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Monday, 30 April 2018

NBA Play Off Picks- Conference Semi Finals (April 30-May 9)

We are down to the final eight teams in the NBA Play Offs after both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers were forced into winning Game 7's at home to move into the Conference Semi Finals.

There is no rest for those players though with the Conference Semi Finals already beginning in the Western Conference this past weekend and the Eastern Conference Game 1's set to be played on Monday and Tuesday.

It does look like we have got four clear favourites in the Semi Final Series, but the NBA has a habit of surprising and over a best of seven Series and who is going to rule a line through LeBron James to do something special.

So far the two favourites in the Western Conference have put big wins on the board to open their Series. In this thread the remaining Semi Final Play Off Games Picks through to the Game 4's of all four Series will be contained and I will have a new thread for any remaining Games that need to be played.


Monday 30th April
Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics Pick: The Boston Celtics have rallied through injuries all season to finish with the Number 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference and then edge out the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the First Round.

However it has been one of those seasons for Boston who saw Jaylen Brown tweak a hamstring in Game 7 which means he is in danger of at least missing the first of the Conference Semi Final Play Off Games.

A short-handed Celtics team have to be respected considering how they have rallied throughout this season. They have also thrived as the home underdog all season, but it is a big ask for them against the rested Philadelphia 76ers who blew away the Miami Heat in the First Round.

The 76ers have put together a team that can get very hot from the three point range, but have a healthy penetration into the paint with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons showing they are ready to perform at their best in the Play Offs.

It is still a huge ask to cover this number on the road especially in the intense atmosphere Boston will create for every game here. That is going to be something new for the young 76ers to deal with and makes it much more difficult to really want to back them.

However they have some factors working in their favour- the youthfulness may mean Philadelphia can continue to express themselves and now they are also facing a Boston team missing another key part of their line up if Brown is unable to go as most expect.

The Celtics would also have invested plenty of emotional energy in winning Game 7 on Saturday and I think that could see them short if the 76ers begin clicking from three point range. Boston are a very good Defensive team who deserve respect, although I still lean towards the 76ers getting this Series off to a positive start with a solid looking road win.


Tuesday 1st May
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Toronto Raptors PickThe Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers both came through as favourites from the First Round Play Off Series, but both will recognise they were given real scares by the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers respectively. The Raptors needed six games to move through to the Conference Semi Finals, but that means they have had a little more rest than the Cleveland Cavaliers who won a tight Game 7 on Sunday.

LeBron James was the difference for the Cavaliers in their win over the Indiana Pacers and there is no doubt in my mind that they would have been blown out if James was playing for the other team. There will be more of a burden put on James' shoulders in this Conference Semi Final Series if his supporting cast can't find the consistency they need, especially as James himself has admitted some 'burn out'.

Have little doubt that James will still bring his best to the court on Tuesday in Game 1 which takes place in Canada, but it looks a very difficult Series for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have knocked Toronto out in back to back years in the Play Offs, but it is the Raptors who will come in as favourites with their bench play likely to be a significant difference.

The bench has been restored to full health with Fred VanVleet back and having a few more days rest to make sure he is ready to go in Game 1. With the Cavaliers playing an emotional and tough physical Game 7 on Sunday, it does feel like the Toronto depth is going to be a real factor in Game 1 as long as the home team are not too emotionally scarred from losses to Cleveland in the Play Offs over the last couple of years.

These teams only met once in Toronto in the regular season and it resulted in a big win for the home team. I can see another here as they cover the spread in Game 1 despite the big number in front of them.

The host of Game 1 in the Semi Final Round has a very strong record in recent years against the spread and the first three Series have all seen the home team cover. The Raptors can become the latest to do that against what has to be a tired opponent who are heavily reliant on LeBron James to carry them to a success.


New Orleans Pelicans @ Golden State Warriors PickL After being blown out by the defending Champions in Game 1, the New Orleans Pelicans would have hoped for better news than hearing Steph Curry is going to return for Game 2 without any restrictions on the minutes he can give the Golden State Warriors.

A tough Conference Semi Final Series has gotten that much more difficult for the Pelicans who need to make some serious adjustments to get Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday going. Getting a combined 32 points from Davis and Holiday is not going to be good enough for the Pelicans to earn an upset in this Series and both are hoping for a little better help from the referees when they attack the Warriors.

That won't be easy with Golden State clearly in 'Play Off mode' when it comes to the way they are Defending around the court. They stifled the San Antonio Spurs for the most part in the First Round and Game 1 saw Golden State restrict New Orleans in the Quarters either side of half time which contributed to their 22 point win.

With the Warriors playing as well as they are, it can be very difficult to want to oppose them in any game they play especially at this time of the season.

