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What the betting markets have to say about the NBA playoffs

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Fasten your seat belts…we’re about to have the NHL and NBA playoffs running full speed side by side. The latest from round one on the ice, plus a market and statistical overview of the pro hoops postseason that begins Saturday. Everybody’s working for the weekend in VSiN City!

NBA Playoffs: Market watch…up close and on the horizon
Because VSiN is “CNBC for sports bettors,” we begin our NBA Playoff coverage with a look at the betting market. Odds have now settled for Saturday and Sunday opening games, the series prices, and futures prices to win the league championship. 

We’ll run those for you in tip-off order from Saturday and Sunday so you can make notes in your schedules. Series prices represent a composite from Las Vegas and offshore because numbers do vary across the landscape on that betting proposition. We’re using the championship futures prices posted on twitter late Thursday by Jeff Sherman of the Westgate. (If you’re wondering about estimated “market” Power Ratings and key indicator stats, they’re coming up momentarily!)

San Antonio at Golden State…Saturday (3:05 p.m. ET on ABC)
Game One: Golden State -8, total of 210
Series Price: Golden State -1000, San Antonio plus 700
Futures Prices (Westgate): Golden State -120, San Antonio 100/1

It’s a shame that both Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard will miss the series. Though, it’s possible Leonard will miraculously show up ready to play. The market is NOT expecting that to happen based on these prices. 

Washington at Toronto…Saturday (5:35 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Game One: Toronto -8, total of 211.5
Series Price: Toronto -700, Washington plus 500
Futures Prices (Westgate): Toronto 10/1, Washington 200/1

Toronto is only second-best in the East on the Westgate board, with Cleveland sitting at 8/1. We’ve already talked a lot in recent days about using a Parlay Calculator to estimate your return on the “rollover” strategy (betting your initial stake on a team to win its first round, then re-investing all you get back every round moving forward). Toronto would likely return something closer to 15/1 or 16/1 based on current estimates…using -700 here, pick-em vs. Cleveland, then ballpark estimates for later matchups. Does Washington look like an appealing longshot at 200/1? Probably not, given the way the Wizards finished the season. Because they’d be decisive dogs in every round, the rollover return on Washington could project as high as 3,000/1! So, whenever you see a team in any sport at 100/1, 200/1, or higher, the “true” odds are still significantly worse than what you’re seeing as a general rule. 

Miami at Philadelphia…Saturday (8:05 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Game One: Philadelphia -7, total of 212
Series Price: Philadelphia -500, Miami plus 400
Futures Prices (Westgate): Philadelphia 25/1, Miami 200/1

Philadelphia is getting a lot of respect out of the gate. Miami’s another team that would pay off in the low thousands to one with a rolling parlay at huge returns. Just beating Philadelphia, the survivor of Toronto/Cleveland down the road, and the Western champ would pay off near 900/1 in a three-teamer (skipping the second round vs. Boston or Milwaukee). Good test for the young Sixers against a team that shouldn’t really scare them, but could. 

New Orleans at Portland…Saturday (10:35 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Game One: Portland -5.5, total of 217
Series Price: Portland -200, New Orleans plus 170
Futures Prices (Westgate): Portland 50/1, New Orleans 200/1

A great matchup that may get overlooked in media coverage because neither entry is seen as much of a threat to go deep. You don’t often see a #3 seed at 50/1. Some great individual talent on the floor. 

Milwaukee at Boston…Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET on TNT)
Game One: Boston -4, total of 203
Series Price: Boston -160, Milwaukee plus 140
Futures Prices (Westgate): Boston 100/1, Milwaukee 300/1

As we move to day two, Boston is getting NO respect against Milwaukee. Home court advantage is usually worth three points by itself. Boston is seen as only one point better on a neutral court. Even as a #2 seed, Boston would be a series dog against #3 Philadelphia in the second round based on the market composite. 

