The NBA Playoffs begin tomorrow, and the singular question dominating all playoff previews is, “Can anyone beat the Warriors?”
There are compelling cases on both sides. For the “no” camp, there is the fact that this team won more games this season than any other team in the history of the NBA. They are the best combination of defensive and offensive efficiency the league has ever seen (yes, that includes Jordan’s mythical Bulls squads). They rank 1st in offensive efficiency and are more than 2.5% better than the next challenger (Oklahoma City). The difference between 3rd (Spurs) and 26th (Knicks) is just 5.3% to put the gulf between the Warriors and the league in proper perspective.
Their assist ratio of 20.5 is also league best, and by a whopping 7.4% difference. Their effective FG% of 56.3% is 6.4% better than second place San Antonio. To get to the next 6.4% standard deviation, you would go all the way to the Brooklyn Nets at 21st in the league.
If these numbers are boring you (or confusing with math-nerd stuff), let me boil it to the point – the gulf between the Warriors and the NBA isn’t subtle. It is overwhelming. They are 16 wins and a boatload of grumpy retired NBA players away from being the BEST TEAM in the HISTORY of the NBA.
In a sport with less variability in the postseason than any other major sport, largely because the series sample size eliminates the randomness of sports and generally allows the better team to prevail – it is HARD to make a case for anyone OTHER than Golden State winning the title. Oh, and by the way – the Warriors were 17-1 against teams over .600 this season – EASILY and far and away the best record in the league (and frankly, staggering).
So – YES, the Warriors are the favorite. And there is a reason they are 1:2 Vegas favorites to win the title. But is there any reason to even consider any one else? And are there some OTHER values in the postseason aside from laying a lot to win a little on the Warriors repeat?
Let’s dive into some of the more interesting post season wagers
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2016 NBA PLAYOFF WAGERING PREVIEW:
First off – a quick note overall. This could be a fun wager, but don’t make series prices a core part of your postseason bankroll, because the odds are RIDICULOUSLY stacked in the book’s favor. For example, Bovada is -10000 for the Warriors to dispatch the Rockets, yet just +2000 is you like Houston (and you like being a crazy person). That is a 500% vig. Yikes. But here are my favorite value series prices, if one is so inclined.
Portland Trailblazers +275 vs. Los Angeles Clippers -350 – This is a far more lopsided series than the #4/#5 indicates. The chasm between the top four in the West is WIDE. Plus, the Clippers have Blake Griffin back and Paul/Redick/Jordan healthy and a bench with loads of veteran scorers. The Clippers will have trouble with the athletic young backcourt of Portland and could very well drop one or two on the road. But there is no chance this series goes more than six. The Clippers are far superior. Look for them to advance and finally give us the Clippers/Warriors series we were dying for last season.
Indiana Pacers +300 vs. Toronto Raptors -400 – I don’t think Indiana wins this series, but if you are looking for an upset play with some value, this is really the only one on the board. Detroit, Memphis, Portland, Houston and Dallas have no shot. Charlotte and Boston are barely underdogs. The Pacers are really the only play where there is some value and you aren’t just throwing away money. The best play here is to hope the Pacers can steal one of the first two on the road behind a Paul George outburst and can bring some hedge value into play.
MY PICK: Indiana Pacers +300
Anyone OTHER than Golden State to win NBA TITLE?
Well, for all the amazing things about the Warriors I opened the column with, the Spurs did turn in one of the ten best regular seasons in NBA history as well, so at 4:1, they could be worth a flyer. They certainly have blend of talent, depth, experience and coaching that equal a championship team. And Cleveland, at 4:1, is the overwhelming presumptive favorite to win the East. That at least GETS them to the Finals, so there could be a good chance of hedge possibilities once they get there (I imagine Golden State wouldn’t open the series at -800 if it were Cleveland/Golden State Part II).
San Antonio Spurs +400 – They won 67 games without putting their foot on the hammer. LaMarcus Alderidge has settled in as Option 1A and Kawhi is a legit Top Three MVP guy. Add in Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, Green, Mills, Diaw, POPAVITCH – this team is really, really good. In a non-Warriors world, this team is the overwhelming favorite to win a ring, and we MIGHT have been having “best team ever” discussions about THEM all season long. They also seemed to have a blueprint for HOW to defend Golden State in their win on the Riverwalk back in March. Sure, they lost twice to the Dubs last week, including their only loss ALL YEAR at home – but, you have to give this team a puncher’s chance at the least.
Cleveland Cavaliers +400 – Love the value here. I can’t talk myself into a scenario in which they DON’T win the East. I like Toronto and there is some plucky value to the four-way glut of three/six seeds, but the Cavs are winning the East as long as no one gets hurt (and even if someone OTHER than LeBron gets hurt, probably STILL winning the East like last year). They DID give Golden State all they could handle for the first four games of the Finals last year as well…
Los Angeles Clippers +2800 – the biggest problem? Golden State in the second round. But if we accept the logic that whoever want to win the title is probably going to have vanquished the Dubs personally, does it really matter what round? Before the season, there was legitimate thought that the Clippers were a title threat. They won 53 games this season and played more than half the year without their best player. Blake Griffin is a tough cover for Draymond Green and Chris Paul is a pesky defender with the quicks to stay near Steph. It isn’t a terrible matchup, and at 28 to 1, not the worst flyer.
Miami Heat +7500 – I don’t see ANY way they can beat any of the Top Four teams in the West in a seven game series. But I do see a scenario where they could get hot and win the East, or at least get to the conference finals. They dodged Cleveland until the East Finals by winning a four-way tie for the three seed. I give them a decent shot against Toronto (assuming they beat Indy), which starts to make a 75:1 lotto ticket a decent hedge.
The Larry O’Brein Trophy is certainly Golden State’s to lose – but I think we will have some good drama along the way. Even if you think the Dubs are untouchable, we could still have the following series for our consumption: Cavs vs Heat, Clippers vs. Warriors, Spurs vs. Thunder, Warriors vs Spurs or Warriors vs. Thunder – that is four weeks of awesomeness!
Good luck – and be sure to check in regularly as we will have picks daily throughout the postseason!