Overbet and Overvalued Playoff Teams in Opening Round Series Including the Cavaliers
The NBA playoffs begin this weekend as the long road to the NBA championship begins. The NBA playoffs have always been my least favorite of all college or pro playoffs as it drags out through June. It's also been a sport where playoff experience has mattered more and top teams advance to the championship round more often. So, it's no surprise that a number of the opening round series prices are very high, with a few through the roof for the favorites.
Three teams enter the playoffs super surging through their final 30 games. The Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz all won at least 80% of their final 30 games. The last time three teams finished with at least 24 wins in their final 30 games was the 1997-98 season. Houston (65-17) went 26-4 SU and actually 31-4 over their final 35 games. The big point spreads provided the great equalizer as the Rockets went 16-14 ATS. Philadelphia (52-30) had a sensational season winning 52 games following just 28 the year before and only 10 wins two seasons ago. The Sixers earned the #4 seed in the East with home court advantage in the opening round thanks to 16-straight wins to close the regular season and 25-5 over their final 30 games, going 18-12 ATS. Philadelphia was also the #2 team in profit this season behind Boston while covering the spread in 47 games. Utah (48-34) was the other hot team in the West closing 24-6 and actually 29-6 over their final 35 games including 20-15 ATS to earn the #5 seed. The Jazz open the playoffs at Oklahoma City and are a series play below.
Since the start of the 2002 season, 14 teams have closed the regular season playing .800 or better basketball over their final 30 games to enter the playoffs with a hot hand. They combined to go just 53% ATS in the playoffs. But 9 of the 14 teams were #1 seeds, and five of those teams went on to win the NBA championship. The other five teams were either a #2 or #3 seed with one a lower seed. Two of those teams lost in the first round, two in the conference semi's, and one team, the 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs won the championship as a #3 seed.
So how will #4 Philadelphia and #5 Utah fare in the opening round?
You'll have to lay a pretty big price with many of the teams in the opening round, including the 76ers. Here are the series prices from leading offshore sportsbook BookMaker.
The Houston Rockets are the #1 seed in the West and were bet up to a more than -4000 some sportsbooks. At BookMaker, the Rockets are -3800 and Golden State is the next big favorite at -1015. The top team in the East is next with Toronto -700 followed by defending East champion Cleveland -620
Here are three series to consider with some betting insight. Some of the information was passed along to me with stat research, and I add my insight for you to decide on a wager.
Indiana +460 over Cleveland
The Cavaliers' LeBron James has increased his scoring average in the playoffs each of the last six years. In last year's opening playoff series against Indiana, James averaged 33 PPG, 10 RPG and 9 assists per game. Yet despite the 4-game sweep the top-seeded Cavs had to battle hard against the Pacers while winning all four games by 6 points or less (2-2 ATS). Cleveland failed to cover either home game. James has now won 17 straight 1st round playoff games. Think about that. Three opening round series sweeps (12 games) the last three seasons with Cleveland, and a series sweep his final year in Miami. His Heat team also won 4-of-5 opening round games each of the previous two years.
Many media members and pundits feel like the Cavaliers will turn it on for the playoffs after a disappointing regular season in which they went 50-32 to finish just 2 games in front of Indiana in the Central division. Cleveland was a huge money-burner ATS this season with a league-low 32 wins against the spread.
But here is the case for Indiana. The pundits projected 31 wins for the Pacers this season and Indiana won 48 games. George was replaced by Oladipo, who scored a team high 23 PPG and statistically had a better year than George did a year ago. Oladipo is also a better defender. The additions of Collison, Bogdanovic, and Sabonis are greater than who they replaced. Despite Cleveland being favorites in 18 of the last 19 meetings with Indiana, the Cavaliers have gone just 12-7 on only two of those wins was by more than 7 points. Cleveland's average scoring margin in those games was just less than 1 point per game, and the Pacers connected on better than 41% of their 3-point shots.
