Ja Morant has continued to defy gravity and Trae Young has been iced out of the first round. What other playoff highlights and surprises await us this weekend?
In this edition of the Showstopper, we’ll break down the best betting angles for Game 6 of Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves, as well as two more exciting matchups you don’t want to miss.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Friday, April 29 | TV: ESPN
One of the biggest see-saw battles of the NBA playoffs heads back to Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have gone 1-1 against the Grizzlies in this series. The last two games have been decided by a margin of two points or less, with Ja Morant delivering a last-second layup in the last contest to give Memphis the 3-2 series lead. The NBA’s Most Improved Player has shot under 30% from 3-point range on the road and the Timberwolves have held him under 17 points twice at the Target Center. After a slow start, Grizzlies sharpshooter Desmond Bane has really caught fire, averaging 28.3 points and six 3-pointers made over his last three games. The crowd will be rocking for Minnesota’s must-win showdown, but it will be a tough task for the defensively challenged Timberwolves to stop this versatile offense.
The Grizzlies will be lacking some frontcourt depth because center Steven Adams has been ruled out due to health and safety protocols. Look for Brandon Clarke to pick up heavy minutes in his absence. Clarke, who’s been highly effective on both ends of the court, has averaged 18.6 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last three games. Despite his right knee soreness, Anthony Edwards continues to shoot well, posting a 40.8% mark from beyond the arc in this series. The Timberwolves will also have to limit their turnovers if they want to force a Game 7. Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged five turnovers per game against the Grizzlies.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics
Sunday, May 1 | TV: ABC
The Bucks and Celtics convincingly dismantled their first-round opponents, setting the stage for what could be the biggest defensive slugfest of the postseason. Milwaukee will have to make do without forward Khris Middleton, who will miss the entire second round with an MCL sprain in his left knee. The biggest impact might be felt on the perimeter defense as the Bucks try to stop Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Although Brown is dealing with hamstring tightness, he’s planning to play in Game 1. Without Middleton in the Bucks’ lineup, expect to see a lot more of Grayson Allen, who’s averaged 20.7 points per game over Milwaukee’s last three victories. The Celtics and Bucks ranked in the league’s top 10 in 3-pointers made per game, so Allen’s long-distance shooting will definitely be needed in this series.
If the regular season is any indication, we might see a very competitive postseason series. Milwaukee and Boston split their regular-season series 2-2, and three of those four games were closely contested. Tatum did not play in one of those defeats and averaged 31.3 points per game over his three matchups with the Bucks. The Celtics have been tough on opposing guards, but Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday has held his own, averaging 20.7 points and 8.0 assists against Boston. Look for a heavier dose of Robert Williams and/or Grant Williams as the Celtics try to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ other big men. Robert Williams was on a minutes restriction in the first round since he recently returned from a left meniscus tear.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat
Monday, May 2 | TV: TNT
After initial fears the 76ers would blow a 3-0 lead in their first-round series, they dominated the second half of Game 6 and trounced Toronto by 35 points to advance into the semifinals. Unfortunately, the road doesn’t get any easier, as a well-rested Heat squad awaits. Miami posted a strong 29-12 record at home this season and came close to sweeping the Hawks, backed by the strength of its defense and three-point arsenal. The 76ers will need more big games from James Harden (22 points and 15 assists vs. Toronto in Game 6), as well as long-distance shooting from Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris. In the quarterfinals, Maxey averaged 21.3 points per game and Harris was the most reliable with a 47.4% mark from beyond the arc.
Keep a close eye on the status of Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry heading into Monday night. Butler is battling some right knee inflammation and Lowry has a left hamstring strain. It’s much more likely that Butler plays than Lowry, but both stars could have been conservatively rested in the first round by coach Erik Spoelstra to save them for what’s to come. The Heat do have a significant edge on the 76ers when it comes to bench depth, as Victor Oladipo scored 23 points when called upon to fill the void in Butler’s absence. Philly split the regular-season matchups with Miami two games apiece, and all four contests were fairly low-scoring, so this could shape up to be a back-and-forth series heading toward six or seven games.