How to Bet on the 2020 NBA Playoff Race

NBA Playoff Race Betting With NBA Eastern And Western Conference Logos

We are in the midst of the NBA’s All-Star break, which means the playoff race is about to begin in earnest. We are actually well past the actual halfway point of the regular season, though, and most teams have around 25 games left to play.

We already have a pretty good idea as to which teams will be appearing in the postseason. The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are 3 heavy championship favorites. An awful lot would have to go wrong between now and the end of the season for the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers to miss out on the playoffs, too.

Boston Celtics Jayson Tatum

There are still a few interesting races to watch, though. The bottom-two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference are still up for grabs. As are the bottom-three spots in the West. No team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing teams like the Knicks, Hawks, Cavaliers or Warriors playing beyond mid-April this year.

BetOnline has a fresh batch of NBA prop betting options posted in anticipation of the unofficial second half of the regular season. Let’s browse the odds and try to identify some betting value.

Eastern Conference To Make/Miss Playoffs

Will the Wizards Qualify? Odds at BetOnline
Yes +800
No -1250

The Eastern Conference realistically has three teams battling for two playoff spots. The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, who qualified last season, are trying to stave off a late surge from the Washington Wizards. Washington entered the break 3 games behind the Magic for the last playoff spot. The Chicago Bulls are lurking 5 games back, but I’m not at all confident that Chicago can close that gap in time.

Brooklyn and Orlando are both sub-.500 this season, but that’s good enough this year. The Wizards have one of the worst defenses in the history of the NBA in terms of efficiency, yet a weak conference combined with a solid offense has Washington on the fringe of the playoff chase.

Washington Wizards Bradley Beal

The Wiz are allowing 113 points per 100 possessions this season. Only the Cavaliers have been more porous defensively. The offensive rating has dipped from where it was early in the season, but Washington is still a respectable 12th in offense, scoring 109.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Wizards have been beset by injuries all year long, but they’re largely healthy exiting the break. Scott Brooks’ club has won 5 of 7 overall, a stretch that includes an important win at home over the Nets. Getting swept in the season series by the Magic will obviously hurt the Wizards’ playoff hopes from a tiebreaker perspective, but they will still have 2 more chances to face Brooklyn before the season ends.

It’s a long shot, but I would be fine with taking a flier on the Wizards given the +800 odds of sneaking into the postseason. There’s no reason to even consider “no” at -1250, of course.

The Bet

Western Conference to Make/Miss Playoffs

Will the Grizzlies Qualify? Odds at BetOnline
Yes +170
No -200
Will the Trail Blazers Qualify? Odds at BetOnline
Yes +200
No -240

The Grizzlies weren’t expected to be a playoff team at all this season, yet Memphis has made huge strides thanks to impressive play from its young core. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. look like future stars, while the team has gotten solid contributions from the likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and several others along the way.

If the season ended today, Memphis would be in. The Grizzlies are currently occupying the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. They’re 4.5 games back of the Mavs for the No. 7 seed and 4 games north of Portland.

The Blazers have crawled back into the playoff race thanks to a surge from Damian Lillard in recent weeks, but 4 games is still a lot of ground to make up with about 25 games left to play.

JA Morant Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies got a much-needed win over the Blazers at home in the final game before the break. The teams will meet twice more before the season is out, with both games coming in Portland.

One of these teams is going to make the playoffs, which makes the fact that both are listed at plus-money to do so pretty interesting. The Grizz obviously have a leg up in the standings as of now, but that’s a young roster being guided by a first-year head coach. Portland is a veteran-heavy team that has made the playoffs in each of the last 6 years.

Memphis looks like the slightly safer bet at this point, so betting “yes” at +170 is pretty appealing. Portland is worth a flier at +200, but the Grizzlies eking them out looks like the best bet here.

The Bet
Grizzlies Yes

How Many First-Round Sweeps in the Playoffs?

How Many First-Round Sweeps? Odds at BetOnline
Over 1.5 +140
Under 1.5 -160

16 of the 30 teams qualify for the playoffs in the NBA. That means some pretty mediocre teams wind up making it, and there’s a strong chance we get multiple sub-.500 clubs in the tournament this year. With the top seeds in both conferences facing the lowest seeds in the first round, we get a fair number of sweeps in the early stages of the NBA playoffs.

