Wednesday 15th May
Toronto Raptors @ Milwaukee Bucks Game 1 Pick: The entire Arena had to hold their collective breath as Kawhi Leonard's shot bounced around the rim for what seemed an eternity. Eventually it fell in Game 7 of the Toronto Raptors Second Round Series win over the Philadelphia 76ers and that has taken the Raptors through to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That game was played on Sunday so the Raptors have had a little more time than the Portland Trail Blazers were afforded when they began their own Conference Finals Series on Tuesday. They are also facing a Milwaukee Bucks team who have earned their spot in the final four much faster than the other three teams competing for a place in the NBA Finals and the Raptors may feel they can get the better of a team who might have lost some rhythm from the long rest between games.
The Bucks crushed the Boston Celtics in the Second Round having dropped Game 1 at home when they had been playing on five days rest. This time they are getting six days rest between games and playing a team with their rhythm and adrenaline pumping from a Game 7 win and who also have had enough time to see fatigue drip away.
However, the Milwaukee Bucks have looked very, very impressive in the NBA PlayOffs as they have won eight of nine games and they have covered the number in each of their wins. They also had the better of the Toronto Raptors in the regular season with three wins from the four meetings between these teams and two of those wins came in blow out fashion.
Toronto do have a very good team, but they are going to find it much tougher against Milwaukee than they did against Philadelphia. This time they face a team with a similar depth and also with a star player in Giannis Antetokounmpo who can match the production of Leonard.
Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka could cause one or two problems for the 'Greek Freak' and Gasol's trade was with a potential PlayOff Series against the Bucks in mind. He has been important for Toronto, but I think Milwaukee can match the depth that the Raptors bring and arguably have the better players around their star performer which can make a difference in this Series.
There are a lot of trends that would favour the Bucks, but it can't be ignored that they were only favoured once in the regular season against the Raptors and lost that game at home outright. They are also 5-14-1 against the spread in their last twenty games when playing on three or more days rest and we saw the Bucks lay an egg in Game 1 of the Second Round Series with the Boston Celtics.
The road team is 7-1 against the spread in the last eight between the Raptors and the Bucks and the underdog has covered in seven straight. Having a bit more time than Portland to recover from a Game 7 win in the Second Round has to help the Raptors in this one too and I can't help but think they are the right play in Game 1 of this Series.
Opposing the Milwaukee Bucks is not something I want to do too often during this Series, but Game 1 looks a strong spot to do that. The Bucks winning all eight games while covering in the PlayOffs can't be set aside easily, but I think the Raptors can keep this one competitive at the least even if I am not convinced they have enough to actually win.
Thursday 16th May
There are times when you have to accept you made the right choices when putting your selections together and simply didn't have enough fortune to earn the winner.
That is the case on Wednesday as the Toronto Raptors led for the large part of Game 1, let alone been in a position to cover, but failed to score in the last four minutes and saw the Milwaukee Bucks produce a 10-0 run which helped them win the game by 8 points.
I really don't think that game could have been capped better and anyone backing the Bucks got a break. However that also means the Bucks are 9-1 in the NBA PlayOffs and they have covered the spread in all of their wins, while the Toronto Raptors have to pick themselves up very quickly with Game 2 being scheduled for Saturday.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: The Golden State Warriors finally blew Game 1 open for good in the fourth quarter and that has seen them hold serve and move into a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson stepped up as they knew they were going to have to without Kevin Durant and the Warriors are going to be looking for more of the same with Durant at least out for Game 2.
It is going back to the basics which made the Warriors the dominant team that Durant wanted to join and that means creating turnovers with their energy Defensively and shooting lights out from the three point arc. Both were in evidence in Game 1, but it needed a real run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to really take control of things and turn the screw on a Portland team that may also have been dealing with fatigue.
That could be a reason for the lacklustre performance from the Trail Blazers who struggled from the field and were not able to look after the ball anything like they need to if they are going to win this Conference Finals. Even then the team are looking at the positives of sticking with the Warriors until the fourth quarter despite not playing their best game and now it is up to Portland to make the adjustments they need to be more competitive.
CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard both have plenty of room for improvement after a slow Game 1 and they are going to be key for the Trail Blazers. While they are not as strong as the back court that the Warriors have, there is enough talent for Lillard and McCollum to at least match the 'Splash Brothers' in a one off game and that is key for Portland who also have to look after the ball much better than they did in Game 1.
