The first few days of the NBA playoffs are generally among the easiest gambling nights on the sports calendar. The league's best teams run roughshod over opponents that probably shouldn't be in the postseason, buoyed by excited fans in their home stadiums pushing for extended playoff runs. The old rules are out the window right now. There is no home-court advantage. The No. 7 seed in the Western Conference has the greatest offense in NBA history and the No. 8 seed has a player coming off one of the greatest offensive runs ever.
Be cautious as we feel out the bubble playoffs. A new normal will present itself. But don't just blindly take favorites for its own sake. These next few days are going to include some surprises. With that in mind, here is one pick for each of Monday's four playoff games as the postseason officially tips off.
Lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz: Nuggets -4.5
The Nuggets went undefeated against the Jazz this season, and Utah is more depleted than ever now. It will be without Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis due to injury and Mike Conley after he left the bubble for the birth of his son. Barring an absolute outburst from Donovan Mitchell or extremely hot shooting from Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, there's just little reason to believe that the Jazz can score enough to keep up with the Nuggets. That's especially true given Utah's lack of bigger wings to throw at Michael Porter Jr. and the trouble Nikola Jokic's perimeter game will give Rudy Gobert.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors: Under 222
Brooklyn point totals have tended to trend toward the over in Orlando, but a lot of that has relied on opponents missing players through either injury or rest and a fairly poor slate of defenses on their schedule. The Raptors either hit this total exactly or went under in their first six bubble games. With their foot off the pedal in the last two, they went over, but their defense is so overwhelming and so well suited to the playoffs that plenty of low-scoring games are likely in their future, especially given the shooting regression Brooklyn is likely to experience. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot didn't just magically become a 45 percent 3-point shooter overnight.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics: 76ers +5.5
The dirty secret of this matchup is that Ben Simmons' absence might not be the worst thing for Philadelphia. They 76ers outscored the Celtics by only 0.3 points per 100 possessions with Simmons on the floor during the regular season ... and 16.4 when he was on the bench. Boston starts 6-foot-8 Daniel Theis at center. They have no answer for Joel Embiid except for doubling. Removing Simmons from the equation makes it harder to double because every other Sixer shoots. There are still plenty of reasons to take Boston, but this series is way closer than the bookmakers are suggesting.
So who wins Celtics vs. 76ers? And which side of the spread hits well over 50 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the 76ers vs. Celtics spread to jump on, all from the advanced model that is up over $4,700 on its top-rated NBA picks this season, and find out.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks: Over 230
The Clippers have gone over this point total in five of their past six games. The Mavericks have either hit it exactly or exceeded it in each of their past five. The Clippers are eventually going to get their defense right, and Kawhi Leonard is going to give Luka Doncic fits as he did earlier in the season, but defense isn't as simple as flipping a switch. It's going to take time for this group to grow into the defensive juggernaut we expected before the season, and saw at points before the pandemic. For now, trust the NBA's two best offenses to put on a show in their playoff opener.