Betting Every Series of the NBA Playoffs, Round Two

I came down with strep throat this week, which is really fucking awful. My girlfriend came over yesterday and told me I need to smoke fewer cigarettes, drink lots of water, and avoid eating “sweets.” If these are my only options, I think I might just choose death. But I guess we will see what happens.

There’s a reason I opted not to bet on the first round, and that reason is it was too good to be true. There’s just no way that every favorite was going to win, right? I feel like my pride gets in the way of these bets, because what’s the point of betting if I’m not going to bet on every series? If I’m going to put in a parlay, I want to get the maximum payoff. I outlined in my original post just how drastic the odds shifted if I excluded the Oklahoma City Thunder (who lost in 5 games) and Denver Nuggets (who won in 7) — the two lowest favorites — and once I saw the final number it didn’t seem worth it.

Here’s a review of my first round picks (with winners highlighted in bold):

Warriors > Clippers in 4 games (actually Warriors in 6)
Nuggets > Spurs in 6 games (actually Nuggets in 7)
Thunder > Trail Blazers in 6 games (actually Trail Blazers in 5)
Rockets > Jazz in 7 games (actually Rockets in 5)
Bucks > Pistons in 4 games (actually Bucks in 4)
Raptors > Magic in 4 games (actually Raptors in 5)
76ers > Nets in 5 games (actually 76ers in 5)
Celtics > Pacers in 5 games (actually Celtics in 4)

Picking 7 out of 8 winners isn’t bad, but it also isn’t good enough to register a win in an 8-team parlay. I was wrong about how easy of a time the Warriors would have against the Clippers, just as I was wrong about how difficult a time the Rockets would experience against the Jazz. In the original post I said “Warriors will smoke [the Clippers] as quickly as possible to rest up for their second round rendezvous with the Rockets.” In reality it was actually the Rockets who made quick work in the first round, and they are the ones who will be better rested.

As a whole, the West didn’t at all go the way I expected. Aside from the Golden State/Houston role reversal, the Portland Trail Blazers — and more specifically Damion Lillard — played about as perfect of a series as they could have, and sent the Oklahoma City Thunder home in the first round for the second year in a row. Lastly, I originally leaned on the Denver Nuggets to beat the San Antonio Spurs in 5 games, then officially picked Denver in 6, before they ultimately won the series in 7.

The Eastern Conference was far more predictable. I picked Milwaukee and Toronto in 4, and Philadelphia and Boston in 5. In the end I was off by two games, as the Raptors ended up winning in 5 while the Celtics advanced via a sweep. One way or another, the top four seeds that everyone had advancing did their jobs, which sets up a very fun and very interesting second round.

Anyway, below are the four second round matchups, and who I think will advance to the Conference Finals. Odds are courtesy of Bovada:

Western Conference

[1] Golden State Warriors (-310) over [2] Houston Rockets (+235) in 6 games

If the NBA were a stock market, right now the Rockets’ stock would be way up, and the Warriors’ stock would be marginally down. Even at that, Golden State is a little more than a 3-to-1 favorite to win this series, while Houston is sitting pretty at roughly 2.5-to-1. Had it worked out in reality the way I had it written a couple weeks ago on my blog — where the Warriors swept the Clippers, and where the Rockets won against the Jazz in 7 games as opposed to 5 — the price for this series would have been much closer to Golden State -500, with the Rockets somewhere around +350.

But public perception is what it is, and the fact is the Warriors didn’t look that great in their series win over the Clippers. Combine that with how impressive the Rockets were against the Jazz, where they probably should have swept, and you have a second round matchup that appears more wide open than it probably ought to. Remember, before the playoffs Golden State was the runaway favorite to win the championship at -210; in this series alone they are only -310, meaning you are getting solid value betting on them in this spot.

Whoever wins this series will be a heavy favorite in the Western Conference Finals, making Warriors/Rockets the de facto conference title. I’m a believer in champions, and that the Warriors’ best will always be better than the Rockets’ best, and as such I believe Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will find a way to take down the incomparable James Harden. This series is going to be a barnburner, but if the opening matchup against the Clippers was any indication, I think Golden State still have a helluva lot left in the tank.

[2] Denver Nuggets (NO LINE) over [3] Portland Trail Blazers (NO LINE) in 6 games

The #2-seed Nuggets needed 7 games and home court advantage to beat the #7-seed Spurs by just four points. That’s how they advanced to the second round. Meanwhile, the #3-seed Blazers needed just five games to beat the #6-seed Thunder — who were actually favored in the series — to advance to the second round. Again, if the NBA were a stock market, Portland is probably due a bit of a bump, while Denver is probably due to drop.

Nonetheless the Nuggets are the better, more talented team, and just as in their round one matchup I think they beat the Blazers in 6 games. There is always potential for Portland superstar Damion Lillard to be the best player on the court and will his squad to another series win, but my gut tells me his level of performance against Oklahoma City isn’t sustainable, and that Portland doesn’t have an answer for Nikola Jokic.

Eastern Conference

[4] Boston Celtics (+250) over [1] Milwaukee Bucks (-300) in games

Before everything I picked the Celtics to play the Warriors in the Finals. Until either (or both) fall, I’m sticking to that plan. The Bucks had the NBA’s best record, and probably have the league MVP on their side, but Boston has a wide collection of talent and a better coach. If this series goes 7 games I think Milwaukee has the advantage, but I’m going to bank on the Celtics stealing home court and ending this thing in Boston.

I might be overanalyzing, but before the year the Celtics had the highest over/under win projection in the Eastern Conference. They were supposed to be the best team in the East. If all you had to go on throughout the season was the day-in-day-out media circus, you would think Boston was full of disfunction, and that Kyrie Irving was some nutcase. (Maybe both of these things are true.)

The bet here is that the Celtics don’t really give a shit about the regular season, that they weren’t all that worried about having to face the Bucks in the second round, and that they will circle the wagons once the games take on more significance. If I am wrong, then there is every opportunity — or likelihood, even — for the Bucks to take this series down in 5 or 6 games, and for Kyrie to sign a max deal with a team like the Knicks this offseason. If I’m right, however, then Boston should absolutely be considered the favorite to win the East.

[3] Philadelphia 76ers (+240) over [2] Toronto Raptors (-290) in 7 games

As I write this, the 76ers are already in a 1-0 hole after getting beat down 108-95 in Game 1. Raptors star Kawhi Leonard went for 45 points (on a ridiculous 16-23 from the field), and Pascal Siakam went for 29 points (on an absurd 12-15 from the field), and Toronto controlled things for most of the game.

I’m a believer in the 76ers to pull off the (mild) upset because I’m a believer in talent. There is something to be said for Kawhi being the best player in this series, but when you look at Philadelphia with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, it’s hard for me to envision them not making this a competitive series. Leonard and Siakam aren’t going to combine for 74 points per game on 73.7% field goals for the whole series.

Granted, I sort of formulated my conclusions before the playoffs started, so all of my reasoning is going to lead back there. The grand narrative that keeps repeating in my head involves the established, three-time champion Warriors on one end of the bracket, and the up-and-coming winner of Boston and Philadelphia on the other.

The bet: $60 parlay on Boston (+250) over Milwaukee and Philadelphia (+240) over Toronto to win $654.