The first round of the NBA playoffs doesn’t tell you much about any team’s championship prospects. And the first game of a series is often a getting-to-know-you affair that has little bearing on which team will get to four wins first.
But by four games deep in the second round of the postseason, fans have a pretty good idea of where everyone stands.
That opening game that the Bucks dropped at home against the Celtics? Looking fluky. That minor struggle the Warriors had with the Clippers in the first round? Possibly indicative of the rocky road ahead.
Thanks to the NBA deciding the Warriors and Rockets needed four days to get from Oakland to Houston last week, all of the second-round series are caught up with each other — four down, three (or fewer) to go. And at this point, with three series tied at two games apiece and one series almost clinched at 3-1, attentive fans should know just as much as the bookmakers.
It’s a great time to recalibrate and look for attractive sports betting odds. So here’s what’s on the board in New Jersey in the short term (Game 5s), medium term (second-round series), slightly longer term (conference finals), and long term (championship and finals MVP). Oh, and we’ll take a quick look at the looong term, now that some 2020 title odds are posted and Big Apple fans might be ready to bite.
Tonight the Raptors and 76ers head back to Toronto tied 2-2, and the Nuggets and Blazers return to Denver in the same position. The home teams are favored: Raptors by 6 at some books, 6½ at others; Nuggets by 4½ across the board.
Road teams have won half the games in both series so far, making Portland (as high as +165 on the moneyline at PointsBet) and Philly (+220 at FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook) good value — especially considering neither home team has given any clear indication that it’s a superior squad.
Tomorrow, the Celtics return to Milwaukee fighting for their playoff lives at a 3-1 disadvantage, and in the marquee matchup of the postseason, the Rockets and Warriors return to Golden State’s home floor knotted at two. Again, the home teams are favored: Bucks by 10 or 9½, Warriors by 5½ or 6.
Do you believe the Celtics can get back in it? They’re a juicy +400 on the moneyline at DraftKings; the best price you’ll find going the other way is -460 on the Bucks at FanDuel. (Of course, if you listened to the Gamble On podcast a couple of weeks ago and played along, you’d be feeling pretty good right now about betting on the Bucks to win in exactly five games at +275 odds.) Meanwhile, the Rockets, winners of two straight, are +220 at DraftKings to keep the momentum going and put the favored Warriors’ season on the ropes.
Best bet: When Joel Embiid isn’t dealing with a tummy ache or a fever, the Sixers have looked like a better, deeper team than Toronto. The Raptors clearly have the best player in Kawhi Leonard, but in what looks like a 50/50 game if you’ve been paying close attention all series, Philly on the moneyline at +220 is a little too wide to pass up.
Second round series
Shopping around, here are the best odds you’ll find on each team to prevail:
- Raptors: -250 (DraftKings)
- 76ers: +205 (DraftKings, FanDuel)
- Nuggets: -148 (PointsBet)
- Trail Blazers: +128 (DraftKings)
- Bucks: -5000 (DraftKings, FanDuel)
- Celtics: +2500 (PointsBet)
- Warriors: -250 (DraftKings)
- Rockets: +205 (DraftKings, FanDuel)
As prohibitive as those Milwaukee odds look, they’re really not that bad; PointsBet has them at -10000. Most of the other odds are within a few cents of each other at the various sportsbooks.
What to bet comes down to whether you believe either team in any of these 2-2 series is in fact better than its opponent. If you feel like Houston or Philly is about the equal of Golden State or Toronto, they’re looking good at more than 2/1. The Denver-Portland odds are much tighter, which is no surprise given how hard it is to tell from night to night which of those teams has the edge. After all, it took four overtimes to figure it out in Game 3.
Best bet: It remains to be seen if Houston can win at Oracle Arena, and the Rockets didn’t look great in pulling out two wins at home, but they’re right where they wanted to be all season: still healthy in the thick of a series with the Warriors. Yes, Kevin Durant is outplaying James Harden so far. And Golden State has Steph Curry waiting to fully heat up (if he’s healthy enough) and two of the final three games at home. The Warriors have to be the favorite. But at +205, the Rockets are much more live than the moneyline suggests and are the wiser wager.