Portland have won at the Oracle Arena in the regular season so they should not be overawed by the situation, but it is tough off a seven game Series to be asked to play back to back games on the road. In fact it is the third road game in a row for the Portland Trail Blazers, but the players won't want to return home in a 0-2 hole and I do think it is going to be a real motivated Trail Blazer team who should be a lot better than a couple of nights ago.
I do think the Trail Blazers will shoot much better than they did in Game 1- the reality is I can't imagine they can play as poorly again all around- and the dept of Portland could give them a chance to perhaps steal Home Court. They are appealing with the start on the spread in this one, especially when you think of the Golden State record against the spread at home.
Golden State are 19-41-2 against the spread in their last sixty-two games following a double digit win which is a remarkable number. They also face a Portland team who are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven following a loss and so I can see the road team covering, although I think they are going to have to be much better Offensively to do that.
If they are then this is a game that could surpass the total points line after that number dropped a couple of points from Game 1 to Game 2. I still anticipate the Golden State Warriors to earn their points even if they should be more challenged from the three point line and the 'over' has a strong trend in recent games between these teams and also in recent Portland games when coming in off a loss.
My expectation is an improved Portland who have refocused will come out in Game 2 and I do think the line is right on the money with a case that can be made for both sides. My lean is that the Portland Trail Blazers will cover in Game 2, but I think that will have to happen in a game where both teams hit the triple digit mark by a comfortable margin and so I am going to back this game to surpass the total line being set.
Friday 17th May
Toronto Raptors @ Milwaukee Bucks Game 2 Pick: I was on the Toronto Raptors two nights ago and felt pretty disappointed with the end of Game 1 as they blew a lead and didn't cover the spread thanks to failing to score in the last three minutes. The fans must have felt even worse as the Raptors missed a huge opportunity to steal Home Court in the Eastern Conference Finals and I am struggling to know how Toronto can pick themselves up from such a loss after needing seven games to get through their Second Round Series.
The fact of the matter is they are also facing a much better team than the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Milwaukee Bucks should have shaken off the cobwebs that was clearly evident in their play in Game 1.
They were playing that one off a big rest between games, but this time the Milwaukee Bucks are off a day of rest and I expect them to be a lot more ready to go from the off. Once again they showed they can wear down an opponent and I do worry for the Raptors that their role players are not stepping up to the plate as they would like.
Kyle Lowry had a huge Game 1, but it is hard to expect the Bucks to allow him to dominate from the three point line as he did. I would also expect the Milwaukee shooters to be a lot more ready to go than they were in Game 1 and by the fourth quarter of that one you could see the rhythm was coming back so I am expecting them to pick up from where they left off.
It makes it tough to see how the Raptors can be any better barring someone like Pascal Siakem coming out of his slump. The length of the Bucks makes it very difficult to challenge them and they have some wonderfully strong trends which back them in this one.
The Raptors dropped to 2-5 against the spread in their last seven road games and Milwaukee remain perfect in the post-season against the spread whenever they have won a game. I would have loved to be backing Milwaukee off a straight up loss like I did in the Second Round against the Boston Celtics, but I think the players will be looking to show a much more complete game anyway in Game 2 and I will back them to win and cover.
Saturday 18th May
Golden State Warriors @ Portland Trail Blazers Game 3 Pick: The Portland Trail Blazers are in a similar position as the one the Toronto Raptors were facing in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. After blowing a chance to steal Home Court in the last game, the Trail Blazers have to pick themselves up immediately and try and respond in the right way.
That was not the case for the Toronto Raptors who were blown out by the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 on Friday, but Portland are in an even more desperate position as they return home 0-2 down. Another defeat will all but end this Series and it is hard to see how Portland can play much better than they did in Game 2.
Even the Golden State Warriors admitted that they were fortunate to come away with the win in Game 2, but win they did as they continue to deal without Kevin Durant. The All Star has been ruled out for the next two games as he has not travelled to Portland, but this could be important time off for Durant who is still hoping to be passed fit if the Warriors reach the NBA Finals which is set to begin later this month.
