LeBron and AD hope to be celebrating a championship at the end of these playoffs

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With the playoffs starting, we have reached a point in the NBA season that was never a guarantee due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bubble in Orlando has been a huge success for Adam Silver and the NBA, as they have been able to display the strength of the league by being able to quickly organize and execute a plan to safely resume their season. It has also been an opportunity to showcase some of the league's brightest stars, including Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The NBA is a league built on star power and storylines, and there was no shortage of either during the regular season play. Devin booker led his Suns team to an undefeated 8-0 record in the restart, just missing the playoffs. Jusuf Nurkic helped the Portland Trailblazers past the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday to secure the team's spot in the playoffs after the passing of his grandmother earlier that day. One of the favorites to win the championship this year, the Los Angeles Lakers, have been struggling heading into the playoffs and questions loom over their series with Portland, as they've been one of the hottest teams going into postseason play. Let's take a look at each first round series and we'll give you some of our predictions of what to expect in the upcoming weeks.


East

Bucks (1) +250 v Magic (8) +24,000

Series X-Factor Khris Middleton

Predicted Series Winner - Bucks

For fans of basketball there's a lot to like about the Orlando Magic. Aaron Gordon, the twice robbed dunk champion, is an athletic big man that can cut to the hoop and finish in the blink of an eye. Nikola Vucevic has transformed his game adding an outside shot that allowed the Magic to stretch the floor and open up lanes for Aaron Gordon to get to the basket. Markelle Fultz went from top pick to nearly out of the league with Philadelphia, but seems to have turned a corner in Orlando and is starting to look like the prospect that scouts once believed him to be. They also have a pair of young players in Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba that they are hoping develop into important players for the organization. Bamba has already been immortalized in Sheck Wes' song of titles after the player, but Mo will be out during the playoffs due to the coronavirus. The magic will also be without a fully healthy Aaron Gordon as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury and his status for the series against Milwaukee is uncertain.

Even with a healthy Aaron Gordon the Magic's chances of upsetting the Bucks in this series would be unlikely. But due to the fact that one of their main stars is coming into the series less than 100%, I do not see how Orlando could manage to win the series. Milwaukee will likely want to limit Antetokounmpo's minutes and keep him fresh for the rest of the playoffs. If the Bucks are able to get out in front of the Magic early in games they should be able to limit Giannis' playing time which will allow Khris Middleton to step into the primary scoring role to close out games in their series and defeat Orlando in this match up.

Raptors (2) +1,000 v Nets (7) +24,000

Series X Factor - Fred VanVleet

Predicted Series Winner - Raptors

The Nets have seen Caris Levert pick up his level of play during the restart in Orlando if they had a full complement of their starters including Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant the likely outcome of the series may be different. But under the current circumstances the defending NBA champions enter the postseason playing very well and will be a tough opponent for the injury ravaged Brooklyn squad to deal with. I anticipate Toronto's coach Nick Nurse will want to close out the series quickly to give his players the opportunity to head into the second round at full strength.

Drake, and members of the Golden State Warriors during last year's finals Toronto's highest profile fan, Drake, having a friendly conversation. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO

Point guard Kyle Lowry has already been playing with a playoff level intensity in the bubble and looks determined to prove that the Raptors' championship was not just a result of Kawhi Leonard's one-year rental. Since Leonard left for Los Angeles, the Raptors have seen Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet step into larger roles taking on added responsibilities after the finals MVP's departure. We may see a repeat of this matchup in the playoffs next year under considerably different circumstances but considering this year the only shots that KD will be taking will be on Twitter I'm comfortable saying Toronto will win this series with relative ease.

Celtics (3) +1,700 v 76ers (6) +6,500

Series X Factor - Kemba Walker

Predicted Series Winner - Celtics

One unfortunate event of bubble play was the injury to Ben Simmons which will certainly affect Philadelphia's attempt to make a championship run. With Simmons healthy I would be more inclined to select the 76ers to advance past the Celtics, however the loss of Simmons' defense will have a big impact on the outcome of the series. Simmons would have likely marked either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum,attempting to take one of them out of Boston's offensive gameplay. Coach Brett Brown is considering rookie Matisse Thybulle to replace Simmons in the starting lineup and while he is already an elite defender, Thybulle has struggled to make any significant impact offensively. Simmons' loss places more pressure on Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris to produce points in this series.

