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2023 NBA playoffs: Picks, best bets for Sunday, including LeBron James, Heat continuing Game 1 trends

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With the 2022-23 NBA regular season now in the books, the basketball betting market is hotter than ever. CBS Sports will be providing daily picks for the duration of the postseason. Sam Quinn will make at least one pick for every game between now and the NBA Finals. All lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

Featured Game | Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James is 28-21 in Game 1’s for his career. That’s not terrible. That’s a winning percentage of roughly 57. But he’s won over 67% of all other playoff games for his career. His individual numbers suffer similarly. It’s just an odd trend that has followed him throughout his career. LeBron gets stronger as the playoffs progress. The charitable explanation is that, thanks to his unmatched basketball IQ, he gains more strategic insight about his opponent than they gain about him the longer series goes. With this trend in mind, expect Memphis to take Game 1 and check back on the Lakers for Game 2. The pick: Grizzlies -4

Featured Game | Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

The Heat are one of the best Game 1 teams in the NBA. They are 7-2 in Game 1’s since landing Jimmy Butler. One of their two losses came in overtime against the Bucks in 2021. The other came in Game 1 of the 2020 Finals, when two of their best players quickly got injured. The Bucks are one of the worst Game 1 teams in the NBA. They are just 6-8 in Game 1’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in despite being the higher seed in four of those losses. The Bucks are eventually going to destroy the Heat in this series. Game 1 is where Erik Spoelstra empties his tool box and makes things competitive. The Bucks might still win the game. Expect the Heat to cover. The pick: Heat +9.5

Featured Game | Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers

DeAndre Ayton and Kevin Durant have played eight games together as members of the Suns. In those eight games, Ayton has averaged 13 points. More importantly, he’s averaged only around 10 shots per game. As Ayton rarely gets to the line, that field goal figure is relevant. If you think Ayton is going to take 10 shots and attempt his season average of three free-throw attempts, you’re basically asking him to shoot at least 70% from the field. That’s possible. It’s not especially likely. 

Some of this line is based on the idea that the Clippers like to play small, but Ty Lue has largely avoided doing so since adding Mason Plumlee at the deadline. Even if the Clippers do go small, Ayton isn’t exactly a switch-buster. He is still finding his role on the Durant version of the Suns, and that likely means some meager point totals early on. The pick: Ayton Under 16.5 points

Featured Game | Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Nikola Jokic is averaging 28.7 points per game against Rudy Gobert in their past 10 matchups. Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 26.2 points per game against Jokic in their past 10 matchups. Jokic’s defense in space is widely regarded as Denver’s biggest postseason weakness. He’s about to defend a team with a possible All-NBA guard in Anthony Edwards and an elite shooting big man in Towns. The Timberwolves made 29 3-pointers in their two play-in games, and that is a trend that will likely continue with Taurean Prince playing for Jaden McDaniels. Speaking of McDaniels, the Timberwolves are about to face the NBA’s No. 5 offense without their best perimeter defender. Bet on the offenses in this one. The pick: Over 224.5

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