NBA Playoffs expert picks, odds for Thursday: Magic-Cavs, 76ers-Knicks, Lakers-Nuggets

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NBA Playoffs expert picks, odds for Thursday: Magic-Cavs, 76ers-Knicks, Lakers-Nuggets

The NBA Playoffs move on to Game 3s on Thursday, with the lower seeds finally getting their shot at home games. Each of Thursday’s games features a series that is 2-0, led by the teams who have been playing at home. But the odds are predicting two of those series to be 2-1 by the end of the night.

The night starts with a tip-off between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, with the Magic owning the smallest edge in the odds. Next up, a revenge match in Philly where the Philadelphia 76ers will be hungry after a controversial and chaotic end of Game 2 against the New York Knicks. The night closes out with the LA Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets, where another narrow point spread favors the Nuggets.

Can the Cavaliers bust their road-playoff blues from last year and take a win in Orlando? Will the Sixers come out swinging to prove they can overcome this physical New York squad? What will LeBron James’ and the Lakers’ gut-check look like after blowing a 20-point lead in Denver on Monday?

We’ve got a preview for each game from the angle of the betting odds, plus picks from our team for each matchup.

All odds from BetMGMFind the best deals on StubHub for tickets.

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5 Orlando Magic

How to watch: 7 p.m. ET on NBA TV

Cleveland leads series 2-0

Series odds: Cavaliers -700, Magic +500

The Cavs head to Orlando up 2-0, comfortably leading despite much of their roster not playing their best ball. But Cleveland has pushed it where it counts. Jarrett Allen has been a rebounding machine, racking up 38 rebounds over the first two games and two double-doubles. By comparison, the Magic starters combined have 49, though their defense is generally solid.

Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting in Game 1 and a game-high 23 in Game 2. He’s shooting an average of 70 percent in the first quarters. But here’s where the cracks are showing. In Game 2, Mitchell only scored four points in the second half and the Cavs as a whole scored just 16 in the fourth quarter after Orlando switched its defense.

Perhaps that explains this point spread, which is very narrow for a series that hasn’t had a close game yet. As The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd put it: “The Magic aren’t that far off from making this a series. Some of those shots that didn’t fall on the road could fall at home.”

So far, though, the Magic have had trouble creating against the Cavs, shooting less than 35 percent overall and less than 24 percent from 3-point range in the two games so far. The Cavs are packing the paint and forcing long shots that just aren’t falling. The Magic are also bad on wide-open threes (no defender within 6 feet) at 11-for-44.

The key for the Magic will be to come out with more heat in the first quarter and not let the Cavs pull the game away early. That seems more likely with a home crowd, and the narrow spread for this game reflects that advantage.

Expert picks for Cavs vs. Magic

No. 2 New York Knicks at No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers

How to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT

New York leads series 2-0

Series odds: Knicks -500, 76ers +375

Hello, revenge match? Philly heads into its first home game of the series with a serious chip on its shoulder after Monday’s game. The Sixers were mere seconds away from splitting the series, and then. Oh, and then. You know what happened. A made three by Donte DiVincenzo, a time-out call by 76ers coach Nick Nurse that wasn’t granted and two officiating errors that have been incessantly litigated ever since.

It was a devastating ending for Philly after being up five points with 30 seconds left. Joel Embiid played 39 minutes and got 34 points and 10 rebounds on a knee that has been a consistent issue. Tyrese Maxey, this season’s Most Improved Player, played 44 minutes and scored 35 and contributed 10 assists. And that after sitting out the morning shootaround because of reported illness. It was an enormous effort and a devastating final seconds.

Not so devastating for the Knicks, who are now 2-0 heading to Philly, despite star Jalen Brunson struggling to find a rhythm and shooting 29 percent over the first two games. The Knicks have also spread out their scoring more than the 76ers, with 58 points coming off the bench through both games. Behind Brunson, Josh Hart is the highest scorer and the only one with a double-double in both games.

The Sixers are favored to win Game 3 at home, and our experts don’t advise betting against them for this game.

Expert picks for Knicks vs. Sixers

How to watch: 10 p.m. ET on TNT

Denver leads series 2-0

Series odds: Nuggets -1600, Lakers +850

It’s time to check in on our Nuggets’ series tracker: Denver’s odds to win the series were -350 prior to Game 1. They had doubled to -700 prior to Game 2. Now, they’ve ballooned again to -1600.

And yet, the Lakers are close underdogs for the first game at home at Arena. In a stunning turn of events in Game 2, the Lakers were up by as much as 20 points in Denver and up 10 to start the fourth quarter. They kept the lead nearly straight through until two Jamal Murray plays sealed their fate: a step-back jump shot that tied the game and then a 15-foot buzzer-beater for the win.

LeBron made 12 of the Lakers’ 20 points in the final quarter but missed a critical three with 16.1 seconds remaining. Anthony Davis had 32 points over 39 minutes, and D’Angelo Russell had 23.

The fallout from this game involved another controversial call, a foul against Russell in the final minute of the third quarter that was challenged and then reversed by the replay center.

The Nuggets outscored the Lakers by 17 points in the second half. Nikola Jokić got 32 points in the first game and 27 points and a triple-double in Game 2.

Expert picks for Nuggets vs. Lakers

More NBA Playoffs coverage

Lakers blow big lead vs. Nuggets in Game 2: ‘We have stretches where we don’t know what we’re doing

Chaos at the Garden: Knicks top 76ers in exact environment they want most

(Photo of Joel Embiid and Josh Hart: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)