What I do hope to see from this series is the introduction of Kemba Walker on a national stage. For the entirety of his career up until this season, Walker has played in obscurity for Charlotte. Now the leader of a contending team it's time for Walker to show he is a bona fide superstar in this league and he has the supporting cast around him for the first time in his career to make a deep run into the playoffs. The series should still be competitive especially if Al Horford is able to elevate his play for Philadelphia, but I think that Boston has too much fire power on offense and the loss of Simmons is too much for Philadelphia to overcome. I'm taking Boston to move on here.

Pacers (4) +10,000 v Heat (5) +3,000

Series X Factor - Bam Adebayo

Predicted Series Winner - Miami

Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra and star player Jimmy Butler of the HeatYahoo Sports

Over the past two seasons the Indiana Pacers have had unfortunate and untimely injuries to a superstar leading into the postseason. Last year it was Victor Oladipo who dealt with a serious knee injury which kept him out into the 2020 season. This year, newly minted all-star Domantas Sabonis went out just under a month ago and will likely miss the entirety of the playoffs. One of the best big men in the league this season, Sabonis, has proven to be a legitimate two way player and would have been a catalyst for the Pacers in the post season. Unfortunately for the Pacers without him matching up with Miami's Bam Adebayo will be a challenge.

The combination of Jimmy Butler and Adebayo along with young stars like Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro provide Coach Eric Spoelstra the kind of squad that can make a surprise run. They can shoot for the perimeter and play hard defense for 48 minutes. Butler may not be the most popular or well liked player in the league but the fact that he's a leader and has a burning desire to win is clear. The Heat can gain some momentum by winning this matchup and could be a dangerous opponent for eastern conference teams.

West

Lakers (1) +350 v Blazers (8) +6,000

Series X Factor - Damian Lillard

Predicted Series Winner - Lakers

It's rare that a 1 versus 8 matchup is so anticipated, but Bubble MVP Damian Lillard, has the Blazers roaring into the first round to take on the stumbling Lakers. Prior to the pause, LeBron and the Lakers were rolling and a championship seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but since play resumed, we have seen them struggle to play with any kind of consistency. Playing without Avery Bradley (opt out due to coronavirus) and Ramon Rondo (injury) to conclude the regular season surely has affected their defensive effectiveness on the perimeter, but Anthony Davis has twice posted single digit scoring outputs in 8 games.

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers Damian Lillard has our clocks stuck on Dame TimeAshley Landis Getty Images

Don't be surprised to see this series go 6 or even 7 games, but also don't be surprised to see LeBron and AD put it together and begin to regain their dominate form we saw for most of the regular season. If Portland is going to complete this upset it will be on the coat tails of Lillard, who is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career right now. Rondo is expected back soon which will take some pressure off of Alex Caruso playing so many minutes. The Lakers still enter this series the favorites to win, but the luck of the draw did not do them any favors with their first round matchup with the Trailblazers.


Clippers (2) +300 v Mavs (7) +4,900

Series X Factor - Kawhi Leonard

Predicted Series Winner - Clippers

The Clippers are one of the three favorites to win the NBA title this year along with the Lakers and the Bucks. They're one of the most complete and deep teams with a shot to win the Larry O'Brien trophy and they have the reigning finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard leading the way. They take on an exciting Dallas Mavericks team led by their European duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic who helped their team lead the league in offensive efficiency this season.

The promise that the Mavericks have shown this season must have fans salivating at the possibilities in front of them. But a lack of depth will leave them at a disadvantage in this series. The Clippers have a deep stable of veterans with plenty of playoff experience and should be able to game plan a defensive strategy that will slow down the production of the fast paced Dallas offense. Once Dallas has a chance to put a few more pieces in place around Luka and Porzingis, they should contend for many years to come. This year however, expect the Clippers to make short work of Dallas.

