Skip to main content


Powered by:

FanDuel Sponsored Image

Setting The Pick – First-round predictions

Jalen Brunson New York Knicks Jalen Brunson - The Canadian Press

Six of the eight playoff series are set, with the top seeds awaiting their first-round opponents.

Let’s dive straight into it.

Here are my main thoughts and favourite props for each series on FanDuel.

[2] New York Knicks vs. [7] Philadelphia 76ers

Series Prediction – Knicks in 7

Favourite Series Prop – Jalen Brunson Top Point Scorer (-125)

Full disclosure: these are my two favourite contenders to usurp the Boston Celtics.

Now that they’re forced to square off in the first round, this feels like a Sophie’s Choice scenario.

As the two hottest teams entering the postseason, the story of this matchup might come down to injuries.

Julius Randle, while flawed as a player, is a significant loss for the Knicks. His physicality, rebounding and ability to attack the rim is hard to replace.

The reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, has been instrumental during the Sixers’ nine-game win streak, but based on his performance in the play-in game, he seems far from 100 per cent.

Had Embiid been at full strength, the Sixers clearly have more firepower.

Unfortunately, with his reluctance to muck it up in the paint, there are legitimate concerns about his offensive ceiling, especially this early in his recovery.

On the other side of this matchup, Jalen Brunson has exceeded any and all expectations of him.

He’s averaged 31.5 points per game since Randle went down, second-best in the NBA, only behind his former teammate, Luka Doncic.

But as we spotlight health, O.G. Anunoby will be the ultimate x-factor in this series.

The former Raptor has played the last six games for the Knicks and is a critical cog in their defensive schemes.

Since joining the team, New York is 20-3 when he’s active. It’s impossible to ignore his impact on winning.

Heading into Game 1, I remind you of their shared brand of basketball.

These were the two teams that combined for the 79-73 stinkfest – the first game without an 80-point final score since 2016, according to Basketball Reference.

Expect a lot of low scoring games and unders in this matchup.

[3] Milwaukee Bucks vs. [6] Indiana Pacers

Series Prediction – Pacers in 6

Favourite Series Prop – Game 1 / Series Double = Indiana / Indiana (+125)

The Bucks head into the postseason with all the wrong momentum.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that the Bucks are preparing to be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for the start of their opening-round series.

Milwaukee ended the season losing seven of their last 10 games, with three against lottery-bound teams.

Since head coach Doc Rivers was brought in to elevate the team, he’s led them to a 17-19 record after previously fired head coach Adrian Griffin had them at 30-13.

It’s a scroll-sized list of concerns for Milwaukee, but we’ll stick with those points.

On the Pacers side, even though the Bucks won two more games than them, Indiana holds the better net rating.

They squared off five times this season, with Indy winning four.

You’ll hear this saying often when the playoffs begin - the NBA is a matchup-based league.

In this battle, the Bucks excel at everything that Indiana is best at preventing.

Even though the Pacers defence ranked in the bottom five for most of the season, they were league-best at preventing shots from beyond the arc.

What is the Bucks offence all about? Everyone but Antetokounmpo gets up shots from deep.

Milwaukee ended the year taking the fifth-most three-pointers and ranked 19th in frequency of field-goals attempts at the rim.

Unless Antetokounmpo’s injury news is a smokescreen, the Bucks will have a massive void scoring in the paint.

Additionally for Indiana, the trade for Siakam and the injection of Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith into the starting five have quietly paid defensive dividends.

While they’ve dropped to second in offensive rating behind Boston, their defensive rating has gone from 27th to 20th with this starting unit.

But in the end, Tyrese Haliburton’s health will dictate how this series unfolds.

How close to 100 per cent does he need to be for Indy to make the next round?

The Pacers come into the postseason with less unanswered questions than the Bucks.

Another year, another first-round upset is on the horizon for Milwaukee.

[4] Cleveland Cavaliers vs. [5] Orlando Magic

Series Prediction – Cavs in 6

Favourite Series Prop – Darius Garland Most Total Made 3s (+500)

The story of this series will come down to offensive firepower.

Both teams rank amongst the best in defensive rating - the Magic finished third, and the Cavs finished seventh.

Orlando will likely have Jalen Suggs appear on an All-NBA Defensive team while Cleveland would’ve had Evan Mobley there had he hit the games minimum.

Offensively, the Magic have sat in the bottom 10 all season, while the Cavs have had flashes of promise when they were fully healthy.

In the 55 games Donovan Mitchell has played this season, they went 36-19.

They own a plus-7.3 net rating when Spida plays; when he’s off the court, it’s minus-2.0.

How healthy has he been since returning to the lineup at the end of March?

It’s been a tale of two Mitchells since he’s returned. In his three worst games, he scored 13 points or less. In the other three, he averaged 28.7 ppg.

Which version they get remains a mystery.

If he’s not 100 per cent, Garland has proven to be a capable ball-handler to orchestrate this offence.

In the series against New York last playoffs, Garland finished one three-pointer short of Mitchell and Caris LeVert for the team lead.

