My best NBA playoff bets: East and West champs

willhill

Before we get started, I might have forgotten to mention last week that 300-1 on Phil Mickelson to win the PGA Championship was a smart place to put your money. Hey, better late than never, right? Wow! What a moment, and what a sports day Sunday was. Almost a year ago to the day, Mickelson, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning gave fans their first sports viewing experience in nearly two months as their Memorial Day weekend match-play event marked the midway point of our sports layoff of more than four months. Since then, Brady has collected yet another trophy and Mickelson has won a record-setting major, and the contrast between this year and last couldn’t be more stark. We had a full Sunday of NBA and NHL playoff games, a full slate of MLB and the captivating final round of the PGA. Perhaps not everyone loves golf, but cashing tickets at 300-1 catches everyone’s attention. My guess is that the bottom part of the golf board will get plenty of attention this week as bettors seek that next long-shot score. I won’t give you anything that will cash at Mickelson-like odds, but let’s try to find some winners anyway.

 

76ers To Win The East (%plussign00)

 

I gave this one out preseason at %plussign00, and I think significant value remains at anything +0 or higher. Four really good teams are capable of winning the East — the Heat, Sixers, Bucks and obviously the Nets. The Bucks likely have to beat all of the other three to reach the NBA Finals, and the Nets will have to beat two of the three. The Sixers at most have to beat one of the three. Their path to the conference final is as soft as any I can ever remember. They will likely trample the sub-.500 Wizards and then play the Hawks, who were below .500 for most of the year, or the overachieving Knicks, who had a season win total of 22 entering the year. The Sixers will be in the East final four with home-court advantage and would be underdogs to the Nets but maybe only slight dogs to the Bucks, maybe even close to a pick-’em. The Sixers have menacing defensive personnel and will likely be rested and waiting for whoever comes out of the Bucks-Nets Round 2 bloodbath. At this price, the Sixers are well worth a shot to come out of the East.

 

Clippers To Win The West (%plussign00)

 

It’s now or never. Kawhi Leonard is a free agent after the season. Every draft pick and pick swap is owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder from now until eternity thanks to the trade that netted Paul George two summers ago. Let’s look around the West. The Lakers are clearly hobbled, the Nuggets are without Jamal Murray and the Jazz and Suns had fantastic seasons but are not exactly the 1996 Bulls. Both are very beatable. The Clippers’ meltdown last year in the bubble was an all-timer, a -1100 series favorite that led three games to one and had a 15-point lead with 9:42 left in Game 5 as well as double-digit leads in the second halves of Games 6 and 7. Luckily for the Clippers, the end of the series coincided with the start of football season, so their collapse took somewhat of a back seat among fans and the national media. But here is their shot at redemption. They have the best roster in the West. They had a historic shooting season, shooting 41% from deep and 83% from the line. They had eight players who shot the 3 at over 40%. And they finished in the top five offensively and defensively in net rating. Sure, they lost Game 1 to the Mavericks, but the last two champions lost the first game of the first round, with the Lakers losing Game 1 in both the first and second rounds last year. The Clippers are the deepest, most balanced team in the West, and they should exorcise last year’s demons and at least play for a championship this summer.

 

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