James Harden put up 29 points in Game 1 of the Utah-Houston series despite the Jazz forcing him to his right hand. Going forward, we should probably expect more of the same strategy … and Harden’s over/under for points on Wednesday has been set at 34.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Is that too high?
Harden scored 35 or more points 45 times during the regular season, and he topped the 35-point mark four times in the postseason a year ago as the Rockets made it all the way to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals before Harden tried to do too much in the second half of Game 6 and Game 7 with Chris Paul sidelined.
The Rockets are big favorites in the series at +675 after their strong finishing kick to the regular season, and the Jazz do not have a lot of believers outside the one state where sports gambling has no chance to be legalized.
The teams split the season series 2-2, with Harden scoring 43 in a 27-point victory on Feb. 2, 47 in a 5-point victory on Dec. 17; 15 in a 27-point loss to Utah on Dec. 6; and 29 in an 11-point loss to Utah on Oct. 24.
Best to assume that the under will hit if the Rockets lose; the over will hit if the Rockets win.
In last week’s column, we touted the Clippers as a worthy prop bet at 55-1 to win the series at DraftKings, where the odds have since dropped to 14-1. If Doc Rivers takes that $2,000 that was given back to him by a man on the street in the Bay Area and wagers it on his own team, he’ll be collecting a cool $28,000 if Los Angeles knocks off the team that just lost DeMarcus Cousins for the remainder of the postseason. (We are about to start seeing a lot more of Andrew Bogut.)
Let’s take a look at the other six first-round series; what has transpired and what might lie ahead.
Denver vs. San Antonio
The Nuggets had an outstanding comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 2 on Tuesday night, led by Jamal Murray scoring 21 of his 24 points in the final 12 minutes. Nikola Jokic got the better of Jacob Poeltl, and we should all expect that to continue as the series moves to the Pacific Northwest.
Tied 1-1, the series is viewed as more or less of a tossup with the Spurs at +125 and the Nuggets at -155. The coaching edge goes to the Spurs, but the talent and depth edge is clearly in favor of the Nuggets.
Portland vs. Oklahoma City
Despite the Blazers holding a 2-0 lead, this one is still being considered as a possible Thunder series victory by the bookmakers, with Oklahoma City listed at +200. One thing for certain: There will be a great deal of theatrics from Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard … and we kindly request that DraftKings post a prop bet on whether the two will engage in fisticuffs.
Indiana vs. Boston
The Pacers do not have a player who can say “Give me the ball and get the hell out of the way.” Actually, they do have a guy like that, but Victor Oladipo is done for the season.
Boston has the superior depth and the only superstar in this series, Kyrie Irving, and they are listed as -1000 favorites to win the series. After the Game 1 dud the Pacers pulled on Sunday, that makes a lot of sense. The onus Wednesday will be on Nate McMillan to find somebody to assert himself, and the most likely candidate is Bogan Bogdanovic. … Keep in mind that the Celtics still have chemistry issues, so nothing is guaranteed. … For those who believe the Pacers will win the next four, the odds at DraftKings are 100-1.
Milwaukee vs. Detroit
Game 1 was such a crazy blowout, the Bucks are actually listed at -200 to win the series in a sweep. The Pistons were already mediocre before losing Blake Griffin for the series, and this is bound to be a channel changer when it resumes Wednesday on NBA TV.
The most interesting prop bet on the board is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s points (26.5). He had 24 points in 23 minutes in Game 1, and tonight it’ll probably a matter of how soon garbage time arrives. For those who believe the Pistons can win a couple of games, the line on Milwaukee winning 4-2 is 14-1.
Toronto vs. Orlando
Normalcy returned to Canada Tuesday night as Kawhi Leonard asserted himself, Kyle Lowry came back from the dead and Orlando went back to looking like a bottom feeder. … But here is the thing: Orlando beat Toronto by 29 and 15 in two of their three regular season victories, so the matchup can favor the Vucevic-Augustin team when circumstances permit. The bookmakers are being cautious on this one, with a 4-3 series victory by Toronto listed at +280. For those who believe in monumental upsets, the Magic are 13-1 to win it in 7.
Philadelphia vs. Brooklyn
Easily the most competitive series in the East, it resumes Thursday night at Barclay’s Center tied up 1-1. As reported by the New York Daily News, coach Brett Brown is coaching for his job. Also, the chemistry issues on the Sixers are more acute than many would be led to believe.
The key to this series will be the play of Joel Embiid, who is a matchup nightmare for Nets starter Jarrett Allen and backup Ed Davis. But Embiid likes to heat check at the start of games with 3-point shots, and if he does that in Brooklyn and the Sixers are forced to play from behind, the Nets can take both Games 3 and 4.
The odds of the Nets winning in 7 games are 9-1.