The NBA Playoffs are rapidly approaching, and we are starting to see a clearer view as to what these first-round matchups will look like. How the bracket plays out is a huge part of how to bet these futures, as you want to attempt to avoid these tricky matchups in round one to get better hedge opportunities later on. At this point, Vegas is really not pricing in a ton of matchups because they are far from “locked in,” but making some educated guesses to evaluate some options is always in our best interest.
Golden State (-220):
I think you should bet on Golden State to win because they are good. Got it? Okay but in all seriousness, the Warriors are clearly a fantastic team that should be able to secure their third Finals victory in a row. Now the question is, is this worth my money and is this a good time to get in. I think the answer is likely yes simply due to the nature of the NBA and how these things play out. First off, we rarely see major upsets in the NBA playoffs because basketball is rather consistent at the highest level and a 7-game series usually leaves little doubt as to who was the better team. The other thing to keep in mind is that I think this line is what it is because of injury risk more than anything else. Can someone beat the Warriors in a 7-game series? Maybe. Would an injury to anyone in the starting five change the line significantly? Yes. I think every single day the Warriors go without a season-ending injury this line will get shorter and shorter. Last year, the Warriors were -900 to beat the Warriors in the Finals, even after barely escaping Houston. You will be able to hedge out of the Warriors if you want, barring any injuries, and they are CLEARLY the best team in the NBA.
The Raptors (+950), Bucks (+850), 76ers (+1100), and Celtics (+1800) are all live to escape the Eastern Conference and wind up with a date with Golden State in the Finals. These numbers are all relatively long for teams with real potential to win. My favorite bet here is pretty clearly the Celtics for a multitude of reasons. All four of these teams are relatively conservative to some degree with minutes throughout the year, but no one is more rested than the Celtics, and I think Celtics with 39 minutes of Kyrie is a lot better than Celtics with 31 minutes of Kyrie. I think you can say similar things about the Bucks, but they are more than double the odds. The Celtics also matchup really well vs. the Warriors and have a lot of options that can show up in a single game. The Celtics frustrate me at times because a lot of their talent doesn’t do anything in 80% of their games. However, just one Gordon Hayward 30-point game and an Al Horford Triple Double game could be two wins, and other teams lack that potential with as many guys as the Celtics have. In order of the best value, I would rank these four teams Celtics, Bucks, Raptors, and 76ers. The Raptors and Bucks are really close to me, but I think the Bucks would be better suited to beat Golden State if that were the situation presented.
The Rest of the West:
I still love Denver, and I think they are the best hedge play on the board because I think they are really likely to make it to the Conference Finals to take on the Warriors. The Nuggets will become even better when they shorten their rotation to 8-men like Mike Malone has said he wants to. I think the Nuggets are going to surprise a lot of people with how well they play in the first two series before they take on Golden State. I think the Nuggets have the big-time performance players like Murray and Jokic that could steal game one in Golden State or match the Warriors 2-2 to start the series. Both of these options are great hedge opportunities, which is the ideal situation.
I don’t like the Rockets and Thunder, as I think that star-centric teams will be neutralized by the Warriors come playoff time and they just lack the ball movement necessary to beat Golden State. The only other team that I don’t mind as a long shot hedge option is Utah. Utah has a dominant big, a few great shooters, and a volume scorer. They have played three games with Golden State this year, and all of them have been within single digits. The Jazz’s defensive intensity and floor spacing can frustrate the Warriors on both ends, and I could see them stealing a game or two where you could get off that bet for a better price with Golden State.