The NBA Playoffs have arrived, and that means series prices are available. But where’s the value? What are the good numbers? Where do those numbers go awry?
And what do we do with the Sixers?
Here’s a look at the 16 playoff series prices, ranked by value, with an eye toward specific props. The closer series will obviously have better value, hence the numbers.
NBA Playoff Series Odds, Betting Picks
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (+176) over Houston Rockets
The Westbrook injury looms large here, hence why the Thunder went from +320 at open all the way down to +176, which is regrettable since I liked OKC just as much when Westbrook was playing.
There’s not a lot to take from the regular-season matchup. The first game, a Rockets win, was before OKC found its footing in December. The second and third games were during the absolute nadir of James Harden’s career over the last four seasons. He looked injured, exhausted and broken. He shot 0-7 to start from 3-point range in the game on January 20 … and Houston still led by 17 before Dennis Schröder led a huge comeback in the fourth.
But that three-guard lineup is a key issue for Houston. OKC has the second-best fourth-quarter net rating in the league, Houston is 19th. The three-guard lineup for OKC with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Schröder cooks teams. Just roasts them.
All of OKC’s starters had a huge net rating vs. Houston through the three matchups this year. Houston has better depth than OKC, especially with Lu Dort’s injury. But Westbrook’s absence, however long it lasts, fundamentally undermines that, as does the fact that Mike D’Antoni is allergic to deep bench rotations.
Houston is going to score. Even without Westbrook, Harden can create enough 3s to boost up the offense. But defensively, Houston’s all-switch is going to have problems. Chris Paul is perfectly comfortable isolating vs. a switch and nailing a pull-up jumper.
The solution is likely to have Robert Covington guard Steven Adams so he can switch onto Paul. That leaves PJ Tucker to guard Danilo Gallinari … which Gallo can exploit. It also leaves Harden guarding Alexander or Schröder. Harden is underrated defensively on-ball, but off-ball he can get beat with cuts and off rebounds. He’s better vs. big switches.
This is a key element: The Thunder tried to have Gallinari accept the switch of Harden onto him and post him in the regular season. Harden did what he does — he is 87th percentile defending the post this year and has been 70th percentile or better each of the last five seasons.
Normally, I’d have faith that Billy Donovan won’t pursue a fool’s errand based on faulty logic, but as good as Donovan is overall, he’s still the guy who refused to blitz Damian Lillard last year.
Still, there are enough advantages for the Thunder to believe OKC can pull this off. This line has value if it is not a pick’em or OKC as a slight favorite with no Westbrook definitive return date … and if the word comes he will return in this series, the price will only improve. Westbrook doesn’t help much vs. his old team.
2. Denver Nuggets (-195) over Utah Jazz
The Nuggets are 3.5-point favorites in Game 1, with juice of -158 at FanDuel. That translates to a -267 moneyline and 72.3% implied probability of winning each game of the series at onset.
So either way, you’re getting value at anything below-250 on Denver.
Denver lost the last Utah matchup last season, with Rudy Gobert soundly outplaying Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets went 3-0 vs. the Jazz this year, with Jokic averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists per game vs. Utah, and roasting Gobert over an open flame.
Denver is missing Gary Harris and Will Barton. The team has not provided a firm prognosis on their return time, but every time it seems they’re getting closer, they hit a snag. I’m not expecting Harris at all for this series, but do expect Barton back by Game 4-ish.
Denver had the worst defense in the bubble, giving up over 120 points per 100 possessions. Michael Malone is at his wit’s end, but the Nuggets have maintained all year they’ll have a higher defensive gear (which they have shown at times in certain matchups) when the playoffs arrive. The question is whether that will be enough without Harris.
With Harris and Paul Millsap on the court, Denver gave up 101 points per 100 possessions, which is excellent. In minutes without either one, it gave up more than 113.
The problem is that Utah, without Bojan Bogdanovic, doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up even with Denver’s porous defense. The Jazz made 22 shots from 3-point range in Saturday’s double-overtime classic between the two teams — Denver still won. That’s what it will take for Utah to get past Denver, massive volume 3-point shooting.
Utah was fourth in the restart in 3-point volume, but after being second in eFG% in the regular season, the Jazz plummeted to 18th over these past eight games in the restart.
The biggest problem, though, is simply that Utah’s defense is entirely built around Gobert being dominant, and Gobert is dominant … vs. driving guards correctly funneled to him by excellent perimeter defenders. But Jokic is a different deal.
This series goes long. I’ll be looking hard at 7-games +220, but Denver ultimately should advance.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (+350) over Boston Celtics
I thought it would take me until Sunday to talk myself into this.
It did not.
This price is reflective of Ben Simmons’ injury, which is understandable. Simmons is phenomenal. I would have voted him for Defensive Player of the Year, and I think his offensive potential was just on the verge of being unlocked.
He’s a phenomenal player, but I’m not sure how useful he would have been in this series.
