At the start of this season’s NBA Playoffs, Milwaukee and Phoenix were huge favorites in NBA betting to win their respective conferences and make the Finals.
I’m not sure I actually said this anywhere – so I certainly can’t take a victory lap on it – but I certainly thought that the market was over-tilted. Phoenix and Milwaukee were great teams, and we watched them play each other for a title last year, but the odds that we’d get the exact same matchup of B-List franchises in back-to-back years is just… unlikely.
It did make some sense. That is how NBA odds work, after all – the marketplace sets the price, and the marketplace often relies on recent history to forecast what comes next. But I think on some level, I sensed some kind of market inefficiency.
On Sunday, that inefficiency announced itself with a thunderous shout.
Milwaukee and Phoenix were eliminated in back-to-back games, leaving us with four teams still alive in the NBA Championship odds market: Boston, Miami, Dallas and Golden State.
The Phoenix postmortem is its own fascinating topic that will undoubtedly receive attention. But here, I wanted to focus on handicapping the odds of the four remaining teams, which has quite suddenly turned into a very interesting marketplace.
NBA Championship Odds | The Favorite: Golden State Warriors +120
I am a huge admirer of the culture that Steve Kerr, Steph Curry and the rest of the gang have fostered in the Bay area.
That said, this price is terrible.
If this team wore any other jersey, they would probably have the longest odds of any remaining team. But because it’s Golden State, they’re attracting huge attention, and the book is pricing them accordingly.
As things stand right now, on the morning of May 16, the Warriors are the highest remaining liability for BetMGM online sportsbook. That explains at least some aspect of the high price here.
At this point, you should avoid betting on Golden State at all costs. The payoff just does not match the product they’ve put on the court.
NBA Championship Odds | The Public Darling: Boston Celtics +220
How many times have you heard someone casually announce that the top-level NBA contenders were Boston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Golden State? It’s happened a lot. Even I have been guilty of it.
And to some extent, I suppose that was true. Boston earned its place as a top-tier contender because of the incredible way it’s played on both sides of the ball over the last four months or so. My colleague Colton Pool wrote about it in March, and everything he said then is more or less still true now.
However, if you want to look at the C’s with a critical eye, you could argue that they arrived in the Eastern Conference Finals after beating two inherently flawed or incomplete teams. Fans and media overhyped the Brooklyn series, but I was quick to point out that the Nets were woefully overhyped, and the Celtics might sweep them.
In Round 2, the Celtics beat a Bucks team that mostly devolved into Giannis Antetokounmpo carrying a collection of quality role players. How many people think Boston wins that series if Khris Middleton was healthy?
For Boston to keep its NBA Finals odds going, it will need to beat a Miami team that has home court advantage and no significant injuries or inherent roster weaknesses. Oh, and it’ll need to do that with a compromised Robert Williams, who could remain limited from his bone bruise for several more games.
Boston is the safe choice here, as they probably have the highest ceiling of any remaining team. Ultimately, I think the Celtics are probably the wrong play.
NBA Championship Odds | The Value Play: Miami Heat +425
Just five days ago, I was chatting with the BetMGM Tonight crew and talking about how I couldn’t get behind Miami. The crux of my argument was, “Sure they might have value, but with Phoenix and Milwaukee and Golden State and Boston all still on the board, can you really get behind Miami?”
— BetQL (@betqlapp) May 12, 2022
That calculation has changed in a big way for me in the days since. Miami went from +550 before Game 6 vs Philadelphia to +400 on Friday, as the only team that had actually secured its status as a conference finalist.
Now, with Milwaukee, Memphis and Phoenix off the board, the Heat… have gone up, slightly? To +425?
I couldn’t get there with Miami last week because there were too many teams that I felt were better than them in their way. Now, it’s got much more lucrative odds relative to the market. It’s got home court advantage over a Celtics team missing a key defensive piece. And the way Golden State is playing, I just think the Heat are straight up better.
This is the best play on the board for me in the futures market, but I’m also recommending an NBA spreads play on Miami -1.5 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Expect Boston to show up ragged and bruised, 48 hours after a seven-game series with Milwaukee.
NBA Championship Odds | The Longshot: Dallas Mavericks +650
Dallas feels to me a lot like Toronto did in 2020 – they’re obviously good, but I think it’d be a little weird if the Mavs came out of nowhere and won the entire NBA Championship.
There’s only four teams left, so you have to take them seriously as an option… but I just can’t bet it.
What the Mavs do provide is a very tough matchup for Golden State’s wings. Luka will probably need to be guarded by Andrew Wiggins, and that’s a big advantage to Dallas.
Beyond that, it’s tough to expect Jalen Brunson and especially Spencer Dinwiddie to play as well as they did in the Phoenix Game 7 when they go to San Francisco.
I don’t want to leave the Dallas angle completely on the cutting room floor, so I’m taking a small position on a Mavs-Heat NBA Finals at +600. That allows me at least one potential avenue to profit off the overpriced nature of the Warriors.
Bets: Miami -1.5 in ECF Game 1; Miami to Win the NBA Championship +425; Miami to Lead ECF After Game 3 -105; Miami to Play Dallas in NBA Championship +600