No Clear Favorite For Knicks-Hawks, Nuggets-Blazers

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Julius Randle #30 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks
Julius Randle #30 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks

The NBA playoffs are as unpredictable as ever this year, a fact highlighted a pair of first-round series. The matchup between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks is being deemed a toss-up, while a similar sentiment has been expressed for the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Neither the Knicks nor the Hawks has been pegged as the betting favorite. Both teams have -110 odds at FanDuel Sportsbook to win the East’s 4-5 series. New York and Atlanta finished the regular season with the exact same record.

As the No. 3 seed, the Nuggets are such slight favorites against the Trail Blazers that the difference is negligible. Denver has -117 odds to advance to the second round. Portland is technically an underdog, though their -107 odds mean a bettor will have to wager more than they can win.

The Knicks emerged as this season’s most pleasant surprise. New York was projected to be among the league’s worst teams, set to finish near the top of the draft lottery. The Knicks didn’t just end their seven-year playoff drought, but they earned home-court advantage in the first round.

Tom Thibodeau is a Coach of the Year candidate, turning the Knicks into a top-five defensive team. Julius Randle is the runaway favorite for Most Improved Player, averaging 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.

New York has won 16 of its last 20 games. The Knicks swept the Hawks 3-0 in their regular-season series.

Atlanta dealt with injuries during those meetings with New York, and the Hawks are as hot as any team in the conference. Since the start of April, Atlanta has an 18-8 record.

Trae Young leads all players in the series with 25.3 points per game. Young averaged 12.0 assists in his three meetings with the Knicks. Clint Capela is the series’ top rebounder with 14.3 boards per game. Capela had 25 points and 22 rebounds in an April 21 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. 

Even during their impressive 2021 campaigns, the Knicks and Hawks have never been confused for championship contenders. The Nuggets had been viewed as legitimate threats in the Western Conference before Jamal Murray was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

Without their No. 2 scorer, Denver is susceptible against the No. 6 seed Blazers. Portland finished five games behind the Nuggets while dealing with their share of injuries. The Blazers have gotten healthy and won 10 of their last 12 contests.

Damian Lillard could finish as a top-five MVP vote-getter. Portland’s point guard averaged 28.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Nikola Jokic is the overwhelming MVP favorite. The center led the Nuggets to a 13-5 record after Murray got hurt.

The Nuggets beat the Blazers twice before losing in Portland in a meaningless regular-season finale.




Photo: Getty Images | Emilee Chinn

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