This season Indiana won 3-of-4 against Cleveland, each time as an underdog, and the Cavs have one of the worst playoff defense in the history of the league. The Cavaliers finished #29 in defensive efficiency, and while they played without Kyrie Irving, who was traded to Boston, it's still a concern with the significant drop off defensively. The Cavaliers rotation is not as strong or deep this season, and while many expect them to turn it on for the playoffs and return to the finals, it's not likely to happen with a losing record vs. playoff teams this year during the regular season. That's your projection to guide you, and with the Cavs also having a lower scoring margin than the Pacers this season.
There is no doubt that Indiana is offering up some nice value in the opening round to pull the upset and send LeBron and the Cavs home early. Hopefully the officiating won't corrupt the proceedings as the longer LeBron lasts the more eyeballs watch the playoffs and TV ratings grow. But we're not following the money, we're buying low on the potential for the Pacers to pull off a series surprise at a big price.
Utah Jazz +130 over Oklahoma City
The Thunder also have a star player that fans like to follow, and Russell Westbrook set records this season for most triple-doubles. But guard Andre Roberson is an integral part of Oklahoma City's success, and he actually had a higher plus/minus rating than Westbrook. Since Roberson's season-ending patellar-tendon injury in late January, we've seen Westbrook's plus/minus rating drop, and the Thunder are just 24-19 without Roberson and 24-22 SU when he played less than 16 minutes. That includes just 9-14 SU against playoff teams.
Utah has become a contender since the added Jae Crowder at the trade deadline. He's a top defender on Utah's best-in-the West defense. They dealt Rodney Hood to Cleveland, where he fit right in with the Cavaliers deficient defense. The Jazz defense is strong, ranking #2 overall in adjusted defensive efficiency with an additional rim protector in 7-foot center Rudy Gobert, the team's leading rebounder. The Jazz had a losing record when Gobert was out with a sprained knee for a month, and are 37-19 when he was in the lineup. Since the personnel changes and addition of Crowder, Utah was 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS on the road with rest with an average scoring margin of more than 17 points per game. Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio leads the team in assists and scored a career-high 13 PPG in his first season in Utah.
Oklahoma City's key injury to Roberson is significant, and while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony added to the scoring punch for the Thunder in their first season in Oklahoma City, the cohesion and play to start the season (4-7) and close the season (5-5) does not offer as much confidence. Utah finished with the same 48 wins as Oklahoma City, but the Jazz trade for Crowder and return to health of Gobert has them playing at a much higher level. Utah is a series underdog, but actually the better team as the series begins.
Boston -175 over Milwaukee
The Boston Celtics suffered significant issues with injuries this season while losing out on 155 key-player games. Hayward went out early to open the season and star point guard Kyrie Irving was lost to season-ending knee surgery the final month of the season. Boston was dominant to start the season winning 16 straight games following two opening losses. But the injuries derailed their progress, yet the Celtics still won 55 games to earn the #2 seed in the East. Milwaukee is the #7 seed, but the Bucks are statistically the worst team in the playoffs. They fired coach Jason Kidd in January, and under replacement Joe Prunty the Bucks were 21-16 and still deficient on defense. Milwaukee allowed nearly 113 points per game over their last 17 games to close the regular season, and 15 of those went over the total.
Boston is still a defense first team under superlative coach Brad Stevens, and they adjusted to their loss of key personnel. That's because his system is strong and he doesn't accept players not performing on the defensive end. While not at full health, Boston still posted the 4th best record in the NBA vs teams in the playoffs, while Milwaukee had the worst record vs. playoff teams. The Bucks have dropped 7 straight playoff series including the two under Kidd as coach going 2-4 SU on the road. Yes, Milwaukee has some talented young players including the Greek freak Giannis Antelokounmpo (27 PPG, 10 RPG) and Jabari Parker along with a solid veteran guard in Eric Bledsoe. But Boston is balanced with seven players scoring double figures even without Irving, and the well-coached Celtics and their superior defense should deliver against a Bucks team with deficiencies on defense.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay