The quarterfinals are probably the trickiest part of theto bet, especially without years of precedent to rely on. The games are definitely being treated more seriously than typical regular-season fare. There are no other contests on Monday or Tuesday, and Sunday was a league-wide off-day. Players have now gone through four tournament games and plausibly close enough to winning the whole thing to take the games as something closer to playoff contests.
But we're not in Vegas yet. We don't know if coaches will even stray from their typical rotations yet, much less, say, bring an injured player back sooner than they'd otherwise be comfortable with (and there are plenty of those looming over the next few days). For now, we'll consider these games to be somewhere between regular-season and playoff level intensity, and if Monday's slate proves us wrong, we'll adjust for Tuesday. Here are our picks against the spread for the first two knockout stage games.
Resist the urge to try to use Tyrese Haliburton's questionable status as a chance to score a favorable line. Yes, the Pacers scored an upset victory over the Heat without Haliburton on Saturday, but the last time Indiana faced Boston without its star point guard, it lost by 51 points. This is just a bad matchup for the Pacers whether or not they are at full strength.
No team allows more shots at the rim than the Pacers. It's not even close, the gap between the Pacers and the No. 2 Hawks is bigger than the gap between No. 2 and the No. 7 76ers. The Celtics aren't a rim-heavy offense, but they're lethal once they get there, ranking fifth in restricted-area field goal percentage. More pressingly, all of that easy rim-pressure becomes significantly more dangerous with all of their shooting. The Pacers have to be more judicious with Boston's shooters than they would a normal opponent, and that's going to create a layup line for the Celtics at the rim.
On the other end of the spectrum, Boston has two All-Defense-caliber guards to throw at Haliburton in Derrick White and Jrue Holiday. The Pacers don't have a secondary scorer. Myles Turner ranks second on the team in points at 16.6 per game. No one else even averages 14. The Pacers need individual scoring from Haliburton. If he's out, they have no one to conduct their beautiful transition offense. Either way, Boston is the pick here. The Pick: Celtics -5
New Orleans is the better bet here for two reasons. The first is its matchup with Sacramento's best player. DeAaron Fox has averaged only 20 points on 40% shooting against the Pelicans in two games this season. In fact, Fox has shot above 50% from the floor against the Kings just twice in the past three seasons, and Herb Jones missed one of those games. When they've played otherwise? Jones has troubled Fox consistently. Fox tends to destroy most smaller defenders because they aren't as quick as he is anyway. Jones is deceptively quick, but his size gives Fox real problems.
And then there's the health factor. The books are treating the Pelicans like the team they've been all season instead of the team they're about to become. For now, it looks like C.J. McCollum will play in this game. So will Trey Murphy. Jose Alvarado played through an ankle injury against the Bulls, and the only notable injured Pelicans right now are Larry Nance Jr. and Matt Ryan. Figuring out how exactly to deploy their newfound wealth in depth will take time, and it's not even clear who will eventually wind up with the fifth-starter spot currently held by Dyson Daniels. But the Pelicans are better than their numbers suggest because of all the injuries they've endured. With a healthier roster, they're in great shape against the Kings. The Pick: Pelicans +4