Again, here are the best odds you’ll find on each team at the New Jersey sportsbooks:
- Bucks: -200 (DraftKings)
- Raptors: +230 (DraftKings)
- 76ers: +800 (FanDuel, PointsBet)
- Celtics: +6600 (PointsBet)
- Warriors: -182 (DraftKings)
- Rockets: +270 (FanDuel)
- Nuggets: +850 (FanDuel)
- Trail Blazers: +1300 (DraftKings)
These bets are unofficial parlays, where you’re playing a hunch about how the second-round series will all play out, who has the edge in a conference finals matchup, and which odds offer the best value on which hunch.
There’s something to be said for taking one of the favorites. The Warriors at -182 to win the West, rather than -250 just to beat the Rockets, isn’t bad. The Bucks, who are obviously in great shape to make the Eastern Conference finals, make a lot of sense at -200. It’s hard to find fault in either of those bets. But …
Best bet: The Blazers are a longshot worth thinking about here. Their series with Denver could go either way, yet they’re worth about 50% more money to win the West than the Nuggets. And isn’t it possible, or even likely, that the Rockets and Warriors wear each other down physically and emotionally over a seven-game series? The winning team might come out with injuries, and will almost certainly enter the next series struggling to “get up” after having just beaten its most feared rival. At +1300, the parlay of Portland over Denver, a letdown for the Golden State-Houston winner, and the series of his life from Damian Lillard is worth a shot.
NBA championship and finals MVP
Best title odds on each of the remaining eight teams:
- Warriors: -121 (DraftKings)
- Bucks: +380 (FanDuel)
- Rockets: +550 (PointsBet)
- Raptors: +1000 (PointsBet)
- 76ers: +2300 (FanDuel)
- Nuggets: +2300 (FanDuel)
- Trail Blazers: +4000 (DraftKings, PointsBet)
- Celtics: +15000 (DraftKings)
Considering Boston is “only” +6000 to win the title at FanDuel, there is some value, in a sense, in those DK odds. Still, realistically, it’s hard to find great return in any of these numbers. You’re parlaying a lot of uncertainties with any of these teams. The time to bet the Rockets was when they were +1500 a couple of months ago. Maybe the time to bet the Warriors is now — if you don’t see any way Houston wins two more games.
Perhaps the more interesting odds — although there’s an extra level of guesswork-based parlaying — are on Finals MVP.
Using the best odds for each player, Durant is the favorite at +140, Giannis Antetokounmpo is +410, Harden is +575, Curry is +600, Leonard is +1100, and everyone else is 25/1 or higher. Want some not-so-crazy longshots? Consider Nikola Jokic at +2500, Lillard at +5000, Khris Middleton at +7000, Klay Thompson at +12000, and in a fun one that requires about a dozen dubious “if/then” statements, Jimmy Butler at +15000.
It’s never too soon to look ahead — especially if you’re a New York Knicks fan desperate to run away from the past.
The Superbook at Westgate in Las Vegas got some attention over the weekend by posting 2019-’20 title odds, and PointsBet happens to have the exact same odds up. Which of these names among the seven favorites jumps out at you?
- Warriors +175
- Bucks +450
- Celtics +700
- Rockets +1000
- 76ers +1000
- Knicks +1600
- Clippers +1600
Yes, that’s right, only five teams have shorter odds than the Knicks, who had the worst record in the regular season this year. It’s obvious why (beyond the simple fact that Knicks fans desperately want to believe and can be expected to bet on their team in New Jersey): Kevin Durant is widely expected to wear a Knicks uniform next season. And he might attract another superstar to follow. Plus the Knicks have a 14% chance at drafting Zion Williamson and are guaranteed to pick in the top five.
Honestly, if you’re convinced Durant is coming — which in turn weakens the Warriors significantly — 16/1 is a pretty darned tempting price.
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