The Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves earned themselves seventh seeds in their respective conferences last night.
This means that the Cavs and the Clippers will have to await the results of these games tonight to find out who they have to play for the final eighth seed in the East and the West. Tonight the Hornets and the Hawks face-off first followed by the Spurs and the Pelicans.
Best Bets of the Night
Game: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks -5
The Hawks have won as many home games this season as the reigning NBA Champions and the third seed in the East: the Milwaukee Bucks. Indeed, Atlanta managed to win 27 games at home this season compared to a mere 14 losses. Last season, the Hawks demonstrated they could do damage in the postseason by eliminating the Knicks in five quick games. In turn, the Hornets have been a rather mediocre team on the road this season, winning 21 and losing 20 of their 41 away games this season. Both teams finished the regular season winning more than half of their last 10 games, but the Hawks easily have the edge in this contest. Gordon Hayward’s absence from the Hornets' lineup annuls John Collins’ absence from the Hawks lineup going into tonight’s game. With Trae Young being the best player on the court in this matchup, the Hawks should cover the spread. Not to mention, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, and Danilo Gallinari (six-of-eight in the regular-season finale from long range), and Young make up one of the best three-point shooting lineups in the league, not to mention Clint Capela's massive mismatch against Mason Plumlee at the center position. Atlanta should roll despite the absences of Lou Williams and John Collins.
The Pick: Atlanta Hawks -5 (-115)
Game: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans -5.5
The Spurs have only lost two more games than the Pelicans this season. But the main difference between both teams is talent versus teamwork. Greg Popovich has been able to turn the Spurs into a serious playoff team in the vast majority of the last 15 years. This is important because the Spurs have a chance of upsetting other postseason teams any given season simply because of how they are coached. Furthermore, the Pelicans have struggled with guard, Devonte’ Graham, all season long. Since leaving Charlotte, his production and efficiency have decreased substantially. This season, he’s producing 11.9 PPG while shooting 36.3% from the field and producing 4.2 assists per game. These are all lower figures than what he produced in his last two years in Charlotte. In 2019, Graham averaged 18.2 PPG on 38.2% from the field. The following season, he averaged 14.8 PPG (decreased minutes because LaMelo Ball was drafted) while shooting 37.7% from the field. Now, the Pelicans have relegated Graham to a sixth-man type of role since acquiring C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers. The Pelicans' greatest asset outside of McCollum is Brandon Ingram, who is currently listed as a game-time decision. If he's unable to suit up, the Pelicans are in serious trouble.
Even if Ingram can suit up, the Spurs have developed one of the best point guards in the league in Dejounte Murray. Murray almost averaged a triple-double with 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game, plus 2.0 steals per contest. The Spurs have a deep bench with Tre Jones backing up Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Josh Richardson. San Antonio should out-hustle and out-coach the Pelicans tonight.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs ML +194
NBA Player Props
Game: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks -5
Prop: Trae Young, Over 31.5 Points
Trae Young is averaging 28.4 PPG this season, shooting 46% from the field and 38.2% from downtown. But Ice Trae is a different beast once the regular season is over. Last year, in five games against the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, Young averaged 29.2 PPG.
The Hornets are 13th in the NBA allowing 100 FPTS per game to opposing guards, meaning Young already has a relatively advantageous matchup heading into this matchup. Altogether, the Hornets are an average defense in the league, but a below average defense against guards. If you consider Charlotte’s defense against guards and how Trae Young stepped up in silencing the Knicks in the first round of last year’s playoffs, on paper there’s a good chance for Young to erupt for 32+ points tonight. Now, this is a high Over/Under for points and somewhat of a 50-50 to hit. Im going with the Over because I’ve seen Trae Young in his last playoff run, and if he shoots just a little bit better than he did last season, he could be hitting 30-35+ on most nights during the postseason (especially without John Collins and if the Hawks make it).
After last night’s play-in games, it would be unwise to suggest Trae Young doesn’t have a huge night. Here are a few big-name guards who went off in each of last night’s two play-in games: Darius Garland and Kyrie Irving both dropped 34 points. D'Angelo Russell tallied 29 points, and Reggie Jackson scored 17 points despite a subpar night from the field (7-of-18). Although Paul George is more of a forward than a guard, he also scored 34 points. The point is that the big-time guards in particular dominated in last night's play-in games. It’s equally impressive that Garland, Irving, and George all scored 34 points last night as it is a coincidence. There are multiple reasons why Trae Young should hit 32 points against Charlotte. But the biggest reason is that it's unwise to bet against Young in the playoffs.
Prop: Clint Capela, Over 12.5 Rebounds
Clint Capela could be one of the most efficient rebounders in the league. This season, he’s averaging 11.9 rebounds per game although he’s only playing 27.6 minutes per contest. The 6’10’’ big man from Geneva has hauled in 11+ rebounds in eight of his last 10 games. He recorded 13+ rebounds in six of the eight games in which he recorded 11+ boards. Additionally, through his last 10 contests, he’s only logged 30+ minutes four times, meaning that he’s rebounding well into double-figures despite playing less than 30 minutes most nights. In a game as pivotal as tonight's matchup, Capela should see closer to 33ish minutes. That should give him sufficient time to dominate the glass over the Hornets' big man, Mason Plumlee, who is not nearly as much of a physical specimen as Capela.
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