Now that we’re in the thick of the NBA playoffs, the basketball betting market is hotter than ever. CBS Sports will be providing daily picks for the duration of the postseason. Sam Quinn will make at least one pick for every game between now and the NBA Finals. All lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
There is a ton of conflicting information to sift through with the Game 1 spread. The Heat are the best Game 1 team in the NBA. They are 9-2 in Game 1s with Jimmy Butler on the roster and have now won their last six. All three of their Game 1 wins have been on the road this postseason, and they’ve won six Game 1s as the lower seed overall since acquiring Butler. But the Nuggets are undefeated at home this postseason. Two of those wins were blowouts, and Game 1 of the Western Conference finals easily could have been were it not for a furious Lakers comeback. The rest vs. rust debate tends to favor the rest side of the equation, and Denver’s altitude will only make life harder on the Heat coming off of a seven-game series. Denver will almost certainly win this game. I’d probably avoid the spread here, but if you’re making a pick, I’d take Denver and trust the altitude to wear Miami down. The Pick: Nuggets -9
Nikola Jokic is 10-2 against Bam Adebayo in his career. Miami has no obvious means of slowing him down. The Heat can’t play zone against Denver because the Nuggets scored an NBA-best 1.169 points per possession against zones in the regular season. Jokic’s passing and Denver’s overall cutting will turn a zone defense into a layup line. The Heat could try to emulate the strategy the Lakers used last round—have Bam Adebayo play help defense while “guarding” Aaron Gordon and give the Jokic matchup to Kevin Love—but Miami lost faith in Love last round and needs Caleb Martin‘s offense. Switching is suicide against Denver because of the mismatches Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. create. There is no version of this series in which the Heat slow down the Nuggets that doesn’t involve enormous 3-point variance. Miami got that variance in their upsets over the Celtics and the Bucks. They can’t rely on it now. The Pick: Over 219
Michael Porter Jr. shot 7-of-13 from deep in his two home games last round. Why? Because the Lakers tried to guard him with Austin Reaves, who is almost half a foot shorter than him. Miami has similar defensive problems. Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus are all a good deal shorter than the 6-foot-10 Porter, which will give him clear lines of sight to shoot above them. Miami could mitigate this vulnerability by putting Butler on Porter, but in all likelihood, they will start the series with Butler on Gordon and Adebayo on Jokic. Doing so will allow Butler to play a defensive role similar to what he did in the Knicks series: as a helper on the primary pick-and-roll. You can’t help off of Porter. If he gets those smaller matchups, he’ll have plenty of clean looks from deep. The Pick: Porter Over 2.5 3-pointers
The Heat ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season, but the 71.1% of available defensive rebounds they grabbed in the conference finals would have ranked 22nd. That’s a symptom of the smaller lineups Miami has had to play in order to score. So who benefits in the Finals? Let’s start with Aaron Gordon, who has been Denver’s backup center this postseason. The Heat largely stopped using a backup center by the time the Boston series ended, so Gordon should have plenty of opportunities on the glass during Denver’s bench minutes, and he’ll pick up a few offensive rebounds off of cuts if the Heat help off of him as much as the Lakers did. The Pick: Gordon Over 5.5 Rebounds
Caleb Martin averaged 9.6 points per game in the regular season. He made just under 49% of his 3’s in the Boston series, and that nearly won him Eastern Conference finals MVP. He’s a 36% 3-point shooter for his career. His volume has gone up with his minutes, but even with the bump from his incredible Boston series, Martin is still averaging only 14.1 points per game in the postseason. If he cools off even a little bit, this number is inflated. The Pick: Martin Under 15.5 Points