Nuggets (3) +2,400 v Jazz (6) +4,900

Series X Factor - Rudy Gobert

Predicted Series Winner - Jazz

The news broke Sunday that Jazz guard Mike Conley will be leaving the bubble for the birth of his son in Ohio. He is expected back at some point in the playoffs, but will obviously need to clear protocol before being allowed to rejoin the team. Whether Conley will be able to play for the Jazz in the first round is yet unknown. Bojan Bogdanovic, the team's second leading scorer this season opted to have surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist during the pause in order to be ready for the 2020-2021 season. While all of this would appear to be leading up to the Nuggets rolling over the Jazz, instead I think it opens up the opportunity for Donovan Mitchell to rise to the occasion and spearhead an upset in the western conference.

Mitchell can provide instant offense from anywhere on the court and has never been one to shy away from getting his shots up. More importantly for Utah however is what Rudy Gobert can do for his team by taking the Nuggets' best weapon away in Nikola Jokic. The perennial defensive player of the year candidate, Gobert, has the ability to completely close down the paint to opposing offenses the way Persian arrows blocked out the sun over the Spartan army, but possesses the agility to defend further out on a player like Jokic. Utah has quietly been one of the best teams in a competitive western conference for a few seasons now, and they have a chance to put the league on notice with a first round upset. Everything goes through Jokic offensively for the Nuggets, and if Gobert can limit Jokic's effectiveness, the Jazz will be celebrating a victory in this series.


Rockets (4) +1,300 v Thunder (5) +6,500

Series X Factor - Steven Adams

Predicted Series Winner - Thunder

Steven Adams of Oklahoma City and Donovan Mitchell of Utah Steven Adams defending Utah's Donovan MitchellAP

One of the biggest surprises of this season has been the success that Oklahoma City has had after seeing both Paul George and OKC fan favorite, Russell Westbrook, part ways with the team this offseason. General manager Sam Presti made deals sending George to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari and acquired Chris Paul for Westbrook. Presti also accumulated a bevy of draft picks from both deals and are now set up to revamp their team with the additional picks through the 2026 off season.

The Rockets have been explosive with Westbrook and 2018 MVP James Harden in their backcourt. A lack of viable options in the front court leaves them with an untraditional roster structure, but second guessing the decisions of Daryl Morey often results in you being the one that looks bad. Even though the Rockets enter this series the favorites, the Thunder will have a secret weapon in Steven Adams to exploit the weakness of Houston at the center position. Adams is a handful and can dominate post play against formidable opponents. One of the aforementioned games that Anthony Davis posted single digit scoring was against Oklahoma City and Steven Adams. Without a clear defender to play on Adams, Houston will be forced to shift and double team him which will allow for open space for Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul to work in. Westbrook and Harden are decent defenders, but are not defensive stalwarts by any stretch of the imagination. A matchup against a team like the Mavericks may have suited the Rockets better in their first round draw allowing them to just focus on out scoring the opposition, but the Thunder play with a chip on their shoulder and have size and length to disrupt the Rockets' offense. Expect to see a mini upset here sending the Rockets home early and Daryl Morey back to the lab to think up his next major move.

*odds from VegasInsider.com 8/16/2020

Andrew Wiggins and Jayson Tatum

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In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors defended the home floor to take a 3-2 lead in the finals over the Boston Celtics. Largely, this is because Boston was careless with the basketball. The Warriors tallied nine steals and forced 18 turnovers by the Celtics. In contrast, the Warriors only got the ball stolen twice and turned the ball over just six times Monday night. While Stephen Curry was guarded ferociously and was held to just 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting (and 0-9 from downtown), his teammates stepped up.

Andrew Wiggins had another huge double-double, scoring 26 points (12-23 FG) and hauling in 13 rebounds. Finally, if the Celtics hope to win in Game 6, they will need to stay awake in the fourth quarter. Over the last two games, Boston has fallen asleep at the end of the game while the Warriors managed to sneak away with two consecutive victories.

