The NBA playoffs seem to have done away with playing favorites this year. It's been a complete coup for neutral fans and those heavily invested in a particular team, as every series (save Miami-Charlotte) has featured compelling storylines and close finishes. There are plenty of upsets still in play, and that should make for an interesting playoff picture heading into the second round of action.
Two teams got to rest up early, the Washington Wizards and the Heat. The rest of the playoff series went crazy, all sixes and sevens (Game 6s and 7s, that is). No top-tier team has been safe.
With all the momentum swings, close finishes and unlikely victories, it makes sense to take a look at odds on each team remaining in this glorious postseason.
|Odds to Win NBA Finals, as of May 2, 2014|
|San Antonio Spurs||5/2|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||11/2|
|Los Angeles Clippers||10/1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||30/1|
|Golden State Warriors||45/1|
Future odds are courtesy of VegasInsider.com and are current as of May 2, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. ET.
The Heat didn't make every game look easy in the first round, and some fans may wonder if the Bobcats could have stolen a game or two with a completely healthy Al Jefferson. Still, they swept Charlotte away, and are the odds-on favorites to make their fourth NBA Finals appearance in a row.
Lebron James has been his usual dominant self, averaging 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and 2.3 steals per game against the Bobcats.
The Heat will look for improvement from Ray Allen, who was way off the mark in the first round. He averaged just 3.3 points per game on 26.3 percent shooting in the series, far below his 9.6 points per game and 44.2 percent shooting from the regular season.
As the two-time defending champs slowly but surely age, they will take whatever rest they can get. As far as the long layoff is concerned, James believes it's more mental than it is physical. Via Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald:
“Our team could use the rest,” he said. “It’s difficult. You try to take things from the year before, but it’s always challenging. We just want to keep the edge and keep our conditioning level at a pretty good level."
Watching the rest of the Eastern Conference duke it out in long, grueling series can only bolster their confidence that they will be fresh and ready to make a run at a historic three-peat.
The Pacers found themselves atop the Eastern Conference at season's end, but their late season play and current struggle against the Atlanta Hawks has everyone wary of their true chances.
Game 7 against the Hawks will be a battle of wills. The Pacers must overcome the poor performances of Roy Hibbert while contending with the Hawks' slick-passing perimeter play. Hibbert has been historically bad, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
It has some like Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix at a complete loss for explanation:
The Pacers, should they get past the Hawks, will need Hibbert to extricate himself from this prolonged slump in order to increase their odds of even making it to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Wizards shocked a number of observers by calmly dispatching the Chicago Bulls in five games. That series was a complete yawner by 2014's standards.
They are 30/1 odds to win the NBA Finals, but are at just 10/1 odds to take the Eastern Conference championship (according to VegasInsider.com as of May 2).
Back in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005, they will count on continued leadership from John Wall, who's taken a big step forward in this year's playoffs.
Coach Randy Wittman has been pleased with his team's grit and determination so far, and despite the ugly scoreline had good things to say about their 75-69 series clinching victory. Via Michael Lee of The Washington Post:
“A couple of years ago, we never would’ve won a game like this. Now this team believes in defense, what we do and how we do it. We’ll look back on this, I think, as this group moves forward. We will get a big jump from this," Wittman said.
The Wizards lie in wait for the winner of the Pacers-Hawks series. They matchup well with both teams, as Nene and Marcin Gortat can hold down the fort against Hibbert and David West of the Pacers. Should they draw the trigger-happy Hawks, they can count on Wall and Bradley Beal's improved efforts on the defensive end to continue the franchise's resurrection in 2014.