I anticipate Orlando will put Suggs on Mitchell, leaving Garland with more opportunities for catch-and-shoot threes. As a whole, that’s where Cleveland has thrived offensively.

They’ve gone from 24th in three-point attempts last year to 8th in the NBA this year.

[2] Denver Nuggets vs. [7] Los Angeles Lakers

Series Prediction – Nuggets in 5

Favourite Series Prop – Jamal Murray Top Point Scorer (+350)

This will not end as the most competitive sweep in NBA history.

What a bold prediction by me here, but I’m confident the Lakers will get at least one game.

Picking the Nuggets to win in five has everything to do with likely three-time MVP, Nikola Jokic.

Though it feels like an eternity, The Joker is only 29 and playing in his ninth season.

Even though his stats this year don’t exceed last year’s output, the eye test suggests he continues to evolve, getting his teammates easier buckets.

The other reason I am confident in Denver lies with Canadian Jamal Murray.

After their championship run, he put the NBA world on notice, elevating from ‘Bubble Murray’ to ‘Playoff Murray’.

In the three years his team has made the playoffs, he averaged 18.9 ppg during the regular season.

His career playoff scoring average is 25.0 ppg.

Few players in the league take such a postseason leap as Murray, which is why I see good value in the prop bet above.

During their sweep of Los Angeles last year, he finished with 32.5 ppg, 4.7 more than Jokic and LeBron James.

He’s shooting 55 per cent from the field and 64 per cent from deep in five games since returning from injury. There are no questions about his touch leading into the postseason.

On the Lakers side, I feel James showed his age in the play-in victory over New Orleans.

While they got the job done, LBJ went 6-of-20 from the floor, missing 7-of-11 shots right around the rim.

Without the same burst he had during his prime, the Lakers are short on shotmakers who can match up with Denver.

Anthony Davis is one of the most capable players to defend Jokic, but that didn’t stop The Joker from averaging 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 9.0 assists in the three games versus each other this season.

If he becomes an offensive fulcrum during this series, that could flip the outcome.

He needs to supersede James as the Lakers’ most impactful player if they are to win this matchup.

[3] Minnesota Timberwolves vs. [6] Phoenix Suns

Series Prediction – Suns in 6

Favourite Series Prop – Devin Booker Top Points Scorer (+210)

Of all the teams Minny could’ve drawn in the six-seed, Phoenix was the worst option.

As mentioned above, the NBA is all about matchups, and this one favours the Suns. 

The strength of Minnesota’s defence lies in their rim protection.

Rudy Gobert is the betting favourite to earn his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award, hanging out in the paint and forcing shots in the mid-range.

His presence allows Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels to be more aggressive on the perimeter, knowing they have backup behind them.

The problem with the Suns is that they have two of the best mid-range scorers in the game.

According to Cleaning The Glass, Kevin Durant sits in the 98th percentile in mid-range shot frequency while Devin Booker is 91st.

While the analytics community detests these shots, KD and Book both shoot above 50 per cent in this zone, two of the best in the NBA.

As a team, Phoenix takes the sixth-lowest proportion of shots at the rim. So if Gobert wants to stay home, the Suns have guys who’ll simply rise up for wide-open jumpers.

In addition to the matchup data, Phoenix has proven their superiority by going 3-0 versus the Timberwolves this year, winning two critical late season games that both teams needed.

I don’t want to discredit what Minnesota has achieved as a team this season, Edwards has proven he’s a superstar in this league and they’ve earned their respect defeating several top-tier teams.

I ultimately think that experience will be on Phoenix’s side and worry about Minnesota’s clutch time scoring woes surfacing at the wrong times.

[4] Los Angeles Clippers vs. [5] Dallas Mavericks

Series Prediction – Mavericks in 7

Favourite Series Prop – Series Total Games, 7 (+230)

This article will open and close with the two most evenly contested series of the postseason.

After getting eliminated in two straight playoffs by Los Angeles, Doncic will have a shot at vengeance in the trilogy battle between these two teams.

Every year, NBA fans complain that Doncic doesn’t have the right role players and co-stars beside him.

Without a doubt, this year’s Mavericks team is the best fit group he’s ever had.

Dallas now has two capable rim-running centres, an arsenal of three-and-d wings, and most importantly, a healthy Kyrie Irving.

They went on a 16-2 stretch before clinching the fifth seed with two games to go.

During that period, the Mavs owned the best net rating in the NBA (already impressive) but what should really jump off the page is their defence which ranked No. 1 over that period.

That should scare any naysayers of the Mavs.

While the Clippers had an equally impressive run going 26-5 over a two month stretch between December to February, they’re coming into the postseason with multiple concerns.

The biggest red flag is the health of Kawhi Leonard, who missed the final eight games of the regular season.

For the sake of Clipper fans, they better hope this is extended load management and that no injury exists whatsoever.

The second concern is L.A.’s drop-off on the defensive end.

Excluding the eight games Leonard missed to wrap the season, they’ve owned the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star Break.

Against an offence as prolific as Dallas, that won’t survive.

The thing is, L.A. is one of the few teams I believe will ramp up come playoff time.

They have the ceiling, but will they have the recent form to withstand a blazing-hot Mavericks team.