How to Bet the NBA Playoffs: A Sportsbook Director Rates Every Contender’s Chances

Is there a better bet than the championship-favored Brooklyn Nets?

May 21, 2021 9:00 am
Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets with teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets with teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Jim McIsaac/Getty

To join a club that previously only included Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Malcolm Brogdon and Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving finished the NBA season shooting 50.6% from the field, 92.2% from the line and 40.2% from 3-point range.

And Irving, who is a seven-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, might be just the third-best player on his team, as the Brooklyn Nets also have James Harden and Durant. That’s why the Nets, who will play the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs starting on Saturday night, are the overwhelming favorites to win the Eastern Conference at -110.

Even though Irving, Harden and Durant have played together just eight times this season and former All-Star Blake Griffin has played with Brooklyn’s Big Three just once since being acquired in March, the Nets have won five in a row and are second in the NBA in scoring at 118.6 points per game. (The Milwaukee Bucks are first, at 120.1.)

While on-court chemistry could be an issue for the Nets due to their stars’ lack of time on the floor together, health is the major concern for Brooklyn according to Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.

“Brooklyn is favored to win the East and get to the NBA Finals even though they’re the No. 2 seed. That, of course, hinges on the Big Three being healthy and playing throughout the playoffs,” he says. “They haven’t played too many games together throughout the course of the season. Can they get through the rest of the postseason injury-free? If they can stay healthy, they should definitely make it to the Finals. I don’t think the Celtics have a legitimate shot of beating them in the first round. I think they’re the rightful favorite.”

Per Gable, the team with the second-best odds (+350) of advancing out of the East, the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, is the only club with a legit shot of taking out the Net in a seven-game series.

“It’s going to take the Sixers going all-out with the best effort they can possibly muster,” he says. “Their main strength is really their defense. They’re second in the league overall in defensive efficiency, only behind the Lakers, and they’re outstanding defensively at every position. They really don’t have any weak links. The issue with Philadelphia is going to be can they score? A lot’s going to be put on Joel Embiid. Embiid has played at an MVP level all season, but he’s really going to need to do it against the Nets for the Sixers to have any sort of chance to beat them. It would take a really big effort from Embiid down low and just riding him to be able to do that. I  think Brooklyn can go through anybody, but Philadelphia having to beat both Milwaukee and Brooklyn in a seven-game series would be a tall task for them. So, I like Brooklyn to come out of the East.”

So who does Gable like to come out of the Western Conference? Find out below along with a breakdown of the top teams in the playoff field as well as their odds to make the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles Lakers (+200)

“Despite being in the play-in games, the Lakers are actually the favorite to win the Western Conference. LeBron is not going to be 100%. He’s pretty much admitted he’s never going to be 100% for the rest of his career. They have Phoenix in the first round. The Suns have been, at least record-wise, one of the best teams all year.”

Los Angeles Clippers (+260)

“Out of the West, I really like the Clippers. The Clippers made some moves there strategically the last few games to try to avoid the Lakers in the playoffs and it seems to have worked out for them. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard haven’t played together a ton because of injuries. So, do they have that chemistry that they necessarily need? I guess that remains to be seen, but they’re both healthy going into the playoffs. I think they played 43 games together during the regular season and they were dominant in those games. They were ranked first in offensive. When those two are on the court together, watch out. I really like the Clippers’ chances here to come out of the West and get over the hurdle. Clippers facing the Nets in the Finals would be my pick. I would go with the Clippers to take it all.”

Utah Jazz (+325)

“It’s a little interesting that the Jazz have the best record but they’re the third-favorite to come out of the West. The Jazz had a phenomenal regular season and had the league’s longest winning streak, 11 games, at one point. They won 39 games by double-digits this season, by far the most in the league. Rudy Gobert is probably going to be the Defensive Player of the Year. They just play really, really efficiently on offense and led the league in 3-pointers made at 16.7 per game. They also attempted the most, but they get high-quality shots and they move the ball very well. Donovan Mitchell missed the final month with his ankle injury, but they’re certainly capable of winning without him.”

