NBA Playoff Spread Picks You Can Take to The Bank
Back the Raptors and Spurs against the spread
By Liam Davis
Balance is good in the playoffs. If you can play above-average offense and defense, you can put yourself in a position to beat almost any team.
In this series, that honor should go to the Toronto Raptors. Their offense has been a hot mess during the playoffs, mostly because the Milwaukee Bucks were long, but also because Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan still struggle to explode in playoff settings. But they were one of the NBA's most reliably potent teams during the regular season, and they showed glimpses of regaining their offensive swagger once they replaced Jonas Valanciunas with Norman Powell in the starting lineup. Bake in a defense that ranked third in points scored per 100 possessions after the All-Star break, and is second in the same category for the playoffs, and they qualify as a dual threat on any given night.
The Cavaliers cannot say the same. They own the postseason's second-best crunch-time defense, but they've been bad on that side of the floor all year. Their starting lineup in particular has been terrible. The quintet of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson is defending at a league-worst rate, both in the regular season and playoffs.
Ultimately, the Cavaliers should still win this one. They are a good home team, and their offense, still led by a superhuman LeBron James is not to be trifled with. But the Raptors' balance should be enough to keep things close.
The Pick: Toronto Raptors (+6.5)
The San Antonio Spurs need to send a message in their first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets.
If that sounds weird, that's because it is weird. They are the favorites to win the best-of-seven set. They are the favorites to win this game. They finished the regular season with the second-best record in the league. For the longest time they looked like the biggest possible threat to the Golden State Warriors' reign—insofar as there could be such a threat.
But the Spurs' lack of athleticism is starting to catch up to them, at least optically. There were times during the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies when they looked like the slower team. That's a red flag.
Combine this with their first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015 and second-round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016, and you've got a talented team that has shown it can beat fast-paced Goliaths in one-off meetings but is struggling to knock them out over the course of a seven-game set.
So yes, they do need to send a message. And we should expect them to send it. Kawhi Leonard is averaging over 30 points per game for the playoffs—with the highest true shooting percentage in postseason history for someone clearing that benchmark, mind you—and the rest of the supporting cast started to show up in Games 5 and 6 against the Grizzlies.
Besides, while the Rockets are fast and furious and itchy from beyond the three-point line, the Spurs have the personnel to chase them off the arc and coax them into some low-quality long twos. Their rim protection will be fuzzy if any of the bigs other than Dewayne Dedmon are asked to switch, but you can bet head coach Gregg Popovich has cooked something up just for this type of matchup.
And that, more than anything else, is why we should bet on the Spurs.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (-5.5)
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