As promised in last week’s Point Spread Weekly, I’m posting my “takes” on the NBA first-round series as they start Monday and Tuesday in Orlando.
I’m looking for live underdogs per usual, however, I don’t like the one that seems to be getting the most attention: the Blazers against the Lakers. I’m sure you’ve read or heard the arguments for the Blazers -- who earned the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed in the play-in game on Saturday thanks to “bubble MVP” Damian Lillard -- and have maybe uttered these same statements:
*The Lakers were only 3-5 SU & 1-7 ATS in the NBA Restart, plus their offensive efficiency rating was only 102.6, ranking 20th of the 22 teams in the seeding games.
*The Blazers are not your typical No. 8 seed.
And I know that anyone I talk to about the NBA playoff is going to assume I’m going to be on the Blazers (after all, I’ve been writing for weeks about the Lakers being a big bet-against team during the Restart because they had virtually nothing to play for and I’ve profited from it by going 7-1), so of course I’m going to continue fading them, right?
The playoffs are a totally different animal. The very reason that made the Lakers vulnerable in the seeding games, especially against the spread, has been removed. In fact, the pendulum of public support and sentiment has swung so much against the Lakers that I’d argue that the odds are too short on them. The Lakers are only -500 in the opening series despite being the No. 1 seed (note the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Bucks, are as high as -20000 vs. the Magic) with the Blazers at plus-400.
That’s too low of a price for me to bite on this dog, and the same goes for individual-game betting as the Lakers are only 5.5-point favorites in Wednesday night’s Game 1. The Lakers were 5-point faves in the meetings in Portland during the regular season, but we’re only getting plus-5.5 on a neutral court? The Lakers were -13 when facing the Blazers in L.A., so I’d need to at least split the difference (around plus-9) to be willing to take the Blazers in any game of this series -- and I highly doubt I’ll get it. Even if the Blazers fall behind in the series, the line won’t rise that high as oddsmakers will know a lot of bettors will be trying to recoup their losses for jumping on the Portland bandwagon and won’t raise the spread much, if at all.
So that’s a hard pass on the popular public underdog.
A quick word on betting Over/Unders in the NBA postseason. I’m sure you’ve read or heard that scoring was up from 222.9 points per game in the regular season before the shutdown to 231.5 ppg in the seeding games in the bubble while Overs were 47-40-1 (54 percent). Those stats will probably be having a lot of bettors looking for those trends to continue, but I believe that there could be more of an emphasis on defense in the playoffs, so I would definitely look Under-or-Pass, though I’m choosing to focus more on series and game-by-game dogs.
Here’s a look at the NBA’s other first-round series:
Series starting Monday
Jazz vs. Nuggets
Series prices: Nuggets -300/Jazz plus-250
Game 1: Nuggets -4.5, O/U 215.5
Tuley’s Take: The plus-250 series price on the Jazz is a little tempting, but I’m not thrilled with backing either of these two teams at this time as both have been hit with injuries. I might look to take the Jazz plus points later in the series if they fall behind.
Raptors vs. Nets
Series prices: Raptors -4000, Nets plus-1500
Game 1: Raptors -9, O/U 222
Tuley’s Take: This series should be as lopsided as the odds indicate for the defending champion Raptors in the first round of their title defense against a Nets team without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Pass.
Celtics vs. 76ers
Series prices: Celtics -400/76ers plus-320
Game 1: Celtics -5.5, O/U 218.5
Tuley’s Take: OK, you knew I wasn’t going to pass on every underdog, and here’s the first one I like: the Philadelphia 76ers. I know they’re without Ben Simmons, but consider me in the camp that believes the 76ers are better when the offense runs through Joel Embiid and the team can play as a team instead of having to give Simmons his shots (his free-throw shooting is also a late-game liability). I think we’re getting more points than we’d be getting if Simmons wasn’t out. And I’ve seen the 76ers’ series price at plus-340 at William Hill and some other books, so shop around.
Clippers vs. Mavericks
Series prices: Clippers -650/Mavericks plus-375
Game 1: Clippers -6, O/U 230
Tuley’s Take: With the Lakers’ struggles, some books have made the Clippers the favorites to win the NBA title, but I think they’re the most likely top contender to have a problem surviving the first round. Even though the Clippers won the season series 3-0 (and that fact has me passing on the series price), I think Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are a matchup nightmare for any team, even the Clippers, and I’ll start by taking the Mavericks plus-6 in Game 1 and I’m confident they’ll have a winning ATS record over the whole series.
Other series starting Tuesday
Bucks vs. Magic
Series prices: Bucks -15000/Magic plus-3000
Game 1: Bucks -12, O/U 224.5
Tuley’s Take: I’m taking the Magic to pull the massive upset, but I do expect them to at least win a few games ATS before being ousted. I will start with the Magic 12 in Game 1 as the oddsmakers are still making Milwaukee backers lay a lot of points and we could still see some rust from a Bucks team that let teams stick around in the seeding games. The Bucks should sweep this series or take five games at the most, but they don’t have to win by large margins to accomplish their goals.
Heat vs. Pacers
Series prices: Heat -320/Pacers plus-260
Game 1: Heat -3.5, O/U 216.5
Tuley’s Take: The Pacers sneaked past the Heat for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the oddsmakers weren’t fooled as the Heat are a sizable series favorite. With such a big series price, I was hoping we’d be getting more points with the Pacers in individual games, but I’ll have to pass at only plus-3.5.
Thunder vs. Rockets
Series prices: Rockets -150/Thunder plus-130
Game 1: Thunder -1.5, O/U 225.5
Tuley’s Take: We have an oddity here with the Thunder favored in Game 1 but the Rockets favored in the series because Russell Westbrook is out for Houston in the opener. However, I expect James Harden to pick up the slack, so I’ll take the Rockets plus-1.5 in Game 1. I’ll have to see how this series plays out, but I could see me backing the dog in every game, especially if Westbrook returns and the oddsmakers adjust the odds too far in the other direction and give the Thunder too many points.