Last year, we had a pair of first-round sweeps, both of which came in the Eastern Conference. In 2017-18, there was just one sweep. There were two first-round sweeps in each of the two years prior to that. The 2014-15 playoffs brought three.

I’d imagine the Bucks will sweep whichever team they wind up facing in the first round, and I wouldn’t put it past the Raptors or Celtics to do the same. The Western Conference is tougher to peg, but I like the Lakers’ chances of easily disposing of the Grizzlies if that winds up being the 1-8 matchup.

Milwaukee looks like the only clear-cut sweep, but I’m happy to take the upside you can get in the +140 odds on the over on 1.5 first-round knockouts. The Lakers look like the next-likeliest candidate to get the job done.

The Bet
Over 1.5

Will a No. 2 Seed Win the Title?

Will No. 2 Seed Win the Championship? Odds at BetOnline
Yes +450
No -600

The Raptors won it all last year as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto got past the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals before dethroning the top seed from the West, Golden State, in the Finals.

Toronto is currently in the driver’s seat to nab the No. 2 seed in the East again. The Raps are 6 games back of the Bucks for the top spot and 1.5 games north of Boston. Miami, who is 5.5 behind Toronto, looks almost locked into the No. 4 spot.

Toronto Raptors NBA Championship With Trophy

This may sound blasphemous considering the Raptors just enjoyed a 15-game winning streak, but I’d bet on Boston winning it all before Toronto at this point. The Celtics have been flying under the radar all year long, and I’m not sure why. I don’t know where the ball is going in crunch time for the Raptors now that Kawhi Leonard has skipped town.

The Nuggets are a game up on the Clippers for the No. 2 seed out West, with the Jazz 1.5 behind. I think the only viable title threat of this trio is the Clippers, and I do like LAC’s chances of winding up in the No. 2 slot right behind the Lakers by the time the season ends.

If the Celtics and/or Clippers finish in the No. 2 seeds in either conference, I love betting “yes” here at +450. Any other combination of No. 2 seeds will have me leaning much more strongly in the “no” direction.

The Bet
Yes Clippers/Celtics
The Bet
No Raptors/Nuggets/Jazz

Will a No. 1 Seed Win the Title?

Will No. 1 Seed Win the Championship? Odds at BetOnline
Yes -120
No +100

At this point, it would be a major surprise if the Bucks and Lakers didn’t finish on top of their respective conferences. Milwaukee seems to have the East going away, while LA has a decent 4-game cushion over Denver coming out of the All-Star break.

I’m a lot more bullish on the Bucks’ chances of winning it all than I am the Lakers’ at this juncture, but neither result would be much of a surprise. I’d go ahead and bet “yes” here at -120 before the odds get any longer. There is still value to be had here.

The Bet

Will the Bucks, Lakers or Clippers Win the Championship?

Will Bucks, Lakers or Clippers Win the Title? Odds at BetOnline
Yes -280
No +240

It’s hard not to imagine the Bucks facing one of the LA teams in this year’s NBA Finals. I was an advocate of betting on the Raptors last year, but the absence of Kawhi has me thinking Milwaukee has this year’s Eastern Conference crown in the bag. Boston can give them a series, but I would still expect the Bucks to prevail if I had to choose.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has essentially become unguardable, and the Bucks have enough other talent on the roster to make a deep run. Milwaukee has a point differential of plus-12.1 so far this season, which is absolutely unheard of at this level. The Bucks have been the league’s best team by a pretty healthy margin.

Lakers Lebron James

While the West has more depth, it’s still fair to say that the challengers are a tier below the Los Angeles squads. The Rockets are experimenting by going all-in on small ball. While I do think that can work, I’m still skeptical that Houston has enough firepower to get past the true titans at the top of the league.

Denver and Utah just look like they’re a year or two away. Neither team has the star power to compete with the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

NBA sportsbooks set the Bucks as -140 favorites to win the East, while the Lakers (+165) and Clippers (+200) still offer decent value to win the West. Frankly, betting on either of those Western Conference outcomes makes more sense than settling for the -280 odds on any of these 3 teams winning the title this season.

If you must bet on this prop, though, I’d take the -280 and run for the hills. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, it’s pretty clear that one of these three will lift the O’Brien Trophy at season’s end.

The Bet
Sub Categories:
Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.