The Warriors are not playing badly without Durant having won their last three full games in his absence and also holding off the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the Second Round Series in which he was injured. They seem to have found a good rhythm that the players had before Durant signed for the team and this does seem to be a difficult spot for Portland having invested so much to come up short on Thursday.
They have some decent trends that favour them and of course there is the recent NBA winning trend of backing a team that is 0-2 down in a Series on the half time spread. The layers have cottoned onto that trend and so Portland are actually by the same amount at half time as they are to win the full game.
Portland did have a big lead at half time of Game 2, but that trend of backing a team 0-2 down in a Series to be covering at the end of the first half has remained true this season. That includes the Houston Rockets doing the same in a Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors in the Second Round Series and I think that might be the best back to back Portland who should come out with some intensity to try and make this Western Conference Series competitive.
Sunday 19th May
Milwaukee Bucks @ Toronto Raptors Game 3 Pick: The Toronto Raptors need some of their role players to step up right now if they are going to make this Eastern Conference Finals something more than a procession for the Milwaukee Bucks. In reality the Raptors should have been at least level in the Series, but they blew a big chance in Game 1 and were then blown out by the Bucks in Game 2.
It can be easy to overreact to the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks have only held serve so far in the Conference Finals by winning the first couple of games at home. However the Toronto Raptors are under pressure to respond as no team has won a PlayOff Series in the NBA when they have trailed 0-3, but teams have made positive starts to games in which they are trailing 0-2.
That was the case on Saturday when I backed the Portland Trail Blazers on the Half Time spread which saw them cover easily. The problem was they could not contain the Golden State Warriors in the second half and perhaps some fatigue is involved for the two teams who needed a Game 7 to win their Second Round Series.
You can't deny that the Toronto Raptors have to be concerned about that fatigue that has built up with some of their bigger names going cold in the fourth quarter. Being back at home might be a real inspiration though and we have seen Portland cover in the Half Time market on Saturday and the same trends apply for the Raptors here.
I just can't oppose the Milwaukee Bucks who have been so good in the NBA PlayOffs and who should be highly motivated considering the layers have set them as the underdog in this one. This is a team who have a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but whose role players are stepping up and different players have taken over the last couple of games to help them lead 2-0.
Milwaukee not only covered as the underdog twice on the road in the PlayOffs at the Boston Celtics, but they also won both of those games straight up. They are 9-2 against the spread as the underdog and you can add in the fact that the Bucks have won twice on the road against the Toronto Raptors already this season and both of those wins have come as the underdog too.
The Bucks have a very strong 20-6-1 record against the spread in their last twenty-seven on the road and the mental edge over the Raptors could see them come on strong in the second half of this one. I did consider laying the points on the Half Time market as I did with the Portland Trail Blazers, but my main belief is the Milwaukee Bucks being able to exert their pressure on the Raptors as they continue to give them plenty of issues with the size they have.
So many factors seem to be pointing to the road underdog winning here and I am going to back Milwaukee to do that in what should be a lower-scoring game than Game 2 barring the referees getting whistle happy again.
Monday 20th May
Golden State Warriors @ Portland Trail Blazers Game 4 Pick: For the second game in a row the Portland Trail Blazers blew the big first half lead they had opened up by going cold in the third quarter. Once again it was the Golden State Warriors taking advantage of that and then wearing down this opponent to move to 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals as they recorded a comfortable win on the road and now have a chance to close the Finals with the first sweep in the post-season in 2019.
It won't be easy for Golden State to do that when you think of the pride with which the Portland Trail Blazers will likely be operating. They were swept out of the PlayOffs by the New Orleans Pelicans in the First Round twelve months ago, but another sweep would be a real body blow for the players to absorb considering they had their chances to win Game 2 and Game 3.
Damian Lillard has not been allowed to dominate the Series and his task has been made all the tougher by news that he is playing with separated ribs. I have no idea how that works, but it sounds excruciatingly painful and puts more pressure on CJ McCollum and the rest of the team to step up for him.
At times different players have managed to get hot from the field, but the Portland Trail Blazers won't be surprised that it has been hard for those role players to maintain their performance throughout the 48 minutes of each game. With the Warriors not changing what they want to do and how they want to Defend against this team, those players have begun to miss the open looks they have received and Golden State have been far too good for Portland.