Indiana at Cleveland…Sunday (3:35 p.m. ET on ABC)
Game One: Cleveland -6.5, total of 216.5
Series Price: Cleveland -600, Indiana plus 450
Futures Prices (Westgate): Cleveland 8/1, Indiana 200/1

Tough one for the market to gauge because Cleveland has an extra gear it uses in the playoffs. How fast will this engine run with a few new faces and a questionable defense? Indiana has been playing better than its pricing all season (47-35 ATS), and probably isn’t getting enough respect here. That said, still a tough ask to eliminate LeBron James in the first round. 

Utah at Oklahoma City…Sunday (6:35 p.m. ET on TNT)
Game One: Oklahoma City -3.5, total of 205
Series Price: Oklahoma City -130, Utah plus 110
Futures Prices (Westgate): Oklahoma City 50/1, Utah 80/1

Two quality teams, yet both are market longshots to matter because they’re in such a killer conference. The market is expecting a lot of drama with those Game One and series prices. Will the eventual survivor have anything left in the next round against Houston? 

Minnesota at Houston…Sunday (9:05 p.m. ET on TNT)
Game One: Houston -11, total of 217
Series Price: Houston -3800, Minnesota plus 1400
Futures Prices (Westgate): Houston 13/10, Minnesota 300/1

The least compelling series of the first round because Houston is awesome, while Minnesota hasn’t impressed much vs. quality down the stretch. And, head-to-head, Minnesota’s defense has been really outmatched by the Houston approach. Minnesota’s more like 3,000/1 on the rolling parlay approach instead of 300/1 because it would have to take out both Houston and Golden State (eventually) just to win the West. 

NBA Playoffs: Estimated “market” Power Ratings heading into the postseason
You longtime readers know all about these. If you’re new to VSiN City, we try to estimate how the sum intelligence of “the market” has Power Rated teams in the major betting sports. We use three points for home court or home field advantage (most studies settle on that as the “right” number in basketball and football, pro and college). Then, we use the pointspread to determine how far apart each “pairing” should be on the scale. Houston is -11 vs. Minnesota this weekend. That’s the same as EIGHT points on a neutral court. We have to make sure Houston is eight points ahead of Minnesota. 

Here’s our current guess at how “the market” sees the 16 playoff entries…

89: Houston
87: Golden State (without Curry, 90 with him)
85: Toronto
84: Cleveland, Portland, Oklahoma City
83: Philadelphia, Utah
82: San Antonio (without Leonard), New Orleans
81: Indiana, Boston, Minnesota
80: Milwaukee, Washington
79: Miami

We could be off a point or so with any of those. Remember, if you think a team is too high or too low and should be moved…you ALSO have to make the case that the other team in its couplet has to move. If you’d rather have Golden State without Curry at 88, you also have to have San Antonio without Leonard at 83 because Golden State is -8 Saturday (five points on the scale, and then three more for home court). 

Very tricky to pin down the mess in the middle. Maybe Cleveland and Indiana should only be 83 and 80…but the market sure is pricing Cleveland like an 84 in the futures options. Maybe Oklahoma City and Utah are only 83 and 82. 

Philadelphia and Miami are a challenge. Is Miami really the worst team on the scale? Tough case to make if you study the stats. But, lifting them both up puts Philadelphia at 84, Miami at 80. Should Philadelphia be on the same line as Cleveland, when the Cavs are only 8/1 to go the distance while the Sixers are 25/1 in the easier half of the Eastern brackets? If you stick Cleveland up to 85…that lifts Indiana to 82, which seems too high for the Pacers. 

We’ll let future lines and rounds sort these issues out. 

NBA Playoffs: An outline of the “Holy Trinity” and Three-Point Profiles
We’re a five-day-a-week publication, so we can’t fit in game-by-game stat previews in advance of an eight-game weekend. Today we’ll present “big picture” stuff. Next week…as the per-day schedule lightens, we’ll be able to dig deeper into the key analytics stats in all eight matchups.