For starters, the Celtics have perimeter weapons all over. Draping Simmons over Kemba Walker or Jayson Tatum wouldn’t change that they still have Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Furthermore, in the four regular-season matchups Simmons had a net rating of just +0.3 despite Philly going 3-1 against the Celtics. The Sixers were +16 with Simmons on the bench vs. Boston.
Meanwhile, Boston lost Al Horford and Aron Baynes in the offseason. The three best defenders of Joel Embiid are, in order, Baynes, Marc Gasol, and Horford. Daniel Theis has been awesome, incredible. But Embiid is simply a monster who can overmatch him. Behind Theis, the options are the undersized Grant Williams, the inexperienced and mistake-prone Robert Williams and the defensive sieve Enes Kanter.
The Sixers had the fifth-best offensive rating in bubble play. That was balanced by their normally superb defense going to garbage without Simmons. But the structure and scheme of the Sixers defense remain there, and I am skeptical they are suddenly incapable of getting stops vs. a Boston offense that comes and goes.
This bet requires depending on Embiid to be what he’s capable of, and that makes me positively nauseous with anxiety. However, the matchup is so transparently in his favor that if Embiid cannot capitalize on this, even without Simmons, we need to re-evaluate his position in the NBA hierarchy. With Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, Shake Milton and some plucky bench shooters, there’s enough here for the Sixers to bend the Celtics’ defense backward.
I’m willing to go there at +350. This is as low as +230. I don’t like it below 3-1 odds so be sure to shop for the best price.
4. Miami Heat (-325) over Indiana Pacers
I don’t love laying this much. The drop off from the top three values to here is steep.
But the Heat made 12 more 3-pointers in their three regular-season meetings. Even with T.J. Warren being nuclear fire before coming down with plantar fasciitis (his status is unknown going forward), the Pacers were still 18th in 3-point rate despite missing Domantas Sabonis.
Miami 4-2 pays +310 at FanDuel, and that’s likely where I’ll find a position. The math problem is just too much for Indiana. It happened to face a team that absolutely bombs from 3-point range, and doesn’t produce enough on its own. Missing two of its three best players offensively is crushing, and Jimmy Butler should feast given the options available to defend him.
I’m going to wait on this until Monday to make sure I know the most I can about the status of Sabonis and Warren, but even with those two, Miami’s offense should simply be able to keep distance from the Pacers. A play on Indiana would purely be a play for Heat shooting variance going haywire.
5. Utah Jazz (+172) over Denver Nuggets
Can’t bet second and fifth, but when the values are this short and the teams are this close, this is how it goes.
Utah’s a surprisingly good offensive team; it isn’t the defensive slug team it has been. Denver is not a great shooting team, and gives up a huge number of 3-pointers.
At some point, Denver’s 29th-ranked defense since the trade deadline is just its identity. For how much the Nuggets have maintained they have a switch to flip, this team is young and has been in the playoffs only once. They’re shorthanded, and again, without Gary Harris and Paul Millsap the Nuggets defense is atrocious.
Donovan Mitchell showed in the double OT game why he can have five mediocre star performances and then look like a superstar. Mike Conley can have a big series, Joe Ingles should light it up.
It doesn’t look on paper like the Jazz have enough offense, but its thing is system and execution, not raw firepower.
Denver is far from invincible. Implied odds give the Jazz a 36% chance, it’s probably just slightly better.
6. Houston Rockets (-188) over Oklahoma City Thunder
Yeah, I know, Thunder was the best value. I know, but you’re laying absurd numbers on everything else.
Westbrook is a relentless competitor, I’d be shocked if he didn’t return before the series concluded. The Rockets’ window is short. There’s also the variance angle: A 3-point barrage from Houston will be enough to buckle OKC’s solid defense.
OKC’s floor is high enough for it to have the most value, the Rockets’ ceiling is enough for them to have some value at anything below -200. Harden has the ability to win this matchup on his own. The Thunder likely will not commit to the strategy most teams attempt by sending random blitzes at him — OKC didn’t do that vs. Damian Lillard last year when he was a flamethrower. They’ll stay to their principles.
I hate to go here, but I have to: Chris Paul’s injury risk is real. A lot of this team still depends on Paul being brilliant.
Paul never catches a break when it comes to injuries. The best playoff performance of his career came in 2015 vs. the defending champion Spurs in the best first-round series ever … and Paul still hurt his leg in that series.
Houston’s a favorite for a reason.
7. Boston Celtics (-304) over Philadelphia 76ers
I don’t love laying -300-plus here. As I wrote above, I think there’s value on Philly, but Boston is a good defensive team with multiple weapons.
The Celtics will dig on Embiid, and he really still struggles with double teams. Theis may get run over, but Smart will dip down to swipe at the ball and Embiid has never shown a great capacity for anticipating.
Also, let’s be honest, Embiid rarely just outright dominates the toughest, most important matchups. He hasn’t had a series where he just absolutely bullied the opponent. He takes the sixth-most mid-range jumpers in the league. Not among centers, overall. I don’t know how to fully trust him.