Let's take a look at some of tonight's best bets for this huge NBA Finals Game 6.

Please Note: All betting odds were correct today as of 2:00 pm EST from Caesars Sportsbook

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Best Bets of the Night

Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics -4 (GSW Leads 3-2)

NBA Finals Best Bet #1: Boston Celtics -4 (-110)

It’s difficult to envision the Boston Celtics collapsing in the fourth quarter in three consecutive games. The Celtics may briefly watch the tape from Game 5 but they are going to have to shake it off and move forward immediately. Boston’s carelessness with the basketball Monday night should produce a much-needed wake-up call that will allow the team to make smarter passes and take fewer risks on offense against a Golden State defense that has surged over the last two games.

While Steph will likely score more than 16 points in Game 6, Jaylen Brown must have a bounce-back performance after going 5-of-18 for 18 points in Game 5. Though the Celtics shot above 40% from the field on Monday night, they turned the ball over at an uncharacteristic rate, finishing the night with 18 turnovers. Some of those were unforced errors while the Warriors earned nine steals as well.

At home in Game 6, the Celtics will play better and bring this 2022 NBA Finals series to a blockbuster Game 7 at the Chase Center. For NBA fans wishing for a seven-game series in the 2022 Finals and bettors looking to cash in on Game 6, Boston will win by at least four points at home in a win-or-go-home scenario. Jayson Tatum has yet to play his best basketball this series with Andrew Wiggins playing lethal defense but tonight will be the night that he finally drops 30+ points. Although Steve Kerr seems to think his squad is ready to close out the series, he may have to think again given how well Boston has bounced back from losses this postseason.

Don’t forget that the Celtics were in a three-game to two-game deficit against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals yet found a way to come out victorious. They may not be able to win two straight against Golden State but it’s tough to imagine the Warriors defeating the Celtics in three consecutive matchups. Boston wins by a few possessions: 110-104.

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NBA Finals Best Bet #2: Over (O/U) 210 Total Points (-110)

Though only 204 points were scored between both teams in Game 5 (BOS 97 - 107 GSW), Game 6 will be a higher-scoring contest for multiple reasons. First, Jaylen Brown will have a bounce-back night. After being held to 18 points on 27.8% shooting from the field on Monday, Brown will almost certainly play more efficiently and score more in Game 6. Additionally, Boston had way fewer scoring opportunities due to their whopping 18 turnovers. Ima Udoke will make sure his starters take care of the ball in a game that can decide Boston’s fate. Marcus Smart and Al Horford have come up huge as role players but Tatum needs to really shift into an entirely new gear. Don’t be surprised if that happens tonight.

The story through Games 4 and 5 has been the same. Golden State has stepped it up on defense, managing to out-rebound the Celtics in both contests. Robert Williams III might have something to say about that tonight. In Game 6, the Celtics should be more cautious with the ball and therefore have more opportunities than they did over the last two contests. Meanwhile, the Warriors are always expected to drop at least 105+ points.

NBA Player Props

Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics -4 (GSW Leads 3-2)

Prop #1: Andrew Wiggins To Record a Double-Double (+225)

Throughout these NBA Finals, Andrew Wiggins has been on an absolute tear. Just over the last two contests where he finished both with double-doubles, he’s recorded 29 rebounds and 43 points. He has adapted his style of play and is spending more time down low in the post to help the Warriors out on the glass. Wiggins is putting significant pressure on Robert Williams III, Al Horford, and Jayson Tatum to rebounds the ball more efficiently. Not only is Wiggins keeping his scoring numbers up, he’s drastically improved on the defensive end to record 49 rebounds (9.8 rebounds per game in the Finals) through the first five games of this series. Wiggins’ shift to focus on rebounding and keeping the pressure down low has worked brilliantly for the Warriors over the last two games, both of which they won. In Game 6, expect him to continue to do what has been working, giving him a great chance to produce a third consecutive double-double in the NBA Finals. Perhaps he can even win the NBA Finals MVP Award if he continues to play at this level. Wiggins has been the true x-factor for the Dubs in this series.

Prop #2: Jaylen Brown Over 24.5 Points (-110)

After a rough shooting night in Game 5 where Brown only converted on five of his 18 shots from the field, he should wake up and score 25+ points in Game 6 at TD Garden. While you may want to stick away from three-point shooting props involving brown right now, he’ll hit the over in points tonight at the TD Garden. Brown has only scored over 24 points in one of five games this series (27 points in Game 3) but the Celtics do much better when Brown and Tatum perform like the perennial All-Stars that they are.

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Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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In Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Finals, Stephen Curry and the Warriors executed exactly where they didn’t in Game 3 to tie up the series 2-2. Notably, Golden State dominated down low Friday night after being outrebounded and suffocated by the Celtics in Game 3. As a team, the Warriors recorded 16 offensive boards for a total of 55 rebounds for the night. For instance, Draymond Green struggled Wednesday night to finish the night with only four rebounds and three assists before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

In Game 4, Draymond dominated down low for eight rebounds, eight assists, and four steals without getting himself into foul trouble (only three PFs for Green in Game 4 after fouling out in Game 3).

Best Bets of the Night

Game: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors - 4 (-110)

Similar to Game 3, both teams shot the ball rather evenly. The Warriors finished the night with 44% shooting from the field, and 34.9% from downtown. The Celtics converted 40% of the field goal attempts and 39.5% of their shots from deep. One factor which helped Golden State keep up with the Celtics throughout the game was terrific rebounding. Andrew Wiggins stepped it up off the glass to produce a 17-point and 16-rebound double-double. What really caused the Celtics to lose in Game 3 was a complete offensive collapse in the fourth quarter.

With seven minutes remaining in the game, the Celtics had a 91-86 lead over Golden State. That means Boston was outscored 21-6 in the second half of the fourth quarter to lose Game 4 107-97. With Golden State back home, expect their offense to shoot better than they did on the road and secure a home victory in Game 5.

Bet: Golden State Warriors -4 (-110)

Throughout the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the Warriors shot 49.4% from the field and 40.7% from downtown in 11 games played at home. For their nine road games, the Warriors were less efficient on average averaging 47.2 FG% (2.2% less efficient from the field) and 34.9% (-5.8% less efficient from 3PT range). The numbers reveal clearly that for the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the Warriors have been more efficient scoring. With the prospect of taking a 3-2 lead over the Celtics, its likely that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have another big night in front of the home crowd.

Bet: Over (O/U) 212.5 Total Points (-110)

While only 204 points were scored in Game 4, expect Game 5 to be a much higher-scoring game. In addition to the Warriors shooting much better from the field, the team seems to have found some efficiency against the bigger Celtics down low. These two factors could push the Warriors to score 120+ points in Game 5. In turn, Jayson Tatum who scored 23 points (8-23 FG) will bounce back to have a 30+ point game. Both he and Steph are scoring big these NBA Finals.

While the defense was the main story of Games 3 and 4 at the TD Garden, scoring buckets will be the principal feature of Game 5 at the Chase Center. With him and Stephen Curry averaging more than 34 PPG through these finals, you can count on Game 5 in Golden State to be a high-scoring game.

NBA Player Props

Game: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors - 4 (-110)

Prop: Jayson Tatum, Over 26.5 Points

Jayson Tatum, like the rest of the Celtics, started hot but finished ice cold. If it wasn’t for the fourth quarter where Tatum shot the ball multiple times unsuccessfully. This negatively impacted his shooting numbers from Game 4 where he finished the night with 23 points (8-23 FG) converting only 34.9% of his shots taken. After a disappointing Friday night, Tatum will shoot more efficiently in Game 5. Since he still scored 23 points on an off-night, you can count on Tatum to score 30+ points in Game 5 even if the Warriors defeat the Celtics.

Prop: Andrew Wiggins, Over 6.5 Rebounds

One of the major adjustments made by the Warriors in Game 4 was boosting their presence off the glass. Andrew Wiggins recorded 16 of Golden State’s 55 rebounds Friday night.

