In Friday's grand finale to the NBA Play-In Tournament, the eighth seed in both conferences is up for grabs. It's wild that the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers are in this position. Whatever excuses you want to make for them, both teams advanced all the way to the Conference Finals in 2021, and a loss tonight means they'll miss the playoffs entirely.
Since both Atlanta and LA have returned largely the same core of players who made those runs through the postseason, though, they're both favorites in their upcoming matchups. Let's dive in to the last betting preview before the playoffs officially get underway.
Allen's return gives Cavs playoff hope
No. 8 Cavaliers vs. No. 9 Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Even though Cleveland is home and the higher seed, Atlanta (-136) is still favored. When they're not favored at home, the Cavs (+2) have actually fared quite well, going 9-5-1 ATS this season. A big reason this spread isn't greater in the wake of the Hawks' 29-point victory over the Hornets is due to Jarrett Allen's comeback for the hosts, as he will "attempt to play" through "significant" pain.
A fractured finger has sidelined Cleveland's star big man since March 6. Health has been a huge issue for this scrappy Cavs team all season long, yet they managed to overcome every absence reasonably well until Allen went down. If you exclude a Game 82 beatdown of the Bucks while Milwaukee was resting everyone and include the last loss to Brooklyn, Cleveland has gone 6-12 without Allen.
Even with Allen, it's been a defensive struggle for the Cavs against Atlanta; they went 1-3 vs. the Hawks in the season series:
It's unclear just how much Allen will play, or how effective he'll be, but when he, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen have been on the floor at the same time, the Cavs' unconventional jumbo-size lineup has been extremely effective overall. They also have a veteran in Kevin Love who can come off the bench and score in bunches.
The backcourt is the bigger question mark for the home team, as lead guard Darius Garland (OU 26.5 points) and Co. have to figure out a way to at least limit Trae Young (OU 30.5 points), which, as those above numbers indicate, they've largely failed to do. Young has averaged 32.5 points and nine assists to just 2.5 turnovers vs. Cleveland. He led the NBA in total points and assists, and has plenty of capable shooters around him, not to mention a paint presence in Clint Capela who can clear lanes for him to drive.
Allen could be a big boon to Cleveland's efforts to protect the rim against Young's slashes to the rim, not to mention leveraging for rebounding position against Capela. Mobley's defensive versatility and ability to stretch out to the wing can offset the clear advantage Atlanta has on the perimeter to some degree.
Overall, this just feels like a lot for the Cavs to overcome, even in their own arena. They don't have the same depth or chemistry the Hawks do. That's reflected in this season-long stat: Atlanta has the NBA's lowest turnover rate (12%), whereas Cleveland (14.8%) ranks 27th in that category.
One more trend: In each team's last six games, the Under (223 at -110) is a combined 9-3.
NOLA's D the key to clipping Paul George-less LA
No. 8 Clippers vs. No. 9 Pelicans, 10 p.m. ET on TNT
OK so first of all, the spread moved from New Orleans as a four-point dog to a one-point favorite at around noon. The reason? Paul George is OUT. YIKES.
Over their last 15 games, the Pelicans (-115) ranked bottom-five in the league by allowing opponents to shoot 49.8% from the field and 39.6% from 3-point range. Those are scary numbers. However, the reason New Orleans' record was 9-6 in that span is because they allowed the fewest free throw attempts (19.2) and rebounds (38.7) per game, and forced the most turnovers a night (16.3).
It's vital for the Pels to contest shots better than they have. If they're able to combine better on-ball defense and bother the shots of their opponents while still ideally positioning themselves to crash the glass, there's some serious untapped potential there. As the away team this season, New Orleans is an NBA-high 26-15 vs. the Under (216 at -112)
The problem? Friday might be their very last game, though George's last-minute scratch changes everything.
The Clippers (+1) ended the regular season on a winning streak of five, but have gone just 2-7 ATS in their last nine as underdogs. Although they're used to overcoming injuries (see: Kawhi Leonard), when George came back for the final seven games of the regular season, the Clippers were 6-1 and led the NBA in offensive rating (127.1). They were in control for much of the Seven-Eight Game in Minnesota, only for the T'Wolves to stage a rare fourth-quarter comeback.
Having said that, even with LA is back at home — where they went 25-16 SU compared to 17-24 on the road — it's hard to envision that they'll pick up where they left off during that hot closing stretch sans PG13. Their ceiling as a team is much, much lower now.
As great of a coaching job as Willie Green has done to rally the Pelicans from a 1-12 start in his maiden season at the helm, Tyronn Lue's knack for mixing and matching lineups is, I'd argue, second to none. He'll find a myriad of ways to make life difficult for the less-experienced Pels, even without George.
CJ McCollum (OU 25.5 points) has been brilliant for New Orleans since arriving from Portland in a trade. Then there's Brandon Ingram, whose size and skill is comparable to PG13 in some ways. The Pelicans also have an elite rookie defender in Herb Jones who can take some of the heat off Ingram on that end of the court. Thus, it's not the worst matchup for New Orleans from a personnel standpoint.
LA has an edge with its bench, because they have so many wing defenders to throw at McCollum and Ingram and can take them out of any sort of rhythm.
One more trend: The Pelicans (-114) have gone 7-1 SU as favorites of late.
In just 23 minutes of action the last time the Hawks faced the Cavs on March 31, Capela pulled down 14 boards. On New Year's Eve, with Allen in the lineup for Cleveland, Capella ripped down a whopping TWENTY-THREE rebounds. I think with the playoffs on the line, and the Cavs giving big minutes to so many frontcourt players, Atlanta will counter that by leaving Capela on the court as much as possible. That should lend itself to plenty of opportunities to hit that admittedly large Over number.
As for the Pelicans, well, I would usually give the edge to the more battle-tested group of players. As mentioned before, New Orleans somehow managed to get off the mat after losing 12 of 13, which is no small feat, even if it's just the regular season. The Pels looked excellent for most of the Nine-Ten Game in San Antonio, and with George missing, I don't see how LA is going to get it done. McCollum's prop, as of this writing is +110 to score 26 or more. He's coming off a 32-point effort against the Spurs, and I don't see why New Orleans wouldn't keep riding his hot hand.
Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER