Exact game series prices are probably my favorite way to play the NBA Playoffs. One, they’re basically a short-term future and futures are the best. That’s why I’ve enjoyed playing the golf tournaments so much. Additionally, you can hedge off of them as the series goes on. And finally, any form of gambling makes the first round of the NBA Playoffs actually entertaining. The entire Eastern Conference is essentially meaningless and the West doesn’t really matter until the second round.
Before writing this, I wanted a better idea of the recent trends of how series finished over the past five years. There’s been 75 series played since 2011, here’s the breakdown of how many games were needed to complete them.
As you can see, it’s just as likely for a series to finish in six as it is four OR seven. Each of the past five years, six game series have at least tied for the most common series length.
Whenever you look at these prices, they’re usually slanted towards teams clinching at home. Obviously this is a common line of thinking when you’re breaking down a series, but is it backed up by the numbers? Here’s the breakdown on where teams clinched the series since 2011.
As you can see, it’s not very overwhelming. In fact, over the past three years, teams have clinched on the road 23 times, compared to 22 at home. This is another avenue to find more value.
Let’s get into it.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
5 Games Raptors Win +160
7 Games Raptors Win +300
6 Games Raptors Win +400
4 Games Raptors Win +600
6 Games Pacers Win +600
7 Games Pacers Win +1000
5 Games Pacers Win +1500
4 Games Pacers Win +3000
Season Series: 3-1 Toronto
And here’s our first example of prices being slanted towards a team clinching at home.
This Raptors group hasn’t experienced success yet in the playoffs, losing in the first round the past two seasons, including getting swept by the Wizards last year as a four seed. Obviously that provides some cause for concern, but the Hawks were in a similar situation last year and got to the ECF. However the Hawks had been the lower seed the three straight years they couldn’t advance out of the first round.
Toronto had the advantage in the season series over the Pacers, but they also swept the Wizards during the season last year so who knows. I will say, one of those games was pretty recent and the Raptors didn’t play Lowry, DeRozan, Scola, or Carroll and still won by 13 at home.
Carroll isn’t fully healthy, but he’s only played 26 games all year, so he hasn’t been much of a factor all year. Obviously they could use him against Paul George.
I think this is a perfect opportunity to bet on a six-game series. I think the Raptors will break through this year because they’re clearly better than the Pacers at three starting positions and the power forward spot is either a wash or a slight advantage to the Pacers. I expect Indiana to scratch out a couple of games because of George, a better bench, and a better coach.
The Pick: Raptors in Six +400
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Houston Rockets
4 Games Warriors Win -350
5 Games Warriors Win +140
6 Games Warriors Win +1000
7 Games Warriors Win +2500
7 Games Rockets Win +10000
6 Games Rockets Win +15000
5 Games Rockets Win +50000
4 Games Rockets Win +150000
Season Series: 3-0 Golden State
There’s really no sense in breaking this down. In the WCF last year, it went five. I’m probably not going to play this myself, but I guess hope that it happens again.
The Pick: Warriors in Five +140
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Boston Celtics
7 Games Hawks Win +300
5 Games Hawks Win +350
6 Games Celtics Win +400
6 Games Hawks Win +400
7 Games Celtics Win +500
4 Games Hawks Win +1000
5 Games Celtics Win +1000
4 Games Celtics Win +1800
Season Series: 3-1 Atlanta
The biggest knock against the Celtics in the playoffs is that they don’t have a true star player, but the Hawks don’t really have one either, so that doesn’t really come into play in this series. Last year the Celts got swept by the Cavs in round one while the Hawks made the ECF before they also got swept by the Cavs.
The teams had identical records and power ratings don’t separate them by much. Boston has a clear advantage in the backcourt, while Atlanta has the edge down low in terms of scoring options. The Hawks are awful at rebounding and that could be the difference in the series.
The reason the first five options are so similar is because you’re basically just guessing. I’ll take the one with the best odds.
The Pick: Celtics in Seven +500
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
5 Games Thunder Win +120
4 Games Thunder Win +130
6 Games Thunder Win +400
7 Games Thunder Win +600
6 Games Mavericks Win +2500
7 Games Mavericks Win +4000
5 Games Mavericks Win +10000
4 Games Mavericks Win +25000
Season Series: OKC 4-0
This one is tough. OKC is about as good of a three seed as you’ll find and they – as much as I love Dirk – have by far the two best players in the series. The Mavericks probably overachieved with this roster and not having Chandler Parsons limits their ability to keep up with the Thunder.
Dallas does have a better, more experienced coach and a deeper bench to work with, though. There’s a chance Dirk gets red hot one game and carries them to a win.
OKC has had fourth quarter issues and a couple of the games with Dallas this year were one-possession contests.