However the Pelicans have to believe they can make the adjustments they need to at least be more competitive than they were in Game 1 when they trailed by 31 points at the end of the Third Quarter. Generally New Orleans have struggled to really compete with the Warriors for 48 minutes which makes it even tougher to believe in them, but getting a double digit start might be enough to at least cover the number.

In this Round of the Play Offs, hosts favoured by more than 7 points in Game 2 have not had a very good record against the spread. The hosts have also struggled off a blow out win and New Orleans have to be respected as a team with a decent winning percentage this season.

The return of Curry is an obvious additional problem for the Pelicans to face, but perhaps that sees Golden State ease off the pedal from a mental standpoint. That could help the Pelicans and I will take the points with the big road underdog.


Wednesday 2nd May
Utah Jazz @ Houston Rockets PickThe Utah Jazz came out of a tough First Round Series and have quickly realised the level of competition has ramped up again after being blown out by the Number 1 Seed Houston Rockets in Game 1 of this Western Conference Semi Final Series. There isn't much time to turn things around for the Jazz ahead of Game 2 before they return home to host the Rockets for two games later this week.

Injuries are difficult to deal with at this time of the NBA season but the Utah Jazz have to find a way to make the adjustments they need to make this a competitive Series. Losing Ricky Rubio always looked a blow, but it was really highlighted in Game 1 and things aren't helped with Donovan Mitchell carrying a sore ankle.

That is not going to keep Mitchell out of Game 2 but it is hard for the rookie who is being asked to carry more of the load for the Jazz now Rubio is absent from the line up.

It is perhaps more important for the Utah Jazz to try and find a way to bring their strong Defensive schemes onto the court if they are going to have any chance in this Series. It has not happened for them against the Rockets at any point this season though which makes it hard to believe in the Jazz and James Harden has continued his dominant play against them.

Harden is almost being able to do whatever he wants with the ball in his hands and the Jazz are struggling to guard him. With Harden dominating, Houston are able to find their shots wherever they want them and they were knocking down the three pointers for fun in Game 1.

Much of where Houston will go depends on how hot or cold they get from the three point line, but they look like they are in a comfortable Series. That shooting is also key to any cover of the point spread, but Houston have been able to dominate Utah at home with three big wins already this season and I am leaning towards them being able to do that here.

I expect the Rockets to get more production from their second unit which could make things a little easier for them in Game 2 and I think the heavier scoring will see Houston pull away in the second half.


Thursday 3rd May
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Toronto Raptors Pick: The Toronto Raptors have to be second guessing themselves after losing Game 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team who have beaten them in the Play Offs in each of the last two years.

To lose Game 1 would have been a blow regardless, but to lose a game in which Toronto NEVER trailed in regulation before being overcome in Overtime has to hurt double. And there isn’t a lot of recovery time with Game 2 set for Thursday just two days after Game 1 was played.

For all intents and purposes it looked like Cleveland were there for the taking in Game 1 and LeBron James had his worst game in some time too. Even then the Raptors managed to rip away a defeat from the jaws of victory and mentally they are in a really tough spot knowing a loss in Game 2 will leave them ripe for the sweep against this team for a second year in succession.

That was not the way it was supposed to be for the Raptors who have improved their bench and seen their top players also play better than before.

However that did not come together in Game 1 as they blew a big second half lead and also a lead going into the Fourth Quarter. That has not been the case for the majority of the season for the Raptors, but just goes to show they don’t feel comfortable against the Cleveland Cavaliers which makes it risky to back the home team here.

In saying that I do think the Raptors can bounce back from a really poor outing in Game 1 and get back to what has taken them to the Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference. They will look to spread the floor and make sure their big names have the ball in their hands late in this one.

The mental aspect is tough to get a read on because the Raptors have to know they blew Game 1 and they’ve struggled against the Cavaliers at this time of the season. Even with that in mind, I think the Raptors have to recognise they should have won Game 1 and I think a little more focus at critical times will allow them to do that.

You can’t expect LeBron James to have another really poor game like he did in Game 1 (by his own high standards), but even then I think the Raptors will be more efficient with their shots. This time I am not anticipating them blowing a big lead, if they get one, and I will look for the Raptors to win and cover in Game 2 before the Series shifts to Cleveland for two games.


Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics Pick: Things could not really have gone any worse for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semi Final Series, but they have recognised their own faults. There has been much internal criticism for the poor effort on both ends of the court and the expectation is that we will see a big reaction from them on Thursday.

The Boston Celtics continue to play far above the levels expected when they went down a third starter for Game 1. However that didn’t matter as they were able to get whatever they wanted from the field and the strong Defensive schemes were enough to keep the 76ers at arm’s length throughout the contest.

Jaylen Brown could be back for the Celtics in time for Game 2 although the nature of a sore hamstring makes him questionable at best. Brown himself will be wanting to go, but the Celtics have to urge some caution as they are already short-handed in this Series and won’t want to lose Brown going forward.

Produce the same effort as in Game 1 and Boston may even feel they don’t need Brown to make it 2-0 and put the franchise in a position in the Play Offs they don’t tend to blow. They have won all five Play Off games played here so far this post-season to increase the confidence and the Boston crowd can turn up the heat on the most experienced of teams.

Experience of these situations is not something the 76ers are blessed with and it will be interesting to see the adjustments they make for Game 2. They have recognised they have to be a lot better on the Defensive side of the court, and a better effort on that side should flow into better Offensive grooves.

I have to say I am not at all surprised that the public are behind the Boston Celtics who have proven to be a top home underdog to back all season. They have loved being a team that people can’t believe in and Boston’s record at home in the Play Offs will mean they will get their backers to win outright let alone with the points behind them.

However I can’t suddenly jump off the Philadelphia bandwagon and I do think they are the superior team IF they can impose their game on the Celtics. They have to make sure they are not allowing Boston to settle into the game with easy buckets and a better Defensive performance should bleed into better Offensively.

Philadelphia have the shooters to hurt the Boston Celtics regardless of how well they have played Defensively and I am expecting the adjustments to give the 76ers to steal home court away before heading back to their own Arena for two games.

It won’t be easy for the road team in a raucous environment, but the 76ers have shown they can win on the road and I will take them to cover the points and oppose the public in this one too.


Saturday 5th May
It has been a tragic time for the NBA Picks with more snapped leads which have cost teams wins and covers.

Saturday is a busy day so I am going to put the NBA Picks from the two Eastern Conference Semi Final Series Game 3's below.


Monday 7th May
I couldn't pick a winner in a one horse race at the moment, but again I have been hit with some ridiculously poor luck in some of the selections made.

That's not a good enough excuse though as my NBA season has taken a nosedive during the Play Offs, but I have to think that some of the awful bounces will come back my way.


Boston Celtics @ Philadelphia 76ers PickIt has been a horrible Semi Final Series for the Philadelphia 76ers who came into this Round as the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference. Instead they find themselves 0-3 down and with a home game to try and avoid the sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.

Nothing has really gone right for the 76ers but dropping an Overtime home game in Game 3 might be a fatal blow to their chances of extending Boston in any way in this Series.

Even now the 76ers have had to talk themselves up and believe they can turn this Series on its head, but it is incredibly difficult to bounce back at this stage of a season. The pressure on the players to perform four quality times in a row is made all the more difficult with the type of opposition they are facing and the Boston Celtics have to be confident of closing things out as soon as Monday.

A young Philadelphia roster will be all the better in the years ahead for the experiences they are battling through at this moment, but you can't deny it has been a steep learning curve for Ben Simmons in particularly. Simmons has all the tools to be amongst the very best players in the NBA in years ahead, but he has struggled with the Boston Defensive schemes which remain some of the best in the Association.

Coaching has been a big factor too with Brad Stevens leading Brett Brown on the sidelines and I've lost some faith with the 76ers for this season at least.

Recent trends in the Semi Final Series don't make for good reading for the 76ers and taking the Celtics with this number of points behind them looks the right side.

A team losing three games in a row are just 3-14 against the spread, while they have gone 0-10 against the spread if they have lost their last game as the favourite. That is the situation for the Philadelphia 76ers in this one and I think Stevens can coach the Boston Celtics to keep this one competitive and perhaps even earn the sweep of the Series.


Toronto Raptors @ Cleveland Cavaliers PickAnyone who has ever doubted how great LeBron James is needs to watch the last two games of this Eastern Conference Semi Final Series and then re-evaluate the King of the NBA. Once again it was James who took all the plaudits as he made a ridiculously difficult shot look easy to beat the buzzer for the second time in the Play Offs for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James has proven he is the difference maker in this Series as the Cavaliers moved 3-0 ahead against the Toronto Raptors and hosting Game 4 on Monday.

The Raptors finished with the Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference and genuinely believed they could reach the NBA Finals. Having been beaten by Cleveland two years in a row in the Play Offs, Toronto felt more ready than ever to take on the 'team to beat' in the Eastern Conference but instead they are staring at back to back sweeps in the post-season right in the face.

To be perfectly honest it is hard to see anything else happen as Toronto have taken another body blow in Game 3 having thrown away Game 1. In another dimension the Raptors would likely be leading this Series and on the verge of making it back to Toronto with a big lead.

Now they face an elimination game and they have to show they can overcome the horrible trend that afflicts teams who have lost three games in a row at this stage of the post-season. Number 1 Seeds have been very good underdogs in the Semi Final Series though and Toronto covered in Game 3 in that situation despite going down to the buzzer beater from James.

When teams are giving up 5 points or less against the Number 1 Seed, they are a horrible 3-20 against the spread and that is where the Cavaliers find themselves on Monday. Of course Toronto have to overcome a huge mental hurdle with the way Game 3 went down and the blow out in Game 2 after something similar in Game 1 is fresh in the mind.

However I do think the Cavaliers can sometimes struggle as a favourite and they have not been a strong team to back in that spot all season. The role players have all been lighting up the scoreboards and you do wonder how that is going to last and I think the Raptors can potentially keep this one relatively close.


Tuesday 8th May
I can't say I am even surprised that my Picks have lurched from bad to worse.

What a shit run, personally I would think about fading my choices, I'm on that kind of ridiculous run.

Utah Jazz @ Houston Rockets PickThe Houston Rockets have seen the Number 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference already fall in the Semi Final Series of the NBA Play Offs, but they are not really fearing for their own position.

After dropping home court in Game 2, Houston have won back to back games in Utah and now they have a chance to close out the Jazz. They have been the superior team throughout this Series and in their regular season games and it would be a big surprise if the Rockets are not able to complete the Series win on Tuesday.

Injuries have really not helped the Utah cause with Ricky Rubio yet to feature in the Series and Derrick Favors restricted. The Jazz needed a full complement of players and a little luck at the start of the Series so playing with a short-handed rotation was always going to be a problem for Utah.

Donovan Mitchell has shown he has a lot of potential in his rookie season, but the lack of support from Rubio has just highlighted how far he is yet to go in his career. Matching up with James Harden and Chris Paul will have been a real learning experience for Mitchell who has been playing through the pain but has not been as effective as he would have liked.

Offensively Utah have struggled since Game 2 and they have not seen the three point shot falling as they would have liked. That has made it very difficult to stay with the Houston Rockets who have won their three games by at least thirteen points each time.

Houston are finding their openings and the aggressive play means they are getting to the Free Throw line with consistency and that has made it tough for Utah in the last couple of games. You have to think the Jazz have enough to try and give it one more big push to try and get this Series back home, but ultimately I think it is very difficult for them to do that without some key Offensive pieces.

Defensively Utah have been very good this season, but Houston have found a way to break them down and all of their wins have been by big margins against the Jazz this year. I think it will be more of the same in Game 5 when these teams meet back in Houston and I like the Rockets to cover a big number.


New Orleans Pelicans @ Golden State Warriors PickThe Golden State Warriors are rarely embarrassed in the Play Offs in recent seasons but they were in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semi Final Series as New Orleans cut into their 2-0 lead. It was no surprise to see the Warriors bounce back in the manner they did in Game 4 as they led from wire to wire and have put themselves in a position to win the Series against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Most people will be expecting the Warriors to close the Series out on Tuesday and get ready for what could be decided as the 'real' NBA Finals when they likely play the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

Both teams have a chance to get a few days rest by winning their Semi Final Series on Tuesday and I am expecting both to do that.

New Orleans won't want to roll over for their hosts, but they have already overachieved without DeMarcus Cousins and this is another step up in level of opponent. The Golden State Warriors are all about preparing themselves for this time of the season and they are back to full health with a starting five that looks so, so good on paper.

Then again they are so, so good on the court too and the Golden State Warriors will look to match the intensity they began Game 4 with as they bid to give New Orleans no open door to get back into the Series.

The Pelicans can be dangerous if their three pointers are going down as they can, but Golden State have the players on the Defensive side of the court to make the shooters uncomfortable. They have shown that in this Series and Golden State have their own shooters who seem to be able to break down the Pelicans and get all of the shots they want.

It will be possible for New Orleans to challenge the Warriors for a while, but I expect the home team to pull away for another comfortable win and move through to the Western Conference Finals.

MY PICKS: 30/04 Philadelphia 76ers - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
01/05 Toronto Raptors - 7 Points @ 1,91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
01/05 New Orleans Pelicans + 11 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
02/05 Houston Rockets - 11 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
03/05 Toronto Raptors - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
03/05 Philadelphia 76ers - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
05/05 Philadelphia 76ers - 6.5 Points FIRST HALF @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
05/05 Philadelphia 76ers-Boston Celtics Over 206.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
05/05 Cleveland Cavaliers-Toronto Raptors Over 216 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
07/05 Boston Celtics + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
07/05 Toronto Raptors + 5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
08/05 Houston Rockets - 12 Points @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
08/05 Golden State Warriors - 11.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Semi Final Update: 1-10, - 9.09 Units (11 Units Staked, - 82.64% Yield)

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