We've reached the "rude awakening" portion of the postseason. The Toronto Raptors, who thrived all season on team basketball, have been exposed so far for their lack of a superstar. The Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets both needed seven games just to get past flawed opponents in the first round. Now, with only a day of rest, both have to square off against the Los Angeles juggernauts that have owned the Western Conference all season.
The evidence that has presented itself to us over the past few days suddenly holds a lot more weight than the regular season that largely came almost a year ago. Ride the trends you're seeing on the floor in Orlando to profitability in the postseason. Here are Thursday's best bets.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors: Celtics +2
No, Marcus Smart is not going to have another out-of-body experience from behind the arc. But Boston's defense against Toronto is far more sustainable, and points to a trend that should terrify the Raptors. The Celtics have Pascal Siakam figured out. They've held Toronto's All-Star forward to 34.4 percent shooting through two games, forcing him into ugly post-ups that never draw whistles because Smart's size disadvantage hides how physically he plays. Sure, Toronto could get a scoring outburst from one of its guards, who are better equipped to win this matchup, but if Siakam can't generate late-game offense as he has for most of the season, this series is over.
Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Clippers -9
After Tuesday's emotional Game 7 victory over the Utah Jazz, Jamal Murray was asked how he planned to prepare for Thursday's Game 1 against the Clippers. Murray's response: "We play Thursday?" Denver is exhausted. It's coming down from the emotional high of beating the Jazz. This is not a team ready to go toe-to-toe with the best team in the NBA. Denver might put up a fight at some point in this series, but it won't be in Game 1. This will be a Clippers walkover.
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Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Over 223
The first thing that goes in the wake of exhaustion is defense. No team could summon the sort of defensive effort that Denver mustered against Utah twice in a row, and that's a problem, because the Nuggets are jumping from the NBA's No. 9 defense, which was missing its second-leading scorer, all the way up to the No. 2 Clippers. If Donovan Mitchell could roast switches against Denver, Kawhi Leonard is going to have a field day. With Patrick Beverley at less than full strength, Jamal Murray should be able to put points on the board, and Nikola Jokic is a bad matchup for Ivica Zubac. This will be a high-scoring series.