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Top Picks: NBA’s first round has been dull, but Rockets vs. Jazz offers a best bet

Houston's James Harden

I want to thank the NBA for playing along. If you missed it on Friday, I laid out my plans for how the NBA should restructure its playoff format. Instead of having four rounds of seven-game series, I argued the NBA should go with a three-game series in the first round, a seven-game series in the second, and then nine-game series for both the conference finals and NBA Finals. My argument was that it would lead to more interesting games between the teams fans want to see.

And then the weekend happened and drove the point home further.

The first round stinks. Boston swept Indiana on Sunday while Golden State, Toronto and Portland all took a 3-1 lead in their series before heading home for the respective Game Fives. Those series are more than likely done. The Sixers are in the same situation. On Monday night, both Houston and Milwaukee can finish out sweeps over Utah and Detroit respectively.

All of which means we could have only one first-round series go longer than five games. How exciting. Thank god we have these games to watch instead of more games that would be more competitive and entertaining.

I mentioned the two NBA games that will be played tonight, and our first pick of the evening begins with one of them. All odds via Westgate.

1. Rockets at Jazz: Under 214.5

The line in this game opened with Houston as a 1-point favorite at my local establishment, and I got the Rockets there. It’s moved to Houston -3 since then, however, and could climb even higher before tip (or it could correct). If it gets down to Houston -1.5 or lower, I recommend it, but I don’t like the line where it sits on Monday afternoon. I do like the under, though.

The under is 2-0-1 in the first three games of this series as these teams have combined to average a total of 211 points per game. The highest point total in any of the games was 216, and I think this line is a bit optimistic. In fact, it opened at 212.5 points, and as the public is wont to do, it’s been bet up two points. That’s fine. Maybe it’ll get even higher than it is now. Take advantage of it. The under only gets more profitable the longer a series goes.

2. Phillies at Mets: Under 8.5

You may recall that last week I took the under 9.5 in a game between the Mets and Phillies in Philadelphia. The Phillies quickly scored 10 runs in the first inning against Mets starter Stephen Matz. Well, Matz is starting tonight, and here I am on the under again. The reason is that that was an outlier – a freak occurrence. One not likely to happen again, and the same reasons I liked the under in that game last week are in play again here for the most part. Plus the current forecast calls for some rain as well as the wind blowing straight in from center. That will only help our cause.

3. Twins at Astros: Under 9.5

This is just a case of the total being too high, thanks mostly to an Astros offense most of the world realizes is good, and a Twins offense showing plenty of thump itself. Minnesota comes into this series averaging 5.63 runs per game, which is the fourth-highest average in MLB. They’re also fifth in home run rate at 4.5 percent, just a spot ahead of Houston at 4.4 percent. It’s things like this that make for high totals, and being the contrarian I am, when everybody’s going left, I like to go right and vice versa. The fact the under has gone 6-2 in the last eight games between these teams (and 5-1 in last six in Houston) as well as 6-2 in Houston starter Brad Peacock’s last eight home starts is reassuring as well.

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