It is almost as if Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra knew this was coming all along and have been preparing for this two-week journey against each other for many, many months. Before we dive into our betting preview for the NBA Finals, it is important to learn how we got to this point.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are now closing in on not their first, not their second, but their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance, where they will be looking for their second ring with “The Big Three.”
But before we can punch Miami’s ticket to the Finals, the Heat still have four games left to
win against an Indiana Pacers team they’ve lost 2 out of 3 against this season.
The evolution of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise since its infant days in Vancouver is really something to marvel at when you consider where they are as of today.
They are currently on their 7th head coach in their franchise’s history with Lionel Hollins and are out of the first round for just the second time in their 18-year history. If you parlay that with the fact that Memphis traded their top scorer, Rudy Gay, at the end of January for Ed Davis, who has played 3 total minutes in the past six games, Austin Daye, who has played 11 total minutes in the entire playoffs and an aging 33-year old Tayshaun Prince, who is the best current piece of the deal, you have to be impressed with their run.
If I had to rank the top four players in the NBA at the current moment, my system for ranking those players would look a little something like this:
1. LeBron James
2A. Kevin Durant
2B. Chris Paul
2C. Carmelo Anthony
If any other team than the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs win the NBA Finals at this point it will seem like a big surprise across the league. They are the two teams with the most experience not only in the playoffs, but winning championships and in the finals. The only other collective team to make the NBA Finals still in contention is the Oklahoma City Thunder and they are now attempting to do it without their 2nd and 3rd top scorers from last year in Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
The Bulls and Nets are brutally battling their way back and forth in their first-round series, and no matter who wins, they will be at a complete disadvantage against James and the Heat. If the Nets win, they would have had to come back from a 3-1 deficit and right after winning Game 7, would have to fly to Miami for a quick turnaround Game 1. If the Bulls win the series in 6 or 7 games, the pain would have already been assessed by not finishing off Brooklyn in five while Miami waited in South Beach.
Same goes for the other side of the bracket, the Spurs, who swept the Lakers, are sitting back awaiting the winner of the Nuggets and Warriors series. Right now the Warriors are leading the series 3-1 and are going back to Denver for a pivotal Game 5. The cases are very similar for Miami and San Antonio when it comes to their paths to the Finals. The Warriors and Nuggets are banged up teams who are missing key players and All-Stars and no matter who survives this series, the Spurs will be healthier and have a distinct advantage.
When it comes to the futures market and how some of the odds have changed since we did our first “Eight Pillars” piece on 2/28 and our second on 4/2, the Heat have lead the race the entire way and have now crossed over to the other side:
|Miami Heat||OKC Thunder||SA Spurs||NY Knicks||LA Clippers|
|MEM Grizzlies||IND Pacers||CHI Bulls||GS Warriors|
|DEN Nuggets||ATL Hawks||BKN Nets||BOS Celtics||HOU Rockets|
If you look strictly at the odds, the biggest threat to the Miami Heat is obviously the San Antonio Spurs when it comes to the NBA Finals (5.9/1) and it is the New York Knicks (17.5/1) when it comes to the Eastern Conference. If there was one key to playing the NBA futures market through the Regular Season and the Playoffs, it has to be timing. There are very few dominant teams like the Heat, whose odds may never go much higher based on losing a game or two in the playoffs.
Let’s take the Denver Nuggets as an example. A run and gun offensive team whose odds never exceeded 35/1 and basically decreased all the way up to the beginning of the playoffs is now down 3-1 and a 100/1 underdog to win the NBA Championship. Even when Denver was down 2-1, their odds to win the title virtually mirrored their futures ceiling for the entire season. Certain freak occurrences like trades and injuries can move odds on the futures market, some of the time on thin air, but a lot of the movement has to do with time elapsed in the full season of the sport. Depending on how you have decided to “attack” the futures market will depend on how you particularly see the odds. Every team who does not win the NBA Championship will at one point or another have better odds to win it all than they did earlier in the season (a large percentage that is).
When you begin to talk about attempting to beat the Heat four times in seven games you have to understand they have only lost back to back games 13 times in the past two full seasons. Since LeBron lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics last year, the Heat are 76-17 (81.7%) overall and 38-3 since the first day of February, 2013. Miami’s only three losses in that span came against the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. When looking at the odds of potential NBA Finals matchups, eight of the top nine include either the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs, with the one exception being a Knicks/Thunder potential showdown at number five.
One of the glaring statistics when talking in favor of the San Antonio Spurs advancing deep into the playoffs has to do with pace. According to Team Pace (which is a statistic that uses field goal attempts among other statistics to create a pace for every NBA team), the Spurs have the 6th quickest pace in the league, which is 1.9 points above league average. Among the teams in the top 15 in Team Pace, only the Spurs and Thunder also have a Defensive Efficiency under 100, with the Spurs still .03 points better than the Thunder when they still had Russell Westbrook.
With March Madness officially behind us and a little over two weeks left in the NBA regular season, the majority of sports gamblers turn their focus back to the NBA.