While I am expecting the crowd and the players to perform with the motivation of wanting to extend this Series at least one more game and avoiding consecutive sweep defeats in the post-season, it may still not be enough for Portland. They have taken two huge mental blows having lost the last two games despite holding big leads at half time and it is tough to imagine how Portland can pick themselves up to really compete at the level they need.
It was Draymond Green who picked up the Warriors in Game 3 on Saturday and this is a team that has performed with a level of comfort even without Kevin Durant. They seem to have rallied together and gone back to the old methods that proved successful even before Durant signed for the team and Portland have not been able to cope with the power scoring surges Golden State have been able to put together.
The body language was not ideal from the Trail Blazers in Game 3 as it slipped away from them, although my one concern in backing the Warriors has to be how much intensity they are going to have in coming out for a sweep. They have needed to rally in the last couple of games with big second half recoveries to wipe out big deficits and I am not sure they will be able to do the same here knowing they will be likely able to close the Series in a couple of days time when it would return to the Oracle Arena.
However if the Trail Blazers are feeling sorry for themselves it could be a real chance for Golden State to get this Series done and then have ample time to rest before the NBA Finals are due to begin. The Warriors are 5-3 against the spread in their last eight games when leading a PlayOff Series 3-0 and all of those have been played on the road which should mean the players are very much aware of what they need to do.
Portland have bounced back from heavy losses and recent trends are favouring them, but the way the last two games have gone has been hard to shift for me. Pride is one thing, but mentally it will be difficult for Portland and I think the Warriors will be able to play their way into Game 4 and eventually pull away for another win and another cover.
Tuesday 21st May
Milwaukee Bucks @ Toronto Raptors Game 4 Pick: A double Overtime was needed for the Toronto Raptors to dig deep and just about hold off the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 to pull this Series back to 1-2. The pressure is still on the home team to look after their own court or they could be facing elimination when the Eastern Conference Finals will be heading back to Milwaukee in a couple of days time.
It really took a big effort from the Raptors who basically led from wire to wire, but couldn't quite finish off Milwaukee when they had the chances to do that. Late missed free throws gave the Bucks the chance to keep extending the game and that could have taken something away from the Toronto legs even though they managed to win the game.
Kawhi Leonard had a huge game despite showing an obvious limp during Game 3 as he played 52 minutes. He admitted he is feeling sore, but Leonard has shown he wants to dig deep for his team even though he may be moving on in Free Agency at the end of the season..
Despite the loss, the Milwaukee Bucks have to still be feeling pretty confident about their chances of reaching the NBA Finals to take on the Golden State Warriors. They played as poorly as they have in any game in the PlayOffs and yet they were right there at the end with a chance of winning and that was without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe making a real impact on things.
George Hill continues to step up for the Bucks and give the bench a huge boost and it would not be a big surprise if he is given a starting spot in favour of Bledsoe who has been struggling in the post-season. Those minor adjustments could help Milwaukee move to the brink of reaching the NBA Finals, although I don't think there is anything to really worry about right now and there is a real chance they go into Game 4 with a similar mindset as the last couple of games.
The oddsmakers are certainly expecting to see a positive reaction from Milwaukee as they have been set as the favourite just two days after being the underdog in the same venue. They might be taking no chances in opposing the Bucks who are 21-5 against the spread in their last twenty-six games following a loss and who are 4-1 against the spread in their last five in Toronto.
Toronto have to be respected at home and they are 5-3 against the spread when set as the underdog being given less than 3 points. They also have performed well when hosting the best teams in the NBA, but the fatigue factor has to be going against them after the way Game 3 ended.
With the Milwaukee Bucks showing immense bounce back performances throughout the season, I am expecting a big response from the road team. I can't imagine Antetokounmpo and Middleton both struggling again as much as they did in Game 3 and those two can take the Bucks over the edge here and get into a position to close the Eastern Conference Finals in two days time.
15/05 Toronto Raptors + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
16/05 Golden State Warriors-Portland Trail Blazers Over 218.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/05 Milwaukee Bucks - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
18/05 Portland Trail Blazers - 2.5 Points HALF TIME @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
19/05 Milwaukee Bucks @ 2.10 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
20/05 Golden State Warriors - 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
21/05 Milwaukee Bucks - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)