As Jalen Rose likes to remind people, every sporting event has one thing in common – a betting line. Whether you’re a casual bettor dropping a tiny sprinkle on game 7 of the finals once every few years or a degenerate drinking whiskey and scouring the internet for a stream of Euroleague play at 3am because you need Anadolu Efes to cover a seven-point spread, there are things you need know as a bettor. The first thing when it comes to the NBA? That playoff basketball is an entirely different animal than the regular season.
Players who can’t guard a 6 year-old on a Fisher Price net during the year turn into respectable defenders, coaching and strategy take drastic upturns in importance, and every player shows up every night. The variables that inform bets increase in the playoffs compared to the regular season. You’re not catching a top team on the second night of a back-to-back underestimating a bottom-dweller. Instead, every strength and weakness of every player and team is magnified. With every minute played, strategies are jettisoned and new ones are thrown together on the fly.
As bettors, our main focus has to be on the nearly ineffable idea of “value”. In the Cleveland/Boston series, taking the heavily-favored Cavs (-5000) obviously isn’t as alluring as them at -150, for example. With that in mind, what needs to be weighed is not only the likelihood of the desired outcome but the bang for your buck, so to speak. The idea for betting in the playoffs is to act as a thermometer gauging the temperature of the series. The ebbs and flows of a series is what makes playoff basketball so great. Given that, let’s look at the 2015 playoffs with an eye towards how some long-term bets can affect our bankrolls.
The “Good Value If ____ Happens” Bet
Portland Trailblazers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
Series Odds: POR (+155), MEM (-185)
Playoffs at the Grindhouse. Is there anything better? Memphis is a team that is very often attributed as being a team built for the playoffs. To add to that, this year’s Grizzlies team also showed signs of absolute dominance early in the season behind the play of their two big men primarily – Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. This series, however, comes down to a single man – Mike Conley. In a phrase we’ve regrettably heard too often around the league this year, Conley still has “no timetable for a return” after missing the final four games of the season with a sprained right foot. What’s worse is that there are rumors of him being shut down for the season. In a series against an electrifying offensive point guard on the opposite end whose defense is alarmingly soft, the Griz would be forced to play Beno “Forget What Happened in New York” Udrih. To make matters worse, accompanying Conley on the “no timetable” list is defensive stalwart Tony Allen who would have likely been chosen to lock up the aforementioned stud opposing point guard, Damian Lillard. If those two key players for the Griz can’t have an impact on this series then that +156 line looks really, really good. All that without mentioning how great LaMarcus Aldridge is. That’s great value to me in series that should be tight – more so when factoring in the injuries.
Bet: Portland +156 to win the series (contingent on the health of Conley and Allen)
The “Well…Someone Has To Win, Right?” Bet
Toronto Raptors (4) (-192) vs Washington Wizards (5) (+160)
(Series and Game 1 Outcome)
Two of the most frustrating teams to watch this year will face off in the middle seed matchup of the Eastern conference. Both Toronto and Washington came blazing out of the gate showing everyone in the league they were contenders. The problem? They weren’t. After a sizzling few months by both teams, there were two equally depressing swifts that left many questioning who exactly these teams could beat at various points in the season. For all the spurts of brilliance each team has shown, they’ve also shown complete ineptitude as well. Having said that, someone has to win this series. It would be easy to say that in a series that should be the tightest out of the first round matchups neither team should be favoured at -192. It would also be easy to say that Washington’s defense, rebounding, and shooting are all marginally better than Toronto’s. The Raptors, however, managed to finish 4th in points per game as a team ahead of offensive juggernauts Cleveland, Houston, and San Antonio. And while their offensive prowess has tapered off some with struggles from key players recently like Valanciunas and Lowry, Demar Derozan has seemingly picked up where he left off last year as a centerpiece of an offense. Coaching is another huge advantage for Toronto as Dwayne Casey is one of the more underrated coaches in the league. As for Washington? Sigh…Randy Wittman still has a job, doesn’t he? Now that Jacque Vaughn got ousted in Orlando, Wittman has to be fighting with Scott Brooks in the line for “next to be fired”.
In the end, the NBA playoffs are often the breeding ground for future stars in the league (see: Paul George and Jimmy Butler for recent examples). This, of course, is where John Wall comes in. Outside of Chris Paul, there is no better assist-man in the league than the former Kentucky Wildcat. At +160, Washington has good value here. Whether they’re the better team or not, neither of these two clubs are far ahead of the other enough to warrant a near -200 line. As for game one, with their fate sealed as a playoff team for a few weeks now, both John Wall and Paul Pierce were able to get some much needed rest for a team that looked to have peaked far too early. Another interesting note in this series is the home court advantage. A lot has been made by the media this year about the lack of decided advantage that home teams seem to have this year. Couple that with a more intriguing idea that was first presented by sports personality Gabriel Morency formerly of Team 990 Montreal and TheScore, and then corroborated by countless fans – this is not the Toronto crowd that brought on the tremendous “We The North” fervor of last year’s playoffs. The Raptors have the highest ticket prices in the league (set that sink in for a second) and are essentially up selling to business men over the die hard fanatics that offered up a true sixth man element to last year’s playoff team. I fully expect this Toronto team to come out flat against a rested Wizards team regardless of the negative effect Wittman has on his own team.
