This article is part of our NBA Picks series.
Celtics (2) vs. Bucks (3)
Series price: BOS -210, MIL +175
Most likely outcome: BOS 4-3 (+300)
BOS outlier factors (league rank)
MIL outlier factors
The Celtics made quick work of the Nets, ending the Round 1 series in a sweep, though the total margin of victory was just 18 points. The series was also played at a snail's pace (93.1), and no team scored more than 116 points in a single contest. While the Bucks struggled in the first two games of their series against the Bulls, the final three games were non-competitive, Milwaukee ended up outscoring Chicago 549-476. However, in the process, Khris Middleton suffered a torn MCL and is expected to miss the entire second round.
Boston's stellar defense is the standout positive of the team, and it may create issues for a Milwaukee team that's posted the playoffs' second-worst halfcourt offense (91.5 points per 100 halfcourt possessions). If the Bucks couldn't get things going against the Bulls in the halfcourt, how will they fare – without Khris Middleton – against the Celtics? Giannis was his usual self in Round 1, but as far as the others: Holiday needs to do better than 41/35/60 shooting splits, and Grayson Allen plus Wesley Matthews will not continue to combine for 24-for-45 (53%) from three.
Tatum was excellent against the Nets, averaging 29.5 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals on sustainable 46/42/87 shooting splits. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart will be better than 14-for-51 (27%) from three, but Al Horford and Grant Williams will be worse than 17-for-31 (55%). Boston also dominated the offensive glass (44 ORB), though that may have been more of a function of Brooklyn's rebounding woes. The Bucks were the second-best defensive rebounding team in the regular season. Boston still has a chance to win the possession game though, since the Bucks force very few turnovers, and the Celtics only coughed up 55 possessions in Round 1.
Warriors (3) vs. Grizzlies (2)
Series price: GS -265, MEM +215
Most likely outcome: GS 4-2 (+250)
GSW outlier factors (league rank)
MEM outlier factors
Golden State needed just five games to send Denver packing, though the final three games were decided by five points or fewer. Ultimately, the 71.6 PPG from Curry, Thompson and Poole was overwhelming, and the Warriors shot 52/42/70 as a team. Memphis needed six games to defeat Minnesota, and the series shouldn't give Grizzlies backers confidence that they can defeat the Warriors, who look like a well-oiled machine.
The Warriors will presumably cool down from three this round, but Steph Curry going just 29-of-39 (74%) from the free-throw line is also bizarre and figures to correct itself. They also took care of the ball relatively well (61 turnovers) but struggled on the glass, allowing Denver to grab 56 offensive rebounds. That issue may persist, as the Grizzlies are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, and they also are great at forcing turnovers. So, it's certainly possible Memphis wins the possession battle, but that won't matter if they can't stop Golden State's shooters from getting open looks.
Desmond Bane actually led Memphis in scoring (23.5 PPG) in the first round, but his three-point shooting (48.2%) figures to regress. The Grizzlies will also need much more efficient performances from Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson, who combined for 99-of-258 (38%) shooting from the field and 74-of-106 (70%) from the charity stripe. Aside from figuring out better avenues for that crew to score, the key will continue to be winning the possession game, as they did in the Round 1 series.
Heat (1) vs. 76ers (4)
Series price: MIA -380, PHI +310
Most likely outcome: MIA 4-1 (+260)
MIA outlier factors (league rank)
PHI outlier factors
The Heat managed to drop just one game to the Hawks despite Kyle Lowry playing in just three contests and Jimmy Butler sitting out Game 5. The 76ers went up 3-0 but managed to lose two in a row before clinching the series in Game 6, but the main issue for Round 2 is Joel Embiid's orbital fracture. It's not looking promising for him to return during the series, as there's often a multi-week recovery time. The sportsbooks are reading the writing on the wall, with the Heat expected to dispatch the Sixers in just five games.
Jimmy Butler was the clear-cut best player for Miami in Round 1, averaging 30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals on 54/44/79 shooting. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry will be available for the Round 2 series, which could throw a bit of a wrench into things, though the Heat got nice fill-in performances from Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent. Bam Adebayo will likely be a focal point of the offense this round, as the 76ers don't have a reliable backup center option. Tyler Herro also figures to play better, he averaged just 12.8 points on 39/18/90 shooting splits.
As for the Sixers…the Paul Reed enthusiasts will get their moment of glory. I'm sure we're also in store for more Georges Niang minutes, but that's not exactly actionable information. For brevity, here are the per-36-minute stats for the Sixers' key players without Embiid on the court during the first round:
- James Harden (43 total minutes)
- 18.1 points on 16.4 shots, 10.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds per 36 minutes
- Tyrese Maxey (41 minutes)
- 28.8 points on 20.9 shots, 4.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds
- Tobias Harris (42 minutes)
- 20.4 points on 13.6 shots, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists
- Danny Green (29 minutes)
- 17.5 points on 8.8 shots, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Suns (1) vs. Mavericks (4)
Series price: PHX -300, DAL +245
Most likely outcome: PHX 4-1 (+300)
PHX outlier factors (league rank)
DAL outlier factors
Things got interesting for the Suns with Devin Booker exiting Game 2 with a hamstring strain, though he was able to return for Game 6 to (quietly) assist in the clinching victory over the Pelicans. They'll face the Mavericks, who may have ended the current era of the Jazz after taking down Utah despite Luka Doncic missing the first three games.
Some of the stats from these series are skewed due to key players missing real time, but there are still relevant takeaways. Phoenix was great at taking care of the basketball, coughing up just 61 possessions, though they were dominated on the glass, allowing a ridiculous 91 offensive rebounds. The Suns also shot just 31.9 percent from three, which should improve in the next round.
The Mavericks also took amazing care of the basketball, handing over just 48 turnovers in six games. Jalen Brunson had just four turnovers in the whole series – one of the more ridiculous stats I've come across considering his 31.5% usage. Dallas was only OK on the offensive glass – 36 ORB – so I'm not expecting them to punish Phoenix there. And even though the Mavs play great around Luka, and maybe he's matchup-proof, the Suns have plenty of defensive options to throw against him and Brunson. Booker and Bridges will probably handle Doncic while Chris Paul bothers Brunson, which doesn't look great on the surface for Dallas.