We start with the “Holy Trinity” categories you studied with us during March Madness. These are defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), rebound rate (percentage of available rebounds grabbed), and turnover avoidance. We grabbed the season-ending rankings from the Hollinger Stats page on espn.com. Any time you see “T” after a number, it means that team was tied with another playoff team in that spot. Utah and San Antonio tied for fifth in rebound rate, so they have #5T for rebounding

Western Conference Holy Trinity: (rankings out of 30 NBA teams)
Houston: #6 defense, #10 rebounding, #12 TO avoidance 
Golden State: #8T defense, #11 rebounding, #28 TO avoidance 
Portland: #8 defense, #4 rebounding, #6 TO avoidance 
Utah: #2 defense, #5T rebounding, #24 TO avoidance 
Oklahoma City: #10 defense, #2 rebounding, #9 TO avoidance 
New Orleans: #12T defense, #20 rebounding, #17T TO avoidance 
San Antonio: #4 defense, #5T rebounding, #5 TO avoidance 
Minnesota: #22 defense, #16 rebounding, #1 TO avoidance 

The closest thing to a Holy Trinity juggernaut is San Antonio. This helps explain why they’ve been so great in the past, but are ceasing to be as relevant as the emphasis on three-pointers increases. Clear already that evaluating the playoffs will involve understanding how those rankings meld with three-point emphasis. 

Though, it’s clear that defense and rebounding are somewhat important. Few slouches up there. New Orleans is always a much worse rebounding team than its media hype would suggest. Minnesota really sticks out as a lousy defense and rebounding team. Good luck with THAT vs. Houston. 

Western Conference Three-Point Profile
Houston: #1 makes per game, #14 percentage, #1 emphasis
Golden State: #8 makes per game, #1 percentage, #15 emphasis
Portland: #16 makes per game, #11 percentage, #18 emphasis
Utah: #13 makes per game, #12 percentage, #10 emphasis
Oklahoma City: #15 makes per game, #24 percentage, #12 emphasis
New Orleans: #18 makes per game, #13 percentage, #20 emphasis
San Antonio: #28 makes per game, #26 percentage, #27 emphasis
Minnesota: #30 makes per game, #19 percentage, #30 emphasis

Houston not only is #1 in makes per game from behind the arc, but is a few clear of the field. That’s like starting every game with a 9-0 lead. Probably the biggest “explainer” for why Houston and Golden State are so far ahead of “the rest of the West” in “market” Power Ratings and futures prices is the fact that both are lethal on treys (Houston with volume, Golden State with accuracy), while NONE of the other six teams manages a single digit ranking in ANY of the profile categories. Treys are the jets in the jetpack. Most teams haven’t built their jetpacks yet.

Eastern Conference Holy Trinity: (rankings out of 30 NBA teams)
Toronto: #5 defense, #8 rebounding, #4 TO avoidance 
Boston: #1 defense, #13T rebounding, #15 TO avoidance 
Philadelphia: #3 defense, #1 rebounding, #30 TO avoidance 
Cleveland: #29 defense, #22 rebounding, #10 TO avoidance 
Indiana: #12T defense, #19 rebounding, #6T TO avoidance 
Miami: #7 defense, #15 rebounding, #17T TO avoidance 
Milwaukee: #17 defense, #27 rebounding, #14 TO avoidance 
Washington: #15 defense, #13T rebounding, #17T TO avoidance 

Toronto and Philadelphia are clearly both “defense and rebounding” teams. But, Toronto is great with the ball, while Philadelphia was the most turnover-prone team in the NBA on a per-possession basis. That’s the likely tie-breaker if those two meet in the Eastern finals. You can throw out the horrible rankings for the Cavs in those two stats. The trick is knowing at what level Cleveland will perform moving forward. LeBron and company ARE vulnerable if they can only rise up to “league average” in both of those categories. 