Series Bet: Washington +160
Game 1 Bet: Washington +4.5
Quick Hits On Other Series (And Why I Don’t See Value):
(1) Atlanta Hawks (-1430) vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets (+800): There is little to no value here unless you’re looking at picking the number of games this series will go (which fluctuate game to game). Atlanta should take care of Brooklyn fairly easy but with the play of Brook Lopez lately and the cruise control the Hawks have been in, don’t be surprised if Brooklyn managed to steal a game or two.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers (-5000) vs. (7) Boston Celtics (+1700): This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen! The Celtics Cinderella story will undoubtedly come to an end in the first round. This series won’t go past 4 games unless something catastrophic happens. The only value here is taking the Cavs to win 4-0 but even that will garner quite low odds.
(3) Chicago Bulls (-714) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks (+500): This one should be a little more competitive. It’s a hard series to gauge. Chicago is by far the better team but has consistently struggled during the year against lesser opponents. The Bucks are a long, young, tenacious team but that shouldn’t matter too much. Bulls will undoubtedly win the series but with the health of many Bulls players in question (Noah, Rose, etc), expect for Milwaukee to force their hand a little bit.
(1) Golden State (-10000) vs. (8) New Orleans (+2000): Oh, poor Anthony Davis. The Brow has made the playoffs for the first time. It’s just a shame that his Pelicans will be up against a historically great Warriors team in the opening round. There’s some sort of magical aura surrounding Davis but that will hardly be enough to worry Curry and Co. There’s a reason why the Warriors are the most heavily favoured team in this first round.
(2) Houston Rockets (-286) vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks (+230): The Houston-Dallas series has the eerie feeling of an upset waiting to happen. The last time Dallas was counted out against a superior team they dragged San Antonio to seven games kicking and screaming. This time around, Houston provides a much more straightforward offensive problem – James Harden and a bunch of 3 points shooters. With Rajon Rondo and defensive wing Al-Farouq Aminu likely sharing the duty of guarding Harden, rest assured that the Beard will get his points. It is nearly unstoppable for a team as weak at team defensive as Dallas to shut down a scorer as dynamic as Harden. However, with Dirk and Monta Ellis, any one of the games of this series can be stolen. Add the injuries of two key players like Patrick Beverley and Donatas Montiejunas who are both done for the year and this makes the Rockets all the more ripe for the picking.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers (+145) vs. (6) San Antonio (-172): Here we go again. This is the year the Spurs finally show their age, right? If the past few months were any indication, the answer would be no. The Spurs were one of the hottest teams down the stretch thanks in part to the play of last year’s finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. They draw a Clippers team that has been somewhat of a cakewalk over the past few seasons. It seems like LA just can’t get over the hump and having to face Coach Pop and the Spurs in the first round doesn’t make things any easier. The value here at +145 for Los Angeles is intriguing to say the least but I’ve learned my lesson. Until I see the Spurs prove that the’re over the hill, I’m not betting against them.
Outright Betting Odds
(Odds to win the championship)
Cleveland Cavaliers +240
Golden State Warriors +250
San Antonio Spurs +400
Chicago Bulls +1200
Los Angeles Clippers +1200
Houston Rockets +1400
Dallas Mavericks +2800
Portland Trailblazers +3300
Toronto Raptors +3300
Brooklyn Nets +15000
New Orleans Pelicans +15000
Milwaukee Bucks +15000
Boston Celtics +20000
Here is where your money can go a long way if you don’t mind sitting on part of your bankroll for a while. The Cavs are clear cut favorites to make it to the finals so the +240 line is a decent buy. Same goes for Golden State and San Antonio – top teams that are among the favorites to win it all but who are getting good value. As tempting as some of these odds are, it’d be hard to convince many of laying down dollars on any one other than the top 3-6 teams. That stats don’t lie. Only four times in the history of the league has a team outside of the top 3 seeds made the finals and only one of those teams won the championship. This bodes well for the Los Angeles Clippers. At +1200, this is a team that is built to go a long way in the playoffs. Their biggest problem is a first round matchup with the Spurs. If they do manage to get out of the first round, a motivated Chris Paul and a dominant DeAndre Jordan mixed with the return of key injured players in the recent past (Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford) could make for a scary opponent for any team.
All-in-all, this is an exciting year to be a sports fan and an even more exciting one to be a bettor. The lines and spreads mentioned are surely to swing as public money comes in on either side. We’ll be looking at how to bet individual games in the series as they develop in the coming weeks. As with watching any line move, it’s just a matter of jumping on the train at the right time and hoping that train is headed in the right direction. Let’s see where this one takes us.