and have shown in the last two games they can make the adjustments to give Rockets plenty to think about. It has become clear that San Antonio will live with the points James Harden will get, but they are going to make sure he is not able to be supported by his team mates.

Now it is up to Houston to respond by finding open shots for the rest of the rotation and not accept Harden being able to make plays for himself. They have been bothered by the size of the San Antonio rotation which has seen the Spurs contest shots on the perimeter and also dominate the battle on the boards and has propelled them to two big wins.

Defensively Houston have really not played well enough in the last two games and they will be looking to improve on that side of the court too. It is difficult for the Rockets who are under huge mental pressure and have lost four in a row here to the San Antonio Spurs, but an all around better performance is going to be needed if they are to hold serve and get this series back to 2-2 before heading back to San Antonio.

The Rockets are 1-7 against the spread in their last eight home games which suggests this is going to be a big number for them to cover even in a winning effort. The road team is 7-1 against the spread in the last eight in the series between Houston and the Spurs and San Antonio are 4-0 against the spread in their last four here.

The underdog has also thrived in recent games with that team being 4-1 against the spread in the last five and I am going to take the points with the San Antonio Spurs here.

Monday 8th May
Golden State Warriors @ Utah Jazz Game 4 Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers completed their second sweep of the Play Offs on Sunday and the Golden State Warriors have a chance of matching that on Monday. These two teams look set to do battle for another NBA Championship in June, although neither will be overlooking the fact they have their respective Conference Finals to negotiate.

The Warriors are getting set for Game 4 of this series with the Utah Jazz looking like they are in complete control of all the factors of the series. They have proved to have the scoring power to break down one of the best Defensive units in the NBA and Golden State are playing at a high level Defensively which is helping them shut down Utah who have been inconsistent on that side of the court.

Missing George Hill has hurt Utah and they simply don't have the same depth of quality as Golden State which is showing up when the benches have to come into the rotation. All of this is happening without Head Coach Steve Kerr on the bench and that is making it even more impressive as the Warriors show they have a little too much talent all around for the Utah Jazz to deal with.

It hasn't helped Utah that they have been beaten on the boards as easily as they have in the last couple of games and I can only see the Golden State completing the sweep on Monday. I do think Golden State can cover this number too, but I am going to respect the Utah Defensive performances at times and in doing so I will be looking for this game to finish 'under' the total points line set.

The 'under' has been trending hugely in both Golden State road games and Utah home games in recent history. The 'under' is also 11-4-1 in the last sixteen games in Utah when the Jazz and Warriors meet and I am looking for Game 4 to finish below the total points.

Tuesday 9th May
Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs Game 5 Pick: This has already been a very funny series with swings of momentum throughout the first four games which have been split 2-2 by the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. Both teams will be hoping they don't have to go through the drama of a Game 7 when you think the Golden State Warriors are going to be rested for the Western Conference Finals having swept past the Utah Jazz on Monday.

The importance of trying to make it through in six games means Game 5 in a really pivotal one as they return to San Antonio on Tuesday. Both teams have dominated the games they have won and that makes this spread a hard one to understand and really comes down to whoever you feel will win straight up.

I can't separate the Spurs and the Rockets who have matched up well once they make the adjustments they have game by game. Houston got their bench firing and were once again hammering San Antonio from the three point line as they did when stealing Game 1 here, and the key to the series is how much the players other than James Harden can produce.

San Antonio will continue to have an edge on the boards now Nene has been ruled out for the Rockets through the rest of the series. That edge wasn't enough when Houston have been knocking down three pointers as they have in Game 1 and Game 4, and it is up to San Antonio to find a way to get better production from Patty Mills and who is replacing Tony Parker as the facilitator for the Spurs.

The trend that has been prevalent through the series so far is the number of points that both teams have been putting up. That has seen three of the four games surpass the total points line and the over is now 6-1-1 in the last eight in San Antonio with both games here in the Conference Semi Final series also surpassing the total points number.

The over also has some really positive numbers in recent San Antonio games when playing some of the best teams in the NBA and I think the teams could combine for a high-scoring Game 5. I am expecting some adjustments from both teams after the Game 4 performances, but they have both been scoring plenty of points and I will look for this total number to be surpassed.