Through the first four games of the NBA Finals, Wiggins has recorded a total of 34 rebounds. That means Wiggins is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game in the 2022 NBA Finals. Especially because the Warriors know how effective he was producing much-needed rebounds in Game 4, Wiggins will look to have a similar presence down-low in Game 5.

Boston Celtics, NBA Finals Game 3

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In Game 3, both teams shot almost equally well from the field and from downtown. However, Boston took more shots from the field and dominated off the glass to take Game 3 116-100. Boston’s defensive energy was on full display Wednesday night as they outrebounded and drew countless fouls from the Warriors. Boston’s defense was the story of Game 3. Will Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry overwhelm the Celtics in Game 4?

Let’s take a look at some of tonight’s best bets for Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Finals.

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Best Bets of the Night

Game: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics Game 4 (BOS Leads 2-1)

In Game 3, both teams shot virtually as efficiently from the field. The Celtics converted 48.3% of their shots (43-89 FG) from the field and went 37.1% from downtown. Golden State finished the night with a 46.2 FG% (36-78 FG) as a team, converting 37.5% from beyond the arc. The main reason for the Celtics’ victory was fantastic defense. For instance, Robert Williams III who isn’t 100% healthy, played 26 minutes to produce 10 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. The Celtics dominated the Warriors off the glass to record 47 rebounds as a team with 15 of them recorded on the offensive end. In contrast, the Warriors totaled 31 rebounds on the game and only had six offensive rebounds. In addition, the Warriors committed 23 personal fouls allowing the Celtics to go to the line 24 times (Celtics were 17-24 FT) and had 16 turnovers as a team. For the Warriors to bounce back in Game 4, they will need to be more aggressive down low and less sloppy on the floor.

Bet #1: Golden State Warriors, +4 (-110)

The Warriors shot the ball well in Game 3, but were simply overwhelmed by the Celtics defense and the energy at the TD Garden Wednesday night. Golden State recorded 39 combined turnovers (16) and personal fouls (23) which demonstrates how sloppy they were with the basketball. This gave Boston a possession advantage throughout the game, ultimately allowing the Celtics to take 11 more field goal attempts and finish the night with seven more made FGs than the Warriors. Offensive efficiency is not the issue for the Warriors. Rather, they will need to ramp it up on defense in Game 4 to make the game interesting. Draymond Green fouled out of the contest after being shut down all night. Green was held to just two points, four rebounds, three assists, and two turnovers in 35 minutes on the floor before getting a sixth personal foul in Game 3.

Bet #2: Over (O/U) 215 Total Points (-110)

Though the Warriors were held to 100 points of offense on Wednesday night, they shot the ball well. Golden State was limited as a team for FGAs as a result of Boston’s defense. In Game 4, Golden State will have an answer to put up more points on the board than they did in Game 3. In turn, the Celtics will keep things interesting. Expect this Game 4 to be a high-scoring contest. Both teams have been scoring big throughout these playoffs, and that doesn't seem to be changing right now during the Finals.

NBA Player Props

Game: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics Game 4 (BOS Leads 2-1)

Prop #1: Klay Thompson, Over 19.5 Points

Klay Thompson started the night shooting very well but cooled down towards the end. He went five for a whopping 13 attempts from downtown Wednesday night. He finished the night 7-of-17 from the field for 25 points. This comes after a terrible Game 2 performance where Klay went 4-of-19 from the field and only one-of-eight from beyond-the-arc. Tonight, Klay will shoot better tonight after an average Game 3 performance and bad Games 1 and 2.

Prop #2: Jaylen Brown, Over 2.5 Threes

Jaylen Brown has been knocking his shots from downtown as of late. In the last two games, he’s recorded at least three threes. He’s gone 7-of-17 (41.1%) from downtown through Games 2 and 3 combined. In the second of two home games at the TD Garden, it’s likely that Brown knocks down at least three buckets from beyond-the-arc tonight in Game 4.

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