I know what you're thinking. I've been there. You're going to money line parlay several of this weekend's favorites together, aren't you? It's the NBA. Low seeds never beat high seeds. What could possibly go wrong? It's free money!
Famous last words. The first weekend of the NBA postseason is a minefield. Teams look healthy. Their flaws haven't been exposed yet. The vast differences in record and net rating between top seeds and lower ones lull you into a false sense of security. You forget about shooting variance and wildcard strategies and human nature. Sometimes it just takes the best teams a game or two to rev up. They have a four-game cushion to do so. Your wallet doesn't.
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Both No. 1 seeds lost their playoff opener last season. Both No. 2 seeds lost Game 1 of the first round in 2019. The list goes on and on. If you have a single favorite that you like? Sure, go for it. If you think this year's crop of contenders is upset-proof, you're going to lose money. There are going to be upsets this weekend, so let's go through each game and try to pick out the danger spots.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards: Wizards +8
Washington lost all three of its regular-season matchups against Philly, but covered this spread in two of those games. Joel Embiid is going to dominate in this matchup overall, but he's lost his past four Game 1s. The Wizards are battle-hardened after playing two play-in games. The 76ers might be a bit rusty after sitting for a week. If ever there was a moment for Russell Westbrook to take over a game on his energy and at least make this series slightly interesting, it would be Game 1.
Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Suns -2.5
This is a strange series from a gambling perspective. The Lakers are favored to win the series, but are underdogs in Game 1. Vegas seems to have caught on to a favorite trend of the gambling community: picking against LeBron in Game 1s. He lost two of them last season. Take a look at his per-game averages in each stage of a playoff series. He's noticeably worse in opening games:
LeBron per-game playoff averages:— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) September 8, 2020
Game 1s: 26.3 PPG/7.2 APG/8.5RPG/49.5 FG%
Don't let Bron take you to a Game 7. Hasn't lost one in 12 years.
His health only exacerbates these issues. James is likely to get stronger as this series progresses, and mentally, he tends to need a game or two to master his opponents' tendencies. The Lakers are fair favorites in this series, but in this game, Phoenix is the likelier winner.
New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks: Hawks +1
Nobody would blame you for taking the Knicks on emotional grounds. The Madison Square Garden crowd is going to go absolutely wild for its first home playoff game in eight years. In basketball terms, though, this matchup is favorable to Atlanta. The Knicks don't have the sort of high-scoring guards that can exploit Trae Young's defensive weaknesses. New York's regular-season effort advantage shrinks in the playoffs. Game 1 might be a tall order, but if you like Atlanta in the series, don't be afraid to ride the Hawks on a game-to-game basis as well.
Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies: Grizzlies +9
Donovan Mitchell is expected to play in this game, but after missing more than a month with a sprained ankle, we don't know what version of him we're going to get. Reintegrating him back into the offense is going to take time, and while the Jazz are more than capable of winning this series comfortably even without him at 100 percent, asking for a Game 1 blowout might be a bit ambitious.