Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors (-6.5, 194)
The Toronto Raptors felt they were ready to take a step forward in last season’s playoffs but were instead swept in four games by the Washington Wizards. Second-seeded Toronto again attempts to climb upward when it opens the playoffs on Saturday against the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers after winning a club-record 56 regular-season games.
That horrid showing a season ago lingers over a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001. “That experience is huge, and I keep talking about that to you guys, that everybody talks about ‘Oh you got swept, you got whupped last year in the playoffs,'” coach Dwane Casey told reporters. “Yeah we did, but the experience factor was huge. I always say you’ve got to go through something to get to where you want to go, and last year was our something.” Toronto closed the regular season with five wins in six games and Indiana also was stellar down the stretch by winning six of its last seven. Pacers All-Star small forward Paul George struggled in four games against Toronto this season by shooting just 30.8 percent from the field while averaging 16.3 points, well below his season mark of 23.1.
TV: 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Sportsnet One (Toronto)
ABOUT THE PACERS (45-37, 41-40-1 ATS, 37-45 O/U): Indiana needs to find some complimentary scoring if George again gets bottled up by the Raptors. Shooting guard Monta Ellis is no longer a bona fide scorer despite ranking second on the team in scoring (13.8) and the best frontcourt option is backup rookie power forward Myles Turner (10.3), who has cooled down recently after a strong six-week stretch that ended in late February. “There is such a thing as the rookie wall and I think he hit that,” point guard George Hill told reporters. “Everybody hits that wall. That wall don’t move. He just has to keep continuing to work on his craft, keep getting up shots, and it will take care of itself.”
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (56-26, 45-37 ATS, 42-39-1 O/U): Toronto will be relying on the All-Star backcourt combo of shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (23.5) and point guard Kyle Lowry (21.2 points, 6.4 assists) to lead the way out of the opening round. The two standouts mesh well together and may receive a boost from small forward DeMarre Carroll, who recently returned after missing more than three months due to right knee surgery. Carroll is a solid defender when at his best but it remains to be seen how well he will fit in offensively after the long absence.
* Pacers are 15-3 ATS in their last 18 games playing on two days rest.
* Raptors are 4-0 ATS in their last four home games.
* Under is 7-1 in Pacers last eight games following a ATS win.
* Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings in Toronto.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (-13, 225)
The Golden State Warriors just finished up the best regular season in NBA history and try to quickly turn the page to the playoffs and defending their NBA Championship. The Warriors will begin their quest for two in a row in Game 1 on Saturday by hosting the Houston Rockets, who barely scraped their way into the postseason after making it all the way to the Western Conference finals last season.
Golden State picked up win No. 73 in the season finale on Wednesday to break the record set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and end a final month that featured some uneven play as the pressure mounted. The Warriors repeatedly suggested during the chase for 73 wins that a second championship remained the biggest goal, and the team will enter the playoffs healthy despite pushing hard over the final two weeks. The Rockets pushed to the finish line as well in order to outlast the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot on the last day of the season and close out a tumultuous regular season. “A lot of people wrote us off and thought we weren’t going to make the playoffs and here we are,” Houston star James Harden told reporters. “So, we’re going to take it one game at a time and we’re facing guys we played in the Western Conference finals, and obviously they’re playing well and we are too.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (41-41, 37-45 ATS, 47-35 O/U): Houston fired coach Kevin McHale less than a month into the season, dealt with trade rumors and reported disgruntlement from center Dwight Howard and battled inconsistency throughout the campaign before posting wins in three straight to close out the season and overcome a two-game deficit for the No. 8 spot. “With any situation any human being is in, when their back is against the wall, you’ll never know how strong you are until you have to be strong,” point guard Patrick Beverley told ESPN.com. “That’s the position we were in and it made us play some of the best basketball we’ve played all season.” The Rockets won their final three games by a total of 79 points, though the wins came against non-playoff teams in the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings.
ABOUT THE WARRIORS (73-9, 45-35-2 ATS, 45-36-1 O/U): Golden State was led all season by reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who capped his historic campaign by burying 10 3-pointers on Wednesday to bring his total to 402. The star point guard, who is the only player in history to ever connect on 300 3-pointers in a season, averaged 30.1 points and prompted his coach Steve Kerr to gush to reporters: “He just had one of the most amazing seasons anyone has had in the history of the league.” Curry and his star teammates are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions and won all three regular-season meetings with the Rockets after knocking them off in five games in the Western Conference finals last spring.
* Rockets are 8-1 ATS in their last nine Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Warriors are 0-5 ATS in their last five games following a straight up win of more than 10 points.
