A Look at Three Value Bets For the NBA Title

We're now at the end of an NBA regular season unlike any other — and one we probably don't want to repeat anytime soon given all the games players have missed to health protocols, injuries, and the grind of a compressed season spanning five months.

Still, the play-in tournaments have spiced up the stakes of the final few weeks of the season, and as of writing time, a blockbuster matchup between the defending champion Lakers and Warriors for the No. 7 seed is in play, with the loser facing a win-or-start-your-summer game for the No. 8 seed.

After the final four playoff seeds are clinched, we could have a playoff season for the ages, featuring a level of chaos not usually seen in best-of-seven play.

By my count, it's a very real possibility that any one of nine teams — Jazz, Suns, Clippers, Mavericks, Lakers, Sixers, Nets, Bucks, or Heat — could win the title in July. If you believe that Michael Porter Jr. is a good enough sidekick to MVP-elect Nikola Jokic with the Nuggets to make up for Jamal Murray's absence, that number reaches double digits.

And given the sideways nature of the West standings and the resulting playoff matchups, it's likely that at least two of the above 10 teams will be going home after Round 1.

The odds tell us that the most likely East champion is the Nets, whose superstar nucleus has played the games equivalent of about 2.5 weeks together. The same odds say that the Lakers are most likely to come out of the West. The Lakers aren't even guaranteed a playoff spot as I write this before all scheduled games have been played.

The third favorite are the Clippers, they of the (deserved) choker label in last year's bubble playoffs.

If you don't believe in any of those favorites, you might be able to cash in if this topsy-turvy season keeps on being unpredictable.

Here are three teams I'll be taking a chance on at longer odds.

(Odds courtesy of Bovada as of May 14.)

Milwaukee Bucks +900

There's been almost nothing separating the top three in the East in my mind for most of the season. But the perception is that Brooklyn will put it all together and go supernova on offense in the playoffs, and the stellar play of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons' defense and good shooting makes Philly the best challenger.

To me, Milwaukee is getting discounted for last year's flameout against Miami and a reputation as a regular season bully that doesn't show up for the playoffs. That's the same reason Giannis Antetokounmpo was never seriously considered for a third straight MVP despite a no-doubt First Team All-NBA campaign.

But this isn't the same exact Bucks team because Jrue Holiday is there and Eric Bledsoe isn't. Also, Mike Budenholzer's biggest weakness as a coach is that he doesn't make enough adjustments in a playoff series. If the opponent is the Heat in the first round, that could be an issue. But against a first year head coach like Steve Nash in the second round, there will probably be fewer chess moves on either side.

One thing I appreciate about the way the Bucks have played in 2021 is that they don't seem to be as committed to playing a defense that gives up threes as often. Their defense is ranked 10th instead of first like the past two seasons, but it should serve them better come playoff time.

Phoenix Suns +1400

Chris Paul won't win MVP, but for the second straight year he's lifted a new team to many more wins than expected. In case you forgot, the Suns hadn't made the playoffs for 11 years before 2021, when the current coach of the title favorite team was playing point guard.

Devin Booker hasn't even had his best season by counting or advanced stats, but he looks more impressive than ever beside CP3. Mikal Bridges looks like he'll be one of the league's premier 3-and-D guys for years to come and might even find his way onto an All-Defense team in just his third year in the league.

And somehow, that means that the No. 1 pick in 2018, Deandre Ayton, is merely this team's fourth best player. I anticipate there will be a couple games in the playoffs where Ayton will have 20-point nights based on rim running and teams overplaying Paul and Booker.

The elephant in the room is that the Suns may well face the Lakers in round one, play-in results pending. But if LeBron James and Anthony Davis really are only 80-90%, you might as well play the champs early while they're more vulnerable and getting their sea legs back.

Miami Heat +2800

Twenty-eight-to-1 odds?! For the defending Eastern Conference champions? Who have looked fantastic the past few weeks, despite Victor Oladipo being shut down for the year? This bet is absolutely a long-shot worth taking.

For awhile now, ESPN's Zach Lowe has been talking about how Jimmy Butler's season has been criminally underappreciated as a truly great one. Without looking it up, guess where Jimmy Butler ranks in assists per game among qualifiers (70% of games played)?

The answer ... 10th! Ahead of Ben Simmons, Fred VanVleet, Kyrie Irving, and Jrue Holiday. The only fellow non-point guards ahead of Butler are Draymond Green and Jokic. Not bad for a "bad teammate."

While Butler has had a fantastic offensive season, Miami hasn't been a great offensive team all year. However, the Heat are 11th in the NBA on offense since the All-Star break and second in the league during the last 15 games. Their defense is closer to league average in the same time spans, but we know from last year that Butler and Bam Adebayo can control a playoff series defensively.

Kendrick Nunn, Trevor Ariza, and Tyler Herro are the keys for a deep playoff run in my opinion, though. Their play will determine if Miami is the dynamic beast it was in last year's East playoffs or mostly a two-man show.

If you made me pick a team to win the title, I would reluctantly pick the Nets. But at +240 and an implied probability at about 30%, there's no value. The Bucks, Suns, and Heat represent much better plays.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site