Wednesday 10th May
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics Game 5 Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers have got their feet up as they wait to see who they face in the Eastern Conference Finals and they will be hoping the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics can continue what has been a competitive and tense series so far.

Both teams have managed to hold serve at home to come into Game 5 at 2-2, but the momentum has to be with the Washington Wizards who have used two big runs to blow open Game 3 and Game 4. They opened their two games in Boston in very strong fashion, but they could not maintain those leads although the performances at home has given the entire roster the belief they can win this series even though they have to win at least once on the road.

In Game 2 Washington were beaten in Overtime and feel that is a game that got away from them, but the confidence has not been dented as they have shown by fighting back from 2-0 down in the series. They have used their size to dominate the boards in the last two games and that is likely to be a key part of this Game 5, while Boston are also looking to try and prevent the turnovers which have been exploited by the Wizards.

Both teams are likely back up to a full rotation with Kelly Oubre Jr back from a suspension and Avery Bradley expected to return from an injury. However the pressure is on Boston to make the adjustments and to stick with Washington when they do kick on with their strong runs that have been a feature of all four games in this Conference Semi Finals series.

Rest is also important for Washington who have played really well when having two days rest between games and I do like the Wizards in this one. The Celtics have bounced back from big losses, but they have not been so good with the break between games and I think the pressure is on them to the point that Isaiah Thomas has been complaining about the lack of calls he got in the last two games.

That could see the referees overcompensate here, which is a concern for Washington backers, but recent history is against the hosts covering in Game 5 when they come in off back to back losses. I will expect that to show up here as the Washington Wizards continue where they have left off in Games 3 and 4 and I will look for them to make these points count in another battle.

Thursday 11th May
San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets Game 6 Pick: The Houston Rockets are not blaming fatigue for their poor conclusion to Game 5, but they do feel they blew a chance to once again take the lead in this Conference Semi Final series. Instead they are playing a 'must win' Game 6 to extend their season as the San Antonio Spurs recovered from a 9 point deficit to win Game 5 in Overtime.

It isn't all rosy in the garden for the Spurs though who have already lost Tony Parker to injury. They then saw Kahwi Leonard go down with an injury which meant he was on the bench for the critical final plays of the Fourth Quarter as well as for the entire Overtime period.

Leonard has stated that he will play in Game 6, but I am not entirely convinced he will be able to take part. He limped off the court and the best case scenario for him seems to be playing a part but with a real limitation on the minutes and the impact he is able to have. That should give Houston some confidence to at least force a Game 7 over the weekend, but the Rockets have lost Nene themselves which meant their rotation logged big minutes in Game 5 and ultimately do have some tiredness to shake out of the legs.

You won't hear fatigue being used as an excuse by Houston, but that might be to keep the players from feeling it rather than a genuine belief they are not feeling the effects of the series. The 18 Offensive boards they gave up will have made Houston feel sick as that was a big reason they were unable to close the door on the Spurs down the stretch, but it is all about putting in one huge effort to have another chance to win on the road.

The Spurs have a 4-1 record against the spread in their last five visits to Houston, but I do think the Rockets can bounce back here. Their two wins in the series have both come in blow outs and they were on the way to another when the Offensive groove got away from them down the stretch in the Fourth Quarter.

This is a big number to cover, but I can see a situation where the likes of Leonard are rested by the Spurs if Houston begin to pull away. The Rockets have to hit the big shots when they come out but I can see them being carried on the emotion of the crowd which should disguise the tiredness factor and I like Houston to cover and force a Game 7.

Friday 12th May
Tiredness is not an excuse at this stage of the Play Offs and the Houston Rockets should be rightly criticised for an absolutely awful way to play in a 'win or go home' situation. They were destroyed by the San Antonio Spurs who were missing both Kahwi Leonard and Tony Parker and started off lethargic which took the crowd out of the game.

That means the Western Conference Finals have been set with that series beginning on Sunday, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are still waiting for their opponent in the Eastern Conference.

Boston Celtics @ Washington Wizards Game 6 Pick: The home team has dominated this Eastern Conference Semi Final series with all five previous games being won by the host. Each game has seen the host also cover as the favourite and it is up to the Washington Wizards to try and give themselves one more opportunity to win on the road in Game 7 by taking Game 6.