* Under is 5-1 in Rockets last six road games.
* Over is 4-0 in Warriors last four home games.
Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks (-5.5, 204)
The mad scramble for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference ended with the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets all finishing with identical records, leaving tiebreakers to decide the seeds. The fourth-seeded Hawks will have homecourt advantage when they host Game 1 against the fifth-seeded Celtics on Saturday.
The Heat took the third seed based on divisional tiebreakers giving them the Southeast and Atlanta landed the No. 4 spot thanks to its head-to-head records against Boston and Charlotte, setting up a series with no clear favorite. The Celtics caused the tiebreaker scenario on the final day of the regular season by overcoming a 24-point deficit to defeat Miami and bring that momentum into Game 1. “We’re just going to play as hard as we can,” guard Avery Bradley told reporters. “We have to be that hard-nosed, grind team that plays hard every single possession.” The Hawks dropped their final two regular-season games and four of the last seven but logged a key 118-107 home victory over Boston in that span and finished with a 27-14 home record.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN, CSN New England (Boston), FSN Southeast (Atlanta)
ABOUT THE CELTICS (48-34, 42-39-1 ATS, 39-43 O/U): Boston was pushing hard for homecourt advantage and is just 20-21 on the road but did not seem to be fretting about its trip to Atlanta after the win on Wednesday. “What more could you ask for than a chance? Play here, play there, play anywhere – let’s go compete,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas will need to quickly turn around a shooting slump that caused him to go 16-of-47 from the field over the final three games, beginning with a 6-of-19 effort in the loss at Atlanta on Apr. 9.
ABOUT THE HAWKS (48-34, 42-39-1 ATS, 38-44 O/U): Atlanta was the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference at this time last spring but took a little longer to get started in 2015-16. The Hawks began to look like a contender again in the second half and ended up leading the league in defensive field goal percentage (43.2) while using a 14-3 stretch from Feb. 26 to March 28 to vault themselves into contention for homecourt advantage in the first round. “It’s time,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters. “Eighty-two games are done. This season starts now. It’s time to keep our heads up and start preparing and getting ready (for the playoffs).”
* Celtics are 1-5 ATS in their last six road games.
* Home team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Under is 8-1 in Celtics last nine games following a ATS win.
* Under is 4-1 in Hawks last five games overall.
Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder (-11.5, 206.5)
The Oklahoma City Thunder flew under the radar as the third-best team in the Western Conference this season but are ready to make some noise in the postseason. The host Thunder start their quest to out-do Golden State and San Antonio in the West when they open the postseason against the sixth-seeded Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
Oklahoma City is expected to roll through the Mavericks after winning all four regular-season meetings. This could be the Thunder’s last chance to make a deep title run as All-Star small forward Kevin Durant is slated to become a free agent and there are clear indications that he’s very much open to leaving Oklahoma City. Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook have carried the offense but Dallas played solid defense down the stretch by allowing fewer than 100 points in each of its last nine games, winning seven of them. “We stepped up to the occasion, especially shorthanded, so we’ve just got to continue to get healthy,” Mavericks shooting guard Wesley Matthews told reporters. “Everybody is getting back together, and now we’ve just got that one focus of winning one game at a time.”
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, FSN Oklahoma
ABOUT THE MAVERICKS (42-40, 45-36-1 ATS, 39-42-1 O/U): Dallas is in the postseason for the 15th time in 16 seasons and will be hoping that 37-year-old power forward Dirk Nowitzki can once again step up under the playoff pressure. Nowitzki has a career scoring average of 25.3 in 140 postseason games but his average this season was below 20 points for the third time in four seasons as he finished at 18.3. The top three point guards are all ailing – J.J. Barea (groin) had a recent hot streak prior to his injury and is expected to play, starter Deron Williams (sports hernia) will attempt to play through the ailment and reserve Devin Harris (thumb) is probable.
ABOUT THE THUNDER (55-27, 37-44-1 ATS, 39-43 O/U): Westbrook figures to test the Dallas point guards in Game 1 to get a feel for their fitness level and assess how much damage he can inflict. He recorded 18 triple-doubles in the regular season, which ties for third all-time with former Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson (1981-82) and trails only two marks put up by legendary Wilt Chamberlain (31 and 24) during the 1960s. Durant and Westbrook will look for scoring help from their teammates and the best bet to step up is backup center Enes Kanter, who recorded a career-best 25 double-doubles despite averaging just 21 minutes.
* Mavericks are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 road games.
* Thunder are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games versus a team with a winning SU record.
* Over is 5-1 in Mavericks last six games following a SU loss.
* Over is 5-1 in Thunder last six Conference Quarterfinals games.
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