16 have become eight in the NBA Playoffs and the Conference semi-finals tip off on Sunday with two highly unpredictable best-of-seven series. Once again, homecourt advantage is set to be a major factor with 67% of higher seeds coming out on top at this stage over the past six seasons.
Thunder v Grizzlies
That won’t trouble the Memphis Grizzlies, who were one of three lower-ranked sides to beat the odds in the first round. And the manner in which they despatched the Los Angeles Clippers – winning four in a row by double figures - suggests they are a real threat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Grizzlies took the regular season series 2-1 and so far in this post-season, they’ve once again proven masterful defensively, bringing their average points allowed down to 89.3 per game.
That could spell doom for the Thunder. Without Russell Westbrook, OKC struggled to close out Houston 4-2 and Memphis are a vastly superior team that will be able to corral Kevin Durant in a way the Rockets couldn’t.
The reigning Western Conference champions are favoured at 1.91 to win Game 1 on the -3.5 handicap, with the Grizzlies at 2.37. Unless Durant comes up with something astonishing – not an impossibility – it’s hard to see Oklahoma City advancing.
Series prediction: Memphis to win 4-2.
Knicks v Pacers
Now that the New York Knicks have won their first play-off series in 13 years, they get a match-up with an old rival in the shape of the Indiana Pacers. Although both teams have long since left the rough and tumble era of Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller behind, it figures to be a tough physical encounter for the presumed right to meet Miami in the East Finals.
The Pacers kept New York to just 37% shooting and their lowest offensive efficiency in their regular season meetings, with the sides splitting the four games. And Indiana managed to inflict the Knicks' worst defeat of the campaign in a 125-91 reverse in February.
New York looked below their best in their 4-2 series victory over Boston but they may get a boost if Amar’e Stoudemire returns for next Saturday’s Game 3. The Knicks are -5 on the handicap to draw first blood but based on past form, look under the total points line of 183 at 1.91 in a duel that figures to be a grind.
Series prediction: New York to win 4-3
Best bet: Take Memphis to beat Oklahoma City at 2.37