That won't be easy against the Boston Celtics who were shooting the ball efficiently in Game 5 as they earned production from the role players supporting Isaiah Thomas. His ability to collapse the Defense of the Wizards opened things up, but Avery Bradley needs to be given a lot of credit for his best game in the series as he knocked down the shots that Washington gave to him.

The pressure has now shifted to the Wizards to produce a better all around effort in Game 6, but the support from the fans can help them achieve that. They had some decent looks in Game 5 that didn't go down and the Wizards have been much stronger at home where they will look to level the series again like they did in Game 4.

Bradley Beal is a key for Washington and can't have the same struggles as in Game 5, while the other key issue was the fact that Boston were able to win the battle on the boards. That came after being out-rebounded by a combined twenty-six boards in Game 3 and 4 and was also the first time in the series where Boston had an edge on that statistic.

I do think Washington have it in them to bounce back though and I am expecting to see them do that on Friday. They have played well here in the Play Offs and are 4-1 against the spread in their last five home games, while they have covered in the last four at home against the Boston Celtics.

The home team (13-3 against the spread) and the favourite (12-2 against the spread) have dominated the trends in the recent games in the series between these two teams. I will look for Washington to add to that by winning Game 6 with a cover of the number and forcing the series back to Boston at the end of the weekend.

Monday 15th May
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics Game 7 Pick: The Western Conference Finals may already have begun, but we are still waiting to see whether the Washington Wizards or the Boston Celtics will be taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Game 7 will decide the fate of the two teams after John Wall hit a monster three pointer with less than 3 seconds left of Game 6 to help Washington beat Boston by a point when it looked like the series was getting away from them.

That does mean that all six games in the series have been won by the home team and the pressure is on Washington to snap that run if they are going to make the Eastern Conference Finals. They have not covered in any of their last eight previous visits to the Boston Celtics and I do think the home team can get the better of the Wizards in this big Game 7.

There has been some upset in the Boston locker room that they were perhaps not helped by a clock mismanagement at the end of Game 6. Instead of having 2.7 seconds to shoot, the clock showed 1.7 seconds and there has been a feeling that even that minimum of time could have made all the difference to Isaiah Thomas' shot in the last second to win the game.

Boston have put that behind them now and will feel their superior three point shooting can give them an edge in Game 7. They showed more energy around the boards than Washington in the last game too which can be important for them but they were still effectively out-rebounded in Game 6 and this final game is going to come down to how well the Boston role players can continue to shoot the ball.

Both have been rested since Friday to produce one more big effort before they play the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday. There are going to be moments for both Boston and Washington in Game 7, but I do think the Boston Celtics will have the edge at home and I can see them pulling away in the final Quarter of this one.

They blew a lead in the final minutes of Game 6, but this time I think Boston will be a little more careful down the stretch and I will look for them to move on with a cover.

MY PICKS: 01/05 Cleveland Cavaliers - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
01/05 San Antonio Spurs - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
02/05 Boston Celtics-Washington Wizards Under 218 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
02/05 Golden State Warriors - 13.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
03/05 Cleveland Cavaliers - 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
03/05 San Antonio Spurs - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
04/05 Washington Wizards-Boston Celtics Under 219 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
04/05 Golden State Warriors - 12.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
07/05 Toronto Raptors-Cleveland Cavaliers Under 213 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
07/05 Washington Wizards - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
07/05 San Antonio Spurs + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
08/05 Utah Jazz-Golden State Warriors Under 206.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
09/05 San Antonio Spurs-Houston Rockets Over 214.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
10/05 Washington Wizards + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
11/05 Houston Rockets - 6 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
12/05 Washington Wizards - 5 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
15/05 Boston Celtics - 5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

Conference Semi Final Picks Overall: 8-9, - 1.56 Units

Boston-Washington Series Breakdown: 3-3, - 0.23 Units
Cleveland-Toronto Series Breakdown: 3-0, + 2.77 Units
Golden State-Utah Series Breakdown: 0-3, - 3 Units
San Antonio-Houston Series Breakdown: 2-3, - 1.10 Units

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