NBA Playoffs Betting Preview

At long last, the NBA’s second season begins tomorrow.  The favorites are pretty clear cut; the Miami Heat are as overwhelming a favorite to win their conference as any team in immediate memory.  I’d go back to the early 2000’s Lakers or 90’s Bulls to find a team as widely recognized as the absolute favorite.  So is there any value at ALL in betting on any one else??  We’ll get to that one in a second.

In the West there is a widely agreed upon favorite, but it is far from an automatic champion.  Oklahoma City SHOULD win the West, given the relative health of the Spurs.  But would it be an absolute stunner if Denver, Memphis or the Clippers snuck into the Finals?

In anticipation of the commencement of the Playoffs tomorrow, let’s take a look at some good value wagers, not only to win their opening series, but also to win their conference or the NBA Finals.


In general, there isn’t a ton of value in betting series favorites unless you are willing to lay a large sum of money to make a significantly smaller return.  For example, are the Heat going to lose the series to Milwaukee?  Of course not.  NO WAY.  But at -16500, you’d be laying a small mortgage down payment to make $100.  It just seems a little bit much for 99% of sports bettors.  If you have an enormous bankroll and want a NEAR sure thing, then be my guest.  For the sake of this column, I will try to find some good VALUE wagers.  Note – this is not necessarily who I think will win the East, West of Finals (for the record, I think we are looking at a Heat v. Thunder redux), but simply teams who present a good payout amount in relation to their ability to do some damage in the postseason…

Los Angeles Lakers +750 vs. San Antonio Spurs -1000

This is easily my favorite line of the postseason.  Some Vegas books had the Lakers as high as +1500 according to this morning’s USA Today.  Most online books have them between 600 and 750 as of this evening.  Either way, they have a way better than 7:1 chance of upsetting an injured Spurs team.  Maybe I’m an idiot who drank the Dwight/Pao Kool-Aid, but I buy this team as being more dangerous in this series without Kobe, as they matchup well with San Antonio, provided Parker isn’t at full strength and Manu doesn’t return.

San Antonio is still the better team, but if there is even a sliver of doubt as to the more talented team… take the team paying out 7 to 1.

Pick:  Los Angeles Lakers to win SERIES +750

Atlanta Hawks +300 vs. Indiana Pacers -360

I’m surprised this line isn’t closer to -550 or -600 for the Pacers.  There is little chance they are going to lose this series to Atlanta, who might be the weakest team in the postseason other than Milwaukee (whom Jeff Van Gundy suggested during ESPN’s broadcast should be banned from the playoffs for being under .500 and instead replaced by Utah…).

Indiana matches up exceptionally well with Atlanta, as they are defensively strong at Atlanta’s best offensive positions and shouldn’t have trouble containing Josh Smith.  Indiana is SO much better defensively and will boast six of the best eight players in this series.

Give me the Pacers in an easy five or six game series.

Series Pick:  Indiana Pacers -360

Eastern Conference Value Plays:

Picking a conference champion is a tricky cocktail of considerations; you aren’t necessarily looking for a team that is better than Miami; there isn’t one.  Rather you want a team with a reasonable path to reach them at good enough odds to make a potential hedge wager during the series a win/win proposition.

A good example would have been if you had bet Boston last year.  If you had the Celtics at +400 or better, as soon as they edged out to a 2-1 lead over Miami, you could have gotten the Heat at a very low price.  When the series went to 3-2, you could have gotten Miami at even money.  With the +400 or higher wager locked in, you can hedge with the Heat and lock in guaranteed profits.

The two teams I’d consider for this strategy are Indiana and Boston.

Indiana is paying around 12:1.  They have played Miami tough the past two years and led last year’s playoff series 2-1 and had Miami teetering.  I like Indiana to take care of New York in the second round should they meet as they are a MUCH better defensive team.  Especially when you see New York paying only 7:1, Indy becomes a good value.

The long shot here is Boston at 30:1.  I don’t think they have any real shot at winning the East.  But suppose they beat New York in the first round (reasonable), they then likely have Indy in Round Two.  I’d pick Indy, but again, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see Boston sneak past them.  Now you have a conference finalist at 30:1.  Hedge with Miami to dispatch them and make easy profit.

It’s a bit of a LONG SHOT, but it has some good value at 30:1.

Of course, if you have the bank roll, Miami is going to win the East.  2:9 (or -450) isn’t the worst payout ever…

Summary:  Indiana +1200 & Boston +3000

Western Conference Value Plays:

The West offers a lot more possibilities, but correspondingly, slightly less huge payouts.  Rather than buying a hedging opportunity, if you go beyond the Thunder (a reasonable price at 6/5 or +120), you have a few other intriguing possibilities.

Here are my two favorites.

Denver Nuggets – no one wants to give Denver a shot, but since the All-Star break they have the best record in the NBA by FOUR GAMES.  That’s big margin and a big enough sample size to be meaningful.  At +600, that’s a pretty good value to get the league’s best home team and the team with the best record in the league over the last three months, Danillo injury or no.

Here’s my long shot, but in order for the value to be there, this wager needs to go all the way; not just conference champs, but NBA Champs… the Memphis Grizzlies.  Before you laugh too loudly, YES I agree they have a coin-flip series in the opener with the Clippers.  Their second round opponent is the Thunder.  It makes for a very top-loaded road to glory – but IF they can sneak through those first two rounds, they’d likely be favored over San Antonio, a team they have haunted the past few years, or Denver or even the Lakers.

And they are the ONLY team in the West with a punchers chance against Miami.  If you can lock in Memphis early as a flyer at 40:1, you have awesome hedging guarantees in the a Finals series in which Miami could be as low as -250 to -300…

Again – it’s a VALUE pick, not a prediction.

Summary:  Denver +600 & Memphis NBA Finals +4000

Overall, analytical prediction for what WILL happen, is Miami and OKC hooking up yet again, with the result being much the same as last year.  But the beautiful thing about sports is you NEVER know what might happen.  That’s why we look for value when betting series or futures…

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch.

Enjoy the Playoffs, and good luck with all your wagers!

Chris Scheeren / Author