There’s not much value in the top two options and it’s conceivable that the Mavs sneak in a couple games due to Carlisle magic.
The Pick: Thunder in Six +400
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons
5 Games Cavaliers Win +120
4 Games Cavaliers Win +250
6 Games Cavaliers Win +350
7 Games Cavaliers Win +400
6 Games Pistons Win +1500
7 Games Pistons Win +2000
5 Games Pistons Win +5000
4 Games Pistons Win +10000
Season Series: 3-1 Detroit
I wouldn’t put too much stock in the season series. One of those Piston wins was in the last game of the season when both teams sat their starters.
Detroit’s had a nice season, but the Cavs are quite a bit more efficient offensively and better defensively, as well. However, I think the Pistons actually match up pretty well and I think you have to give Van Gundy the edge over Lue, who’s coaching his first playoffs and is probably a downgrade over the guy Cleveland fired who made the Finals in his first season and was leading the East midway through his second.
This series could get pretty unwatchable if Cleveland resorts to Hack-a-Drummond, but could be decent if Kyrie and Reggie Jackson guard each other because they’re both great offensive players and couldn’t guard a dead body.
The Pick: Cavs in Six +350
(3) Miami Heat vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets
7 Games Heat Win +250
5 Games Heat Win +350
6 Games Hornets Win +350
6 Games Heat Win +400
7 Games Hornets Win +500
4 Games Heat Win +1000
5 Games Hornets Win +1000
4 Games Hornets Win +1800
Season Series: 2-2 Tie
Probably the series in the East I’m most looking forward to, although Hawks-Celtics is a close second. And just like that series, this one features two teams with the exact same record.
You may remember before the NCAA Tournament that I was high on the Hornets. I like the Heat also, but when it comes to playoff basketball – especially with these two – the game slows down some and the difference really just comes down to who can make more shots. For all the analytics and advanced stats, that’s all that ends up mattering often times.
I like the Hornets in that scenario. They’re already the better perimeter shooting team before you factor in injuries and Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson both being gone for the Heat just further accentuates that advantage. Nic Batum has been in and out of the lineup for Charlotte, but he’s expected to play. We’ve all seen since his college days how much Kemba lives for the big shots. Of course Wade and Dragic are on the other side, but their drive-heavy and Joe Johnson has looked washed at times here towards the end of the season.
Down low, I think Al Jefferson can get his against Hassan Whiteside. Marvin Williams and Luol Deng probably cancel each other out and I like Charlotte’s bench more.
It’s going to be a great series, but I’ll take the road team in seven.
The Pick: Hornets in Seven +500
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
4 Games Spurs Win -400
5 Games Spurs Win +160
6 Games Spurs Win +800
7 Games Spurs Win +2500
7 Games Grizzlies Win +15000
6 Games Grizzlies Win +20000
5 Games Grizzlies Win +50000
4 Games Grizzlies Win +200000
Season Series: 4-0 San Antonio
Wouldn’t actually bet this because the Grizzlies have so many injuries that they’re basically a D-League team. I guess I’ll hope that Memphis can pull one out.
The Pick: Spurs in Five +160
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
5 Games Clippers Win +160
7 Games Clippers Win +300
6 Games Clippers Win +400
4 Games Clippers Win +550
6 Games Blazers Win +700
7 Games Blazers Win +800
5 Games Blazers Win +2000
4 Games Blazers Win +4000
Season Series: 3-1 Los Angeles
Our best chance to see a good series in the first round of the West. Obviously the big X-Factor is how effective Blake Griffin can be. He’s played five games since Christmas and he’s been okay, but certainly not near the level he played at the end of last season.
The Blazers are without Meyers Leonard as they have been for the past month. They’ve been fine without him, but I think his absence will be a bigger deal playing a series against a frontcourt as good as the Clippers. He’s one of their better rebounders and that’s an area Portland would have an advantage over LAC if both teams were fully healthy. With Leonard gone and Griffin back, that could swing the other way.
Obviously the point guard position provides the most intriguing matchup. Lillard has never done all that well against the Clippers, though. He’s averaging 21.4 PPG for his career, but only 16.5 in 15 games against the Clips. It wasn’t much better this year, averaging 7 less PPG against LAC than he has the entire season.
The second guard spot will be as big of a factor likely. McCollum and Crabbe are the second and third leading scorers for Portland while Redick and Crawford are third and fourth for LA. Those guys could put up some big numbers because none of them will be able to guard each other.
Ultimately, I think the difference will be down low for the Clippers. Jordan and Griffin at 75% are still better than Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh. Portland has the biggest home advantage in the league and I would definitely expect them to hold their own at the Moda Center.