If you’ve yet to notice, the Memphis Grizzlies tend to play with large chips on their shoulders. And things just got a lot grizzlier for their first-round opponents, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers.
If the @Lakers are going to beat the Memphis Grizzlier they have to control the pace and the role players like Reaves, Schröder, D Lo, Beasley, Hachimura, and Troy Brown Jr. have to play great to help AD and LeBron. I’d also like to see Lonnie Walker play in the Memphis series.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 12, 2023
Insightful! Still, Memphis is narrowly favored to win its first-round playoff series against LeBron James and company, whose ultra-ugly effort in a play-in squeaker against a depleted Minnesota squad did little to inspire long-term confidence.
“The Lakers can look bad and still win games, but they’re just a strange team,” observed David Lieberman, Caesars Sportsbook’s lead NBA analyst. “They looked dead at some points, but you just knew that once they get LeBron and A.D. (Anthony Davis) playing, they always have a shot to take out any team. I still think the Grizzlies deserve to be a small favorite, but it’s probably going to be a good series, and at any given point, LeBron and A.D. are capable of being good enough to beat the Grizzlies.”
Following are short previews of that and every other first-round playoff NBA series, save for the 1 vs. 8 games, where the lower seed — probably destined to be eliminated by the Bucks or Nuggets — in each matchup will be determined Friday night. (All series winner odds courtesy of Caesars.)
#2 Memphis Grizzlies (-155) vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers (+135)
While the Grizzlies are down Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke in this series, they still have former Michigan State Spartans Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman to give Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis fits down low. If A.D. is hindered by that pair and Dillon Brooks can slow James any, the Grizzlies will only get Grizzlier as they prepare for a second-round date with either Sacramento or Golden State.
I asked LeBron for his early thoughts on the Memphis matchup. After listing out his scouting report for most of their rotation, he deadpanned, “Obviously, I haven’t thought about Memphis one minute.” pic.twitter.com/PeUJ4sXJYs
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) April 12, 2023
#3 Sacramento Kings (+210) vs. #6 Golden State Warriors (-260)
This battle for the North Bay is just plain weird. Golden State is the defending champ, but has been downright awful on the road this year. Sacramento, meanwhile, has been the most surprisingly successful team in the league, earning its first playoff berth — and home-court advantage, to boot — since 2006. So who’s favored to advance? Golden State, by a good margin.
When asked if the general consensus among oddsmakers was that the Warriors could just flip a switch and suddenly be able to win away from home, Lieberman said, “Yeah, that’s the general idea that, behind their struggles on the road in the regular season, they either rested guys or just in general didn’t quite come to play as hard. It was kind of understandable coming off a championship and getting a little older, and once the playoffs roll around, it won’t be much trouble giving a full effort and playing all their guys every night. Game 1, it will be a pretty hostile atmosphere in Sacramento.”
#4 Phoenix Suns (-470) vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers (+350)
Just as the Grizzlies-Lakers series odds are more befitting of a 4-5 matchup, the Suns-Clippers odds are more befitting of a 2-7 pairing. So it goes in the Western Conference this year, although if the injured Paul George were likely to play for the Clippers in this series, it would be a different story.
“That would have a pretty huge impact on the series price,” Lieberman said of George’s presumed absence. “I just see them having a tough time beating the Suns without him.”
#2 Boston Celtics (-1000) vs. #7 Atlanta Hawks (+650)
Forget about whether the Hawks can win this series and focus instead on whether Quin Snyder’s squad, which manhandled Miami on Monday to advance out of the play-in, can extend the series to six games (+275 in Caesars’ Total Number of Games market, with a 4-2 Celtics win priced at +370).
“With a lot of these matchups, even the big underdogs can push a series to six and even seven,” said Lieberman. “It’s exciting — usually these 1-8s and 2-7s are over in four or five games each year.”
#3 Philadelphia 76ers (-900) vs. # 6 Brooklyn Nets (+600)
No Net is going to slow down Joel Embiid, one of the two most unguardable players (along with Giannis Antetokounmpo) in the league. But if, collectively, the Nets — namely Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton — can annoy notorious playoff underachiever James Harden into being something less than his best self, this could be a surprisingly competitive series, especially with the virtual guarantee that Doc Rivers will stubbornly hold fast to some sort of dunderheaded playoff adjustment that imperils Philly’s fortunes.
There’s an obvious best-case scenario this postseason for Sixers fans: an NBA title. But, frankly, the second-best result would be a stunning first-round ouster that would all but guarantee Rivers’ firing.
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers (-205) vs. #5 New York Knicks (+170)
Should the Knicks have offered more to acquire Donovan Mitchell from Utah this past offseason? Whether a backcourt featuring the Cavs’ leading scorer and Jalen Brunson would have bloomed in the Garden is a question that may be answered by the result of this highly compelling best-of-seven matchup.
“I’m not sure how far Cleveland can go with the Mitchell-Garland backcourt,” said Lieberman. “Maybe that will give us an idea of how Brunson-Mitchell would have gone.”
Those two guards aside, how quickly Knicks All-Star Julius Randle returns to the court from an ankle injury will probably determine whether an encouraging Knicks season is allowed to proceed.
Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images