Milwaukee vs. Brooklyn
Series odds – Brooklyn -200, Milwaukee +160
Odds to win Eastern Conference: Brooklyn -139, Milwaukee +255
Odds to win NBA title: Brooklyn +170, Milwaukee +550
Road kill in the improved East included last year’s finalists, Boston and Miami, who won a grand total of one game in making graceful exits and turning the spotlight over to the final four. Brooklyn, which completed a Gentleman’s Sweep of the Celtics, looked almost bored at times behind its Big Three of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets will have to pay a little more attention to detail against the Bucks, but Brooklyn is still a heavy favorite to get to the conference semis. Oddsmakers, handicappers and bettors also like them to reach the Finals. Injuries and Irving’s quirks cost Brooklyn the top seed in the East, but the Nets now appear locked, loaded and – most importantly – healthy in anticipation of a long playoff run. There had been concern that the arrival of Harden early in the season would mess with the team’s chemistry and offensive flow, but the Nets’ ISO styler is as simplistic as it is difficult to stop. Harden either shoots or drives, and if he’s double-teamed, some other tremendous shooter (and don’t forget Joe Harris) will get an open look. Easy peasy. On the defensive end . . . well no one cares all that much about defense when the offense is so good. The Nets averaged more than 119 a game against Boston. Nuff said. Milwaukee should put up more of a fight, though, coming off a vacation of a sweep of the Heat. The Bucks squeaked by in Game 1, but the final three games weren’t close. It all begins and ends with Giannis Antetokounmpo, of course, but it will be curious to see how the Nets deal with Brook Lopez. Brooklyn got away with using Blake Griffin at the 5 against Boston, but that probably won’t get it done against Lopez (who had 25 vs. Miami in the clincher).
Atlanta vs. Philadelphia
Series odds – Philadelphia -190, Atlanta +155
Odds to win Eastern Conference: Philadelphia +450, Atlanta +1500
Odds to win NBA title: Philadelphia +1000, Atlanta +3300
After years in the Eastern Conference wilderness, the Hawks are finally starting to put it together. They brought in Clint Capela last year, they brought in Lou Williams mid-season this year and they decided to hang on to John Collins not knowing if they will be able to sign Collins this summer. And oh yeah, that Trae Young kid can also play a little. Young basically stole the Knicks’ lunch money four times in Round 1, forcing New York to turn to aging Derrick Rose at the point. No dice. Young & Co. put an end to the Knicks’ feel-good season, and now they turn their attention to Philadelphia. The 76ers are under tremendous pressure to get it done after several playoff flameouts, and they appear to be out of excuses. They have MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who at times (make that most of the time) was impossible to stop in the Round 1 vs. Washington, and they have maybe the best defensive small in the league in Ben Simmons. The trick in this series is 76ers coach Doc Rivers figuring how to deal with things when the Hawks back off Simmons and dare him to shoot. Because Simmons doesn’t shoot from beyond 12 feet. Ever. Philly is a decent favorite in this series, but weird things seem to happen to the Sixers after the regular season ends. And Atlanta is at the top of its game right now. Might be an opening there for Hawk backers to cash.