Eastern Conference Three-Point Profile
Toronto: #4 makes per game, #18 percentage, #5 emphasis
Boston: #7 makes per game, #2 percentage, #8 emphasis
Philadelphia: #12 makes per game, #10 percentage, #13 emphasis
Cleveland: #3 makes per game, #6 percentage, #4 emphasis
Indiana: #25 makes per game, #9 percentage, #26 emphasis
Miami: #11 makes per game, #16 percentage, #7 emphasis
Milwaukee: #27 makes per game, #22 percentage, #25 emphasis
Washington: #21 makes per game, #4 percentage, #24 emphasis

Notice how Cleveland hides its other weaknesses by emphasizing treys like it’s Houston or Golden State. Toronto is similar to Houston in terms of makes and emphasis with a mediocre percentage. Since those are the #1 seeds, let me stack those. 

Houston: #1 makes per game, #14 percentage, #1 emphasis
Toronto: #4 makes per game, #18 percentage, #5 emphasis

That’s what “regular season” championship basketball looks like these days. The sport as a whole is evolving that direction because the pioneers have been having such success. Frankly, if you look at what the “smart” teams are doing (based on reputation), the three-point composite rankings express that intelligence. Boston with Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens enjoy single digit rankings across the board. Philadelphia’s above average even with a bunch of youngsters, some of whom DON’T shoot from long range. 

Be sure you watch VSiN programming all weekend for game day market developments in the NBA, NHL, and MLB. What a great sports weekend! See you Monday. 

 

NHL Playoffs: Columbus scores the first playoff upset! 
Finally, an upset after chalk few through early action in the 2018 NHL Playoffs. We start with that shocker as Columbus rallies from behind to win at Washington.

Columbus (plus 130) 4, Washington 3 (in overtime) 
Shots on Goal: Columbus 27, Washington 30
Power Plays: Columbus 2/4, Washington 2/6

Washington won the first period 2-0, on a shot count of 9-4. Perhaps the favorite got too complacent sitting on a 2-1 lead entering the third period. Columbus would win shot count 11-5 from that point forward, with two goals in the final period and the game-winner six minutes into overtime.

Fans of Washington are used to postseason migraines. The Capitals will try to get even Saturday…as all five of the game two’s from Thursday matchups will be played Saturday afternoon or evening. The winner of this series will face Pittsburgh in the second round barring a shocking flip of form in that series with the Flyers. 

Tampa Bay (-215) 5, New Jersey 2
Shots on Goal: New Jersey 31, Tampa Bay 32
Power Plays: New Jersey 1/2, Tampa Bay 1/1

Bad sign for this outmatched underdog that it couldn’t win shot count despite trailing almost the whole way. New Jersey did win shots in the second period 15-7, but faded badly after that (12-5 for the home favorite in the third period. 

Tampa Bay will try to scoot through this series so it can rest up for a tough second-round battle with either Boston or Toronto. 

Boston (-160) 5, Toronto 1
Shots on Goal: Toronto 27, Boston 40
Power Plays: Toronto 0/3, Boston 3/6

We were wrong expecting this to be a great game! Disappointing performance from the Maple Leafs, who dissolved after forcing a 1-1 tie through the first period. Boston would win the rest of the game 4-0 on a shot count of 31-20 (in a sport where that stat can skew toward the trailer who needs to force the flow of play). You can tell Toronto lost its composure given those six Boston power play opportunities. 

To the degree there’s good news for the series underdog, 5-on-5 scoring was just 2-1. And, generally speaking, the game one loser is often a smart value bet in a series that was expected to be relatively evenly matched. Doesn’t always work out that way. But, Toronto is a nice team to think about with a chip on its shoulder. 

Nashville (-300) 5, Colorado 2
Shots on Goal: Colorado 27, Nashville 31
Power Plays: Colorado 0/3, Nashville 1/2

Very interesting for a while, as huge underdog Colorado led 2-1 early in the second period. Western Conference favorite Nashville would dominate the rest of the evening, 4-0 on the scoreboard (the final tally coming on an empty-netter). Nashville has the luxury in this series of starting slowly because of big edges in talent and experience.

The opening game in Anaheim/San Jose was a late finisher. We’ll get caught up in that series next week.

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