This NBA season started with the assumption by most people that the Warriors and Cavaliers would be meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year and that the regular season and playoffs were almost a foregone conclusion.
So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that we enter the postseason this weekend with two relatively wide-open races (especially compared to what many people expected) with the Warriors only the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference behind the Houston Rockets and the Cavaliers actually seeded No. 4 in the Eastern Conference (c’mon, did anyone actually predict that to happen) though they’re still the 6-5 conference favorite at the Westgate SuperBook.
Now, we still might get the Cavaliers vs. the Warriors in the end, but there’s a lot of great games and storylines to be played out.
As for future bets, I don’t any huge overlays on the current betting boards (and again agree with Jeff Fogle’s VSiN City newsletter on Tuesday espousing the virtue of betting what I’ve dubbed the MLPO – Money Line Parlay Option, though in this case it would be rolling over series prices or the SMLPO). I hope some of you Point Spread Weekly readers jumped on the Toronto Raptors coming out of the All-Star Break at 15-1 in Issue #26. For those that missed that, I’ve seen them as low as 5-1 now, but we still have the SMLPO.
Beyond that, I mostly avoid betting series prices as the NBA is usually pretty formful with the favorites advancing with the cream rising to the top in seven-game series. Instead, I do a lot better with my underdogs in individual games, so let’s look at the eight first-round matchups, going in order as the opening games play out on Saturday and Sunday (odds from the Westgate as of late Thursday night).
SATURDAY, APRIL 14
Spurs at Warriors
Series prices: Warriors -1600/Spurs 900
Game 1 odds: Warriors -8 (o/u 209.5)
Tuley’s Take: At first blush, it’s tempting to fade the Warriors with Steph Curry out, but with the Spurs also without dealing with the mysterious disappearance of Kawhi Leonard, it’s hard to jump on the Spurs (and if you need a reminder, go back and watch the Western Conference finals last year when the Spurs rolled over and were swept after Leonard was hurt in Game 1. Even with Curry, I think the Game 1 is too short to get me involved anyway; perhaps I’ll take the Spurs as a home underdog when the series switches to San Antonio, but otherwise I think I’m more likely to just skip this series altogether. Best Bets: Pass.
Wizards at Raptors
Series prices: Raptors -700/Wizards 500
Game 1 odds: Raptors -8 (o/u 211)
Tuley’s Take: OK, here’s my future-book bet with the Raptors. Now, I don’t feel as good about them as I did a few weeks ago, but I’m still comfortable starting my SMLPO here. Even though some people are calling for the Wizards to pull off the upset, the Raptors are still the better, more-balanced team. Not even the fact that the Raptors have lost nine straight Game 1s has me considering taking the Wizards plus the points in Game 1. Best Bets: Raptors -700 (or best price available) on series price to start my SMLPO.
Heat at 76ers
Series prices: 76ers -550/Heat 400
Game 1 odds: 76ers -7 (o/u 212)
Tuley’s Take: I was happy to cash on the 76ers’ over their season win total, but I’m not as confident as a lot of people in them making a deep playoff run (calling them the favorites to win the East, really?). In fact, the Heat have a great shot at upsetting the process. The Heat split the season series with the Heat 2-2 and were 2-1-1 ATS while winning the last two meetings. While many were saying the Heat should have lost the regular-season finale against Toronto on Wednesday to earn a so-called easier opponent in the injury-depleted Celtics, the Heat won to stay sharp. I’ll take the Heat in the series, but even if they come up short there, I give them a great shot to have a winning ATS for their backers. Best Bets: Heat 400 series pick, plus Heat plus-7 in Game 1 (and probably Game 2 as long as getting at least plus-6).
Pelicans at Trail Blazers
Series prices: Trail Blazers -220/Pelicans 180
Game 1 odds: Trail Blazers -5.5 (o/u 217.5)
Tuley’s Take: The Pelicans are another potential live underdog (splitting the season series 2-2 SU & ATS against the Blazers), but I feel the oddsmakers have already adjusted downward with the prices and I don’t feel I’m getting enough value. I’ll sit out Game 1 and see how I feel after what I see from these two teams. If anything, I might flip to the Blazers as short road dogs in Games 3 and/or 4. Best Bets: None for now.
SUNDAY, APRIL 15
Bucks at Celtics
Series prices: Celtics -155/Bucks 135
Game 1 odds: Celtics -4 (o/u 203)
Tuley’s Take: The Celtics, without Kyrie Irving after playing the whole season without Gordon Hayward, are the team many pundits were saying teams in the East were hoping to face in the first round; but sometimes you should be careful what you wish for. The Bucks fell into the No. 7 seed opposite the Celtics after losing to the 76ers on Wednesday and I just don’t expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to be able to lead Milwaukee to the upset. Note: I was leaning to the under, but oddsmakers made this the lowest total of the opening games. Best Bets: None for now..
Pacers at Cavaliers
Series prices: Cavaliers -700/ 500
Game 1 odds: Cavaliers -6.5 (o/u 216.5)
Tuley’s Take: We all know it’s the Cleveland LeBrons and that King James is 12-0 in first rounds, but while the Cavaliers will almost assuredly advance to the next round, I’ll take my chances with the Pacers having a winning ATS record in this series. They were competitive against the Cavs in the first round last year and went 3-1 SU & ATS this year with the only non-cover being a 7-point loss as 6-point dogs in the last meeting. Familiarity breeds success. Best Bets: Pacers plus-6.5 in Game 1 and probably the rest of the games ATS in the series.
Jazz at Thunder
Series prices: Thunder -135/ 115
Game 1 odds: Thunder -3.5 (o/u 205)
Tuley’s Take: This looks like a matchup of selfish individual players (Thunder) against a team that plays as a team (Jazz). I’ll take the team, especially as Utah places an emphasis on defense. The only thing that scares me is the two blowouts by OKC in the last two meetings, though those both came in December. Still, I might bail if the Jazz lose Game 1 badly. Best Bets: Jazz plus-3.5 in Game 1 and reassess afterwards.
Timberwolves at Rockets
Series prices: Rockets -6000/Timberwolves 1600
Game 1 odds: Rockets -11.5 (o/u 216.5)
Tuley’s Take: The Rockets have been the most complete team in the NBA and I don’t doubt they should win this series relatively easily; however, with the spread being so high and plenty of young talent on the T-Wolves with Karl-Anthony Townes, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins, I see them capable of covering the spread in several games (note: the Rockets did go 4-0 SU & ATS in the season series, but none of the games were lined above -7.5); plus-11.5 is just too much. Best Bets: Timberwolves plus-11.5 in Game 1 and backing them probably in every game.