The two favorites to meet in the NBA Finals are set to get their second-round series underway on Monday night.
The Miami Heat are expected by many to stroll through the Eastern Conference and have a shot at the championship for the third straight year, while the season-ending injury to Russell Westbrook has made the San Antonio Spurs the No.1 team in the West. The online betting Web site Bovada gives Miami 1/6 odds of winning the East. San Antonio’s odds are set at 5/7.
Both clubs, however, will have to get through their conference semifinals matchups before they can even think about winning a title. The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors pulled off first-round upsets to keep their respective seasons alive.
Can either team have another unexpected victory in the second round?
Miami Heat (-2625) Vs. Chicago Bulls (+1625)
A win by the Bulls in this best of seven series would be one of the biggest second-round upsets in NBA history.
LeBron James was just named the MVP for the fourth time in five years, and he and the rest of the Heat have looked unstoppable for much of the year. They have turned up their level of play since February, only losing three games in the past three months.
Chicago may have the best chance of any East team of stopping Miami. The Bulls split their four-game season series with the Heat, winning the last meeting without Joakim Noah. They have shown an ability to play physical defense on James and force him to take tough shots.
However, Chicago is too banged up to provide a real threat to Miami’s title defense. It appears rather unlikely that Derrick Rose will return, and Luol Deng will miss Game 1 and could be out longer due to complications of a spinal tap test for meningitis.
Dwyane Wade has been battling a knee injury, but he appears ready for this series.
Having Tom Thibodeau and a great defense could help the Bulls steal a game, but without a top offensive player, they don’t pose much of a threat to the Heat’s title defense.
Prediction: Miami in Five
San Antonio Spurs (-850) Vs. Golden State Warriors (+625)
The two second-round opponents may have been involved in the two most surprising series of the first round.
The No.6 seed Warriors were the biggest underdogs to stay alive in the playoffs. The Spurs were expected to advance, but did so in surprisingly dominant fashion, sweeping Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers by a scoring margin of 18.75 points.
Throughout the season, the Spurs have proved to be the better team. However, the Warriors have a few reasons to be optimistic.
Stephen Curry has emerged as an elite scorer and appeared to dominate his defenders in the series with the Nuggets. With an aging Tim Duncan and a banged up Tony Parker, Curry could emerge as the top performer in this series.
In four games, the two teams split their regular-season meetings. San Antonio’s sweep of L.A. has given them time to rest, but could result in their players starting off the series somewhat rusty.
The injury to David Lee may be the biggest impediment to Golden State advancing to the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors second-leading scorer will be active, but a torn hip flexor may limit his effectiveness.
At -850, the betting Spurs betting odds may be too high, but they should prevail and advance to play either the Memphis Grizzlies or Thunder.
Prediction: San Antonio in Six