Milwaukee Bucks (+375)

“If anyone’s going to take the Nets out, it would be the Bucks or the Sixers. The Bucks seem to have learned some lessons from their failures the past two years in the playoffs. They’ve gotten better. They got Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans. Certainly he’s been an upgrade over Eric Bledsoe at point guard. They added PJ Tucker. While they have a worse record this year, I think they’re probably better prepared for the playoffs. Last year Giannis Antetokounmpo went down with an ankle injury in the playoffs against the Heat. And here they are facing the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That’s going to be a tough series. The Bucks are favored, but the Heat certainly are capable of extending that series out.”

Phoenix Suns (+700)

“I don’t put a lot of credence in Phoenix. I’ll just put that out there. The Suns had a great regular season. Nobody gave them much chance to win their division and they pulled that off. So, kudos to them for the regular season. They’ve benefited from having good health all year and Chris Paul was a huge addition for them. Outside of Paul and Jae Crowder, they don’t have much playoff experience on the roster. It’s a completely different game in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. The defensive intensity gets ratcheted and the game is played a lot differently.”

Miami Heat (+1200)

“When they went into the bubble last season, nobody was really expecting anything out of them, but they were sensational. This year, they’re peaking again. They were able to frustrate Giannis defensively until that ankle injury claimed him, and he was out. You have Jimmy Butler as the senior leader there and they’re just a tough team and the club that really nobody in the East wanted to open up against. I could see the Heat possibly giving the Bucks some trouble. The Bucks are pretty heavily favored, but the Heat seem to be playing well at the right time, again. And they’ve had their number in the past. But the Heat would have a tough road if they can get past Milwaukee again. They would then have Brooklyn, more than likely, waiting for them in the next round.”

Denver Nuggets (+1400)

“I think everybody expected the Nuggets to fold up when Jamal Murray tore his ACL, but they didn’t. They continued to win and they look like they could be contenders. I don’t know if just having Nikola Jokić, who is more than likely the MVP of the league, is enough. Michael Porter Jr. really needs to step up in the playoffs, but it going to need to be a full team effort. The Nuggets are a slight favorite in the first round against the Blazers, but I really like Denver to advance. The Nuggets are just a more complete team. Just based on the price at 14:1, I would take the Nuggets as a dark horse out of the West and maybe put something small on them.”

Dallas Mavericks (+1600)

“I don’t give the Mavericks much credence to beat the Clippers in their playoff series.”

Portland Trail Blazers (+2500)

“The Blazers can score a lot of points. Their issue is on defense. I think Portland has too many problems defensively and they’re going to be exposed in the playoffs, even if they can get by the Nuggets.”

Atlanta Hawks (+3000)

“One of the more interesting matchups in the playoffs is the first-round series between the Hawks and the Knicks. Julius Randle is probably going to be matched up against Clint Capela and John Collins. Trae Young didn’t really shoot well against the Knicks in the regular season, but even when he hasn’t been on the floor as of late, the Hawks have been able to score and have still been able to play well. So now, having Young healthy, that’s going to be big. I would give the Knicks a slight edge in the series, but I could definitely see it going either way. Even if the Hawks win, that’s probably going to be as far as they go.”

New York Knicks (+3500)

“Before the season started nobody would have said, ‘Hey, the Knicks will be the No. 4 seed going into the playoffs.’ Tom Thibodeau has made great strides with that team. Julius Randle is the man there in New York. He leads them in scoring and assists. They have great role players with RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock. They obviously don’t have much postseason experience though. I think their starters have played 16 total playoff games and Nerlens Noel had 12 of them. The Knicks are a slight favorite over Atlanta in the first round. I don’t think whoever comes out of that series, whether it be the Knicks or the Hawks, is getting past the second round. But for a dark horse in the East, I think the Knicks could give some people some trouble. Right now they’re 35:1 to win the East. So maybe I’d place a small bet on the Knicks.

Golden State Warriors (+5000)

“The Warriors are more than likely going to get into the playoffs. Obviously Steph Curry has been playing at an MVP-caliber level through much of the second half of the year. He won the scoring title. They’re small, but when they put Draymond Green at center, they’ve actually outscored opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. So, when they really go small there, it seems to have helped them. You can never really count out a team with Curry, but I wouldn’t really put anything on Golden State to advance very far. Could they potentially win a first-round matchup and pull off an upset? Yeah, I could see that possibly happening. But not getting past the second round.”

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