The Eastern Conference playoffs are a complicated sandwich of sorts. On top you have the Miami Heat and on the bottom the Milwaukee Bucks. But in between is one of the tightest and most competitive groups in years.
Teams seeded No. 2 through No. 7 have just as much of a chance to make the conference finals as the clubs ranked above or below them. The Knicks, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Hawks and Celtics are all capable of beating each other on any given night. That parity should open up value in the series prices and Eastern Conference futures market.
No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks
Season series: Heat won 3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS, 1-3 O/U
Series prices: Miami -6,000, Milwaukee +4,000
Why bet Miami: Why not? The Heat are hands down the class of the NBA and have been waiting for this moment since hoisting last year’s Larry O’Brien Trophy. Miami continued to build on its NBA-best record despite resting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the final weeks of the schedule, and kept covering thanks to a deep and experienced bench.
Why bet the Bucks: Milwaukee has known its first-round opponent for some time now and has had plenty of tape to hammer out a game plan for the Heat. In their one win over Miami, the Bucks were able to force 22 turnovers. They rank second in the NBA in forcing turnovers (16.1) while the Heat coughed the ball up 14 times a night – fourth most in the league.
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
Season series: Knicks won 3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS, 1-3 O/U
Series prices: New York -400, Boston +300
Why bet the Knicks: The Celtics were one of the few Eastern Conference playoff teams the Knicks beat up on, with N.Y. going 3-1 SU and ATS. New York defeated Boston by an average of more than 13 points in its three wins over the Celtics. The Knicks are also expected to have Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin back for the playoffs.
Why bet the Celtics: Boston has used a platoon of athletic guards – Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford – to replace Rajon Rondo, giving the Celtics scoring depth off the bench. Boston also heads into the postseason with a heavy heart following the bombings at the Boston Marathon. The Celtics could step up as inspiration for a city in need of some good news.
No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Atlanta Hawks
Season series: Split 2-2 SU, 2-2 ATS, 3-1 O/U
Series prices: Indiana -600, Atlanta +400
Why bet the Pacers: Indiana earned the No. 3 seed in the East despite having its star forward Danny Granger for just five games all season. The Pacers are a tough out at home, where they went 30-10 SU (22-18 ATS). They rebound well and play tight defense – two key components for any successful postseason run.
Why bet the Hawks: Indiana limped into the postseason with just one win in its final six games. The Hawks, who are a tough road team - 23-18 ATS - could steal a game or two in Indianapolis. The teams split their four games SU and ATS this year but Atlanta has been the better wager, going 10-4 ATS in their last 14 head-to-heads.
No. 4 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls
Season series: Bulls won 3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS, 2-2 O/U
Series prices: Brooklyn -165, Chicago +145
Why bet the Nets: Brooklyn is peaking at the right time and a lot of that is due to Deron Williams. After playing much of the season injured, Williams is feeling good and was filling it up down the home stretch. The Nets were stellar in tight games this season, boasting a 9-4 SU record in games decided by three points or less and were 5-0 in overtime affairs.
Why bet the Bulls: Chicago has played its best ball against Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Bulls were 12-7 SU and 14-5 ATS versus teams seeded No. 2 through No. 7. The case isn’t completely closed on Derrick Rose’s possible return, but Chicago has managed to get along without him. The grimy Bulls are more than comfortable playing at the Nets’ slow-motion pace.