Attacking the NBA futures market and NBA playoff odds before the regular season ends can be a very profitable way to walk into the playoffs. In this column, we are going to analyze some of the differences between what the futures market looked like a little over a month ago and what the odds are as of April 1st.
Some of the biggest differences you will see in the futures are fewer teams listed and a more balanced gap between the teams and odds across the board. The previous “Eight Pillars Of NBA” piece listed futures on 30 different teams, while the futures market now currently only lists odds for 18 teams. Out of the 18 teams that are currently listed in the chart below, 14 of them had their odds go up since February 28th. Three teams had their odds go down: Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets; the Indiana Pacers have the exact same odds today as they did a month ago.
The dollar amounts I have listed on the chart give you an idea of how much money you would have lost or gained if you placed a $100 wager on that teams future now versus my last column a little over a month ago:
|Pillar 1||Heat||1st Odds are NEWEST|
|1/1.2 & 1.5/1|
|4.35/1 & 3.5/1||6.5/1 & 5.5/1|
|16/1 & 35/1||17.5/1 & 10/1||18/1 & 18/1|
|23/1 & 25/1||28/1 & 18/1||35/1 & 23/1||40/1 & 27/1|
|50/1 & 45/1||70/1 & 33/1|
|125/1 & 75/1||125/1 & 66/1||150/1 & 125/1|
|300/1 & 275/1||400/1 & 300/1||450/1 & 150/1|
If you simply take a look at the line changes and compare them to playoff position, you can see the “best bets” at the current moment.
When it comes to ensuring a profit in futures NBA bets, matchups become the biggest aspect during the playoffs. If you can avoid playing teams like the Miami Heat for just one extra round, it can mean one more round of lighter odds and possibly an easier opponent in route to the Finals.
The NBA regular season ends on April 17th, so at the current moment matchups are near impossible to guarantee for the road to the Finals. The two and three seeds in the Eastern Conference are tied, while the 4, 5 and 6 seeds are separated by a game and a half. The most likely matchup at the moment is the Miami Heat against the Milwaukee Bucks as the one versus eight seeds in the first round, that is certainly not a sure thing.
With 2, 3 , 6 and 7 avoiding Miami until the conference finals, it was very difficult for me to leave the Brooklyn Nets off my team of recommended wagers at this price. Originally at 33/1 a month ago and now at 70/1, Brooklyn is currently the number four seed in the east and lined up to play Chicago or Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets are just 3-4 straight up and 2-5 against the spread versus the Hawks and Bulls this season.
If Brooklyn can get Joe Johnson healthy over the next two weeks I feel the 70/1 future could definitely be an investment come hopefully the second round of the playoffs against Miami.
When looking at the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference here is a breakdown of the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers:
|Odds||Home/Road Left||Playoff Teams Remaining||Proj. Final||Team Rankings Playoff %|
|Utah Jazz||450/1||4/3||DEN, @GDST, OKC, @MEM||39-36/4-3||50.90%|
|Los Angeles Lakers||23/1||6/2||DAL, MEM, @LAC, GDST, SA, HOU||38-36/5-3||43.50%|
|Dallas Mavericks||400/1||4/5||@LAK, @DEN, DEN, MEM||36-37/5-4||7.10%|
The issue with finding value in any of these three teams fighting for the eight seed is the fact they are 38-81 (.319) against teams .500 and better this season. In my honest opinion, I think the Spurs can be beat. A recent injury to Manu Ginobili, who is out the remainder of the regular season, has put San Antonio in a position where they are only one game up on Oklahoma City for the number one seed in the west.
As much as I want to recommend a small wager on the Mavericks at 400/1 to put a large scare in the Spurs, I am not sure Dallas will be that last team in the playoffs this year. The Jazz are 3 games ahead of the Mavericks in the win column right now with only around eight games left for each team. At 450/1, the Utah Jazz simply represents more value at the current moment than the Lakers and Mavericks. Are the Lakers better equipped to win four games in around a week against the Thunder or Spurs…possibly; but at 23/1 and an upward battle from the ninth spot in the west, it might not be worth the “gamble.”
In the Lakers eight games remaining on their schedule they face six “playoff” teams, with five of them being at the Staples Center.
This may be a good thing for Los Angeles, as they are 5-1 in their last six home games versus “playoff” teams coming in.
Here are a few influential statistics that I believe will come into play come playoff time:
1. Who are the top 6 teams in the NBA (winning percentage) in close-margined road games this season?
2. These 5 teams are the best at defending the “runway” (the rim to 9 feet away from the basket; opponent field goal percentage) in the NBA.
3. Which “playoff” teams are the worst against the spread across the NBA?
4. An NBA efficiency formula I put together, which calculates defensive statistics and simple offensive efficiency (((Assists Per Game) – (Turnovers Per Game)) + DEF (Steals, Blocks & Charges Drawn)).
Evan Abrams contributes gambling-related articles to SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @Betropolitan.