The next few days in the NBA are the appetizer. On Saturday, the main course starts.
The play-in tournament is a good way for the playoffs to ramp up, with eight teams still fighting for four spots in the bracket. But there are four series already set, and BetMGM has odds for each of them.
Here are the opening lines at BetMGM and a quick preview for the four first-round series that are set:
No. 4 New York Knicks (-120) vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
Imagine seeing this series matchup before the season started.
It's strange times for the Knicks, who not only made the playoffs but did so comfortably, getting the No. 4 seed and a home series. Julius Randle has been awesome and is becoming a New York legend with his superstar season, and the defensive-minded Knicks have to feel good about themselves coming into the playoffs. The Hawks will not get a single headline in this matchup, but don't sleep on them. There's a reason a couple huge bets came in on Atlanta late in the season. You'll pay a tax for betting the Knicks, and they have been great against the spread all season, but maybe that opens up some value on Atlanta.
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks (-275) vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
Maybe the Heat is a bad matchup for the Bucks. Last year in the bubble, the top-seeded Bucks were dismissed easily by the Heat in the second round, 4 games to 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo was banged up in that series but the Heat looked like the better team regardless. Miami is tough, deep and talented. The Bucks have not been the same force they were the past two regular seasons, and while maybe there's some "figuring it out for the playoffs" possibility, the fact is the Heat dominated the Bucks in the playoffs last year, the Bucks haven't been as good this season and yet Milwaukee is favored to move on. Take the Heat at their +225 price.
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (-400) vs. No. 5 Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers and Mavericks played perhaps the best game in the Orlando bubble, with Luka Doncic beating L.A. on a buzzer-beating 3 in Game 4 of their playoff series. Maybe if Kristaps Porzingis is healthy and Doncic goes off the Mavericks have a chance, but it will be hard to talk yourself into a Mavericks series bet against a much better Clippers team. Pass this one.
No. 3 Denver Nuggets (-120) vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers avoided the play-in tournament, and both teams here should be happy about that. The Nuggets didn't want to get the Lakers in the first round, and losing the regular-season finale ensured that. Nikola Jokic is going to win NBA MVP, and he earned the award after Jamal Murray's season-ending injury. The Nuggets star center carried the team to a 13-5 record after Murray's injury, and that includes tanking the final game. It'll be easy to dismiss the Nuggets considering Murray's injury and that Jokic doesn't captivate the public like most MVPs, but it's hard to deny the results. This could be the most competitive of the first-round matchups.
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