The NBA play-offs begin tonight. And after a compacted regular season, it’s time for teams to set fatigue to one side and show their best form when it matters most.
That the Miami Heat only finished with the second best record in the Eastern Conference counts for little. They remain 2.60 favourites to win the title and banish the nightmares of last June’s Finals meltdown at the hands of Dallas. And while there are four legitimate contenders for the championship – including San Antonio, Chicago and Oklahoma City – no team will be more motivated to impress.
And no-one will have greater expectations than LeBron James. The Heat forward is the favourite to win the league’s MVP for a third time but the title is uppermost on his mind. Miami hosts the New York Knicks in the opening tie of the best of seven first round series and despite the visitors’ impressive recent form, they’re +8.5 on the handicap in Game 1.
That’s a reflection of recent history with the Heat sweeping the regular season series 3-0. The last meeting between these teams came just two weeks ago when not even 42 points from Carmelo Anthony could save the Knicks from a 93-85 defeat. And with Tyson Chandler likely to miss out through illness, bet on Miami to win at 1.91, going over the line of 186.5 total points.
If the Knicks-Heat should deliver some intriguing contests, it’s hard to see anything other than a 4-0 sweep for the Chicago Bulls in their first round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose has been in uncertain form after returning from injury and with Luol Deng also bothered by a wrist problem, the Bulls have slumped to an 8-5 run this month.
In all likelihood, they were saving themselves for the post-season. And although the Sixers – who lost the regular season match-up 2-1 - bounced back from a March nosedive to finish with four wins from their last five, take Chicago at -9 at 1.91 to begin their championship charge in emphatic style. But it’s worth going under the line of 175.5 total points.
Bet of the Day: Take Miami over New York at 1.91