Sports betting is an inexact science. Just ask anyone who bet on the Golden State Warriors against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.
On one side, you had the team with the best record in the Western Conference, the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA championship for the third year in a row, and a team battling nip and tuck for home field advantage in the postseason. On the other side, you had the team with the worst record in the Western Conference, a franchise that had lost 18 times in a row against this particular opponent, and a team that, if it wants to maximize its chances of drafting Duke’s Zion Williamson, should be trying to lose.
The Suns beat the Warriors 115-111. That means Phoenix covered the 16-point spread by 20 points and shattered the bankroll of anyone who thought Golden State was worth a -2000 bet on the moneyline.
In the world of unscripted athletics, upsets happen. That said, the stretch run in the NBA tends to present its share of relatively predictable betting opportunities. You know which teams are playing for playoff positioning and which ones are (or at least should be) tanking. Key players are given nights off with some regularity toward the end of the season, so if you keep a close eye on the news close to tipoff, you can sometimes spot an edge before the lines change.
The regular season wraps up on April 10, which means we’re now less than a month from the finish line. Here’s a look at where the futures options stand at the New Jersey sportsbooks and which teams figure to spend the next four weeks eyin’ Zion.
Understanding that the teams with the three worst records all get an equal chance at landing the top pick in the draft this year, thus reducing the intensity of the race to the bottom, there are 11 teams that bear watching for their potential to mail it in:
- New York Knicks (13-54): In perpetual tank mode, whether they mean to be or not
- Phoenix Suns (16-52): 5-2 in their last 7, flirting with climbing out of the bottom 3
- Cleveland Cavaliers (17-50): Could they pick first overall for the fourth time this decade?
- Chicago Bulls (19-49): Will be interesting to see if they hold Zach Lavine out to have a shot at the bottom three
- Atlanta Hawks (23-45): A (Trae) Young and frisky team, not playing to lose so far
- Dallas Mavericks (27-39): Lost five straight; their pick goes to Atlanta if it’s outside the top 5
- Washington Wizards (28-39): Not quite dead yet, just 3½ games back in the gruesome Southeast Division
- Memphis Grizzlies (28-40): Won three straight; their pick goes to Boston if it’s outside the top 8
- New Orleans Pelicans (30-39): Anthony Davis is playing part time, and they won’t rush Jrue Holiday back from injury
- Los Angeles Lakers (30-36): Who would have guessed LeBron James would be on a minutes restriction by March?
- Minnesota Timberwolves (32-35): Mathematically alive, but let’s see if they push hobbled Karl-Anthony Towns to return
There are now 13 online sports betting sites to choose from in New Jersey, to go along with 10 land-based sportsbooks, and comparison shopping is a must for serious bettors. Here’s a look at what shopping around at a sampling of just three sites opens up when looking at odds to win the NBA title:
These aren’t wild discrepancies, but it’s interesting to note that you can get better value betting the Warriors, Sixers, Thunder, or Nuggets at FanDuel Sportsbook than you can anywhere else.
There’s additional variation in the odds to win each Conference. In the East, DraftKings Sportsbook has Milwaukee shorter than Toronto, whereas FanDuel and PointsBet have the opposite. And the Celtics are +300 to win the East at FD and DK, but you can get an attractive +400 on Boston at PointsBet — a good price if you believe the underachieving team might finally gel in April or May.
In the West, Houston varies from +600 at FanDuel to +800 at PointsBet, whereas Denver jumps from +900 at DraftKings to +1400 at FanDuel. Amazingly, the Lakers, who have a less than 0.1% chance of even making the playoffs, are only +4000 underdogs to win the Western Conference at FanDuel (and are an almost-as-absurd +5000 at the other sites). If there’s a worse bet in the entire state of New Jersey, we haven’t found it.
You can also bet on a division winner, with three of them still somewhat realistically up for grabs.
In the Southwest, FanDuel has a decent price on Houston at -850 with a four-game lead over the Spurs, or you can take a shot on San Antonio at +650 at PointsBet. In the Northwest, Denver is -400 at DraftKings while FanDuel has better odds on underdog Oklahoma City (+700).
But the most intriguing division is the Southeast, where nobody is above .500 and four teams are in the hunt for the division title and the eighth seed in the East. Miami is between +115 and +130, Orlando goes from +150 to +200, and Washington is a longshot at between +1400 and +1800. But the craziest number is on Charlotte. The Hornets, 1½ games back of Miami, are +250 at DraftKings, +300 at PointsBet … and +440 at FanDuel. Even with a fairly tough remaining schedule, that’s a ridiculous return on a bet with a realistic chance of winning.
MVP is a two-man race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, with Paul George lurking if both of them should suffer late-season injuries and miss key games down the stretch. George is as high as +1100 at DraftKings, but that’s still probably not great value. It seems to be Giannis’ award to lose, and he’s -150 at DraftKings, but if the Bucks don’t end up with the best record in the league and the Rockets make a late push toward the top seed in the West (they’ve won nine straight and are now only 3½ games back of Golden State), Harden could sneak in there. The question is whether the best odds, +115 at both FD and PB, are worth it.
All three sites have the Clippers’ Lou Williams as the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, with Minnesota’s Derrick Rose the top underdog. The best price on Williams is -200 on DraftKings, while Rose is +340 at FanDuel, meaning unless some random third party wins, bettors have an opportunity, at least until one of the sites adjusts its price, to lock in a win.
Rookie of the Year is a stayaway; Luca Doncic is a -10000 favorite at DK and PB, while Trae Young is a +1200 second choice at both sites. But we’re probably past the point where even a season-ending Doncic injury changes anything. (FanDuel isn’t even offering the market anymore.)
The best odds on Defensive Player of the Year are at PointsBet, where Paul George is -200 and Rudy Gobert is +275. PointsBet is the only site offering odds on Most Improved Player, with Pascal Siakam a -334 fave and D’Angelo Russell a +250 ’dog.
Other fun props
Do you believe the Warriors will implode, suffer a significant injury, or continue to look ordinary when DeMarcus Cousins is on the floor, but you can’t decide on which underdog team will be left standing? DraftKings and PointsBet both offer a Warriors-vs.-the-field bet, with DK’s odds slightly better on both ends: -225 on Golden State to win, +160 on them not to.
PointsBet also has a unique bet related to the Warriors’ playoff prospects, asking, “Will Golden State go undefeated in the playoffs?” You can’t bet “no,” only “yes,” and the payout is a tempting +10000. Notably, however, it’s never happened before. The 1983 76ers went 12-1, the ’01 Lakers went 15-1, and the 2017 Warriors finished 16-1. (For what it’s worth, the odds of winning 16 straight coin flips are less than .002%)
DraftKings and PointsBet are both looking ahead with NBA Draft props as well.
At DK you can bet on which team will draft Zion Williamson or who will be the No. 1 pick (Zion is -2000, R.J. Barrett is +550).
At PointsBet, you can bet on which team will win the draft lottery (almost the same as betting on who will get Zion), and here’s an odd one: “Will the No. 1 pick be traded?” The “yes” pays out at +600, and you can’t bet the “no.”
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