Boston’s a better team and Philly’s defense is suspect in the restart. Its offense is clunky. You’re laying a lot for a team without a frontcourt, but even if it goes seven, you just need four Boston wins.
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8. Dallas Mavericks (+375) over Los Angeles Clippers
OK, I want to make clear that this is purely a value play. At +375, the implied odd for the Mavericks is 21%. If these teams played 10 playoff series, I’d like Dallas in three of the 10. I think their odds are closer to 30%.
Now, if this line was mirrored with the Clippers at -350 or better, then sure, I’m going with the Clippers. But they’re not, they’re at -500 or more, implied 83%.
The idea is that this is a terrible matchup for the Mavericks, and it is! Having Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard to attack Luka Doncic is just a swarm of great defenders to shut down a player-centric attack.
Here’s the thing … the Clippers actually aren’t that great vs. high-volume 3-point teams. When opponents made 15 or more threes, the Clippers went 7-10 straight up. Now, one of those was against Dallas, when it put up 126. That’s the concern, right? That the Mavs’ defense is so bad the Clippers will just cut through it like butter.
But in shootouts, the Mavericks have the edge in the math department. They take more threes and make more 3s. I also think there’s a good chance that Doncic is able to make adjustments as the series to go on.
This is Rick Carlisle, who’s an awesome playoff coach. Doc Rivers is great, too.
I acknowledge the matchup favors the Clippers, who are also a better team. I do think the odds slightly make this a value play. If nothing else, I think betting the Mavericks over on wins or Clippers 4-2/4-3 has value.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (-500) over Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers are a buzzsaw when fully healthy and engaged, and all year long every analytics-forward wonk has backed them for the title.
Dallas’ defense is horrendous, and this is the first playoff series for most of these players. The Clippers, as mentioned above, can smother Doncic and oftentimes young players struggle in their first playoff series. The over might be the play, but the Clippers should be able to simply overpower them.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (-5000) over Orlando Magic
The implied odds here are 98%. That’s technically good value.
I’m basically listing this because I think 4-0 (-125) is probably worth a look. The Magic’s offense had a weird boost early on in the restart that actually stretched back to the regular season, but it regressed radically.
Without Jonathan Isaac, their best hope of stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo evaporated. The Bucks’ performance in last year’s first round is proof that while this team may eventually fall, it’s going to take a great team to do so.
11. Indiana Pacers (+305) over Miami Heat
Miami’s defense is a little suspect. It was shaky in the back half of the season, as I predicted here.
It gave up 110 points per 100 possessions in the restart seeding games, which is fine for how bad the defense overall was among teams. But it also reveals it is a little overrated in that aspect.
The Pacers also have the capacity to switch everything on the perimeter with their guards. Myles Turner is good in space and will likely show harder on hand-offs. Indiana was 14th defending hand-offs, where Miami gets a ton of offense.
The math problem is an issue, but more 3-point shooters on-court with Doug McDermott taking Warren’s spot at PF does increase some probability.
The Pacers are solid, smart, well-coached and talented.
I’ll be looking closely to bet them game by game, especially if the line moves off the open of Heat -4.5 toward Miami.
12. Los Angeles Lakers (TBD) vs. Portland Trail Blazers/Memphis Grizzlies
At the time of this writing, we’re waiting for the winner of the play-in between Memphis and Portland. I’m assuming Portland, a heavy favorite, wins and continues its inspirational run behind Damian Lillard.
I will be looking at Lakers 4-0 pricing heavily. The defense for Portland is terrible. It has been terrible. For all the talk of “they weren’t healthy all year!” (which also assumes all these other teams were, which they weren’t), the big impact Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins were supposed to make was on the defensive end hasn’t happened.
The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis who are fine punishing mismatches all day long and are both willing passers if the Blazers send help defenders. Their shooters aren’t top level, but are good enough if left open to get in rhythm. And Los Angeles’ defense will be the best Portland has played against in the restart.
Memphis simply doesn’t have the experience or weapons to make a show of this.
13. Toronto Raptors (-3334) over Brooklyn Nets
The Raptors are way better and smashed the Nets in the regular season. Brooklyn was feisty in the restart because of a letdown effect that won’t be as present in a playoff series.
Toronto is a trendy title bet. The Nets are a shell of what they want their team to be.
14. Portland Trail Blazers/Memphis Grizzlies over Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s assume it’s Portland.
It has Damian Lillard. The Lakers’ offense has been a trainwreck for most of the restart.
That’s all I’ve got.
15. Brooklyn Nets (+1800) over Toronto Raptors
They take the right kinds of shots (seventh-best expected eFG% in the restart) and make them (6th best eFG% in restart). The Raptors are 18th in half-court offense, which gets tougher in the playoffs. The Nets are playing with absolute house money and Toronto is mostly coasting off defense and championship grit.
I can’t really buy into this, but that’s the argument.
16. Orlando Magic (+1800) over Milwaukee Bucks
The grand history always involves a star player leaving a small market after a frustrating playoff disaster.
Maybe this is Milwaukee’s? That’s all I’ve got.