Since 2005, the NBA Finals have tipped off with one team greater than a -200 favorite five times.
San Antonio opened at -500 over upstart Cleveland in 2007. The Lakers were -290 against Orlando in 2009. The 2013 Heat, in a rare case for this millennium of an Eastern Conference team being favored, were -240 against the Spurs. The Golden State Warriors were a staggering -2000 favorite over the Cavs in 2017. And the same Warriors-Cavaliers matchup in 2018 featured -1000 odds on Golden State.
In all five cases, the favored teams won. And only that ’13 Miami team, which eked out a 4-3 win with the help of a Game 6 miracle, needed more than five games to take care of business.
Long story short: Big favorites are big favorites for a reason.
And when the 2018-’19 NBA Finals get started this Thursday, the Warriors, in search of the NBA’s first three-peat since the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, will be a big favorite. This despite the fact that (a) the Toronto Raptors have home-court advantage, and (b) nobody knows when Kevin Durant, arguably the best player in the entire league, will return to the court for Golden State.
What are the odds?
This year’s series odds most closely resemble the 2009 Lakers-Magic series, which saw LA at -290 and Orlando at +240.
At the famed Superbook at the Westgate in Las Vegas, the Warriors were -275 and the Raptors +225 when Toronto clinched on Saturday, then Golden State action moved the line to -310/+250, before it dropped to -300/+240 close to publication of this article.
Of course, the Vegas books aren’t the only option for regulated sports betting in the U.S. anymore. In New Jersey, in addition to 10 brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, there are a dozen online/mobile books and counting. Here’s a look at the series prices at five of them:
As you can see, a little line shopping goes a long way. If you believe in the Warriors, DraftKings can save you a few dollars over the other sites. If you think Toronto has a real shot at the title, Caesars Casino, one of the more lightly trafficked sportsbooks in the state, offers a better return than the competitors.
But whether either side at any of these prices appeals to you depends quite a bit on your position on the two theoretical advantages for the Raptors.
Because the Raptors finished 58-24 during the regular season and Golden State ended up 57-25, this series opens in Toronto and the Warriors will host at most three games.
Then there’s the KD question. Durant hasn’t played since injuring his calf in Game 5 of the conference semis against Houston. He has been ruled out for Game 1 of the finals, and may or may not travel with the team to Toronto.
Bad news for the Warriors, right? Well, they’ve kinda won five straight playoff games without Durant. And before this latest injury, they were 24-1 in games without Durant, but with Stephen Curry in the lineup, since acquiring KD. Many observers have even suggested that Golden State’s offense flows much better without Durant as an option.
Other ways to bet
Picking a series winner is fairly straightforward — but straightforward wagering isn’t for everyone. Here are some other betting options to explore:
The odds vary a bit from site to site, so by all means shop around, but since DraftKings Sportsbook offers the most players to choose from, we’ll use their series MVP odds as an example:
- Stephen Curry: -143
- Kawhi Leonard: +250
- Draymond Green: +650
- Kevin Durant: +1400
- Klay Thompson: +2000
- Kyle Lowry: +3000
- Pascal Siakam: +5000
- Serge Ibaka:10000
- DeMarcus Cousins: +20000
A few notes:
- Leonard is a fascinating option to consider, given how utterly impossible it seems for the Raptors to win without their superstar Kawhi carrying the load. Frankly, it appears at least as likely that Leonard could be named MVP of a series his team loses (this has happened once in NBA history, when Jerry West was named Finals MVP in 1969) as it could that another Toronto player, like Lowry, Siakam, or Ibaka, pulls it off. But at every site, the odds on Leonard for MVP are slightly longer than the odds on Toronto to win. If you believe in Toronto’s chances, it seems backing Kawhi as an individual is a better bet.
- No site has odds available on Andre Iguodala — who just happens to be a former NBA Finals MVP (2015) and who will get plenty of playing time as long as Durant is out.
- Speaking of Durant, he’s an intriguing long shot if you believe he’ll play and be near 100%. Especially if the Warriors drop Game 1 without him and then win the series with him, he has a shot.
- And speaking of injured players, Cousins is listed as “questionable” for Game 1. It’s a bit unusual that you can bet on him for MVP but not Iggy.
Exact number of games
Let’s say you believe in Golden State but -300 (or so) odds don’t excite you. You can get a richer return if you have a good feeling about how many games the series will go. These odds look similar at most books; using FanDuel Sportsbook’s prices as an example:
- Warriors in 4: +500
- Warriors in 5: +350
- Warriors in 6: +240
- Warriors in 7: +550
- Raptors in 4: +4300
- Raptors in 5: +1300
- Raptors in 6: +1200
- Raptors in 7: +550
And for a twist on that type of series betting, you can bet on Golden State -2.5 games — in other words, the Warriors winning the series either 4-0 or 4-1 — at +172 odds on FanDuel, while the Raptors +2.5 games comes with a -215 cost. At DK, the same bet is priced at +180/-230, and you can move the line to any half-game increment you’d like.
Prefer to sink your money into the shorter-term markets? Game 1 lines are posted, and every sportsbook we’ve seen has the home Raptors listed as 1-point favorites, and the over/under on total points set at 214.5.
The moneylines vary only slightly from one site to the next. At FanDuel, Toronto is -114, Golden State -102; at DraftKings, Toronto is -113, Golden State is even-money; and at PointsBet, both sides are less attractive, with Toronto at -115 and Golden State at -105.
Those PointsBet moneylines might not be great, but the site makes up for it with its spread betting. As usual at PointsBet, while most books make you pay -110 juice, this 1-point spread is available at -105 both ways.
Photo by Jaime Valdez / USA Today Sports
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