As a trying and somewhat difficult season has come to a close, there are plenty of elements to look back on. Jazz Nation, from the team to the organization to the media to the fans, has just made it through a season unlike any in the last two decades. The time is ripe for reflection, along with a look to the future for the franchise we all know and love.
But…I mean, am I the only one who feels a little bit like a kid who just heard the final bell for summer break? Us media types have it tough, too, you know. What’s everyone got going on for the summer? Didn’t I hear something about Vegas yesterday during locker cleanout?! Fine, pull my arm, let’s have a little fun.
I like the Vegas theme, so we’re sticking with it. Taking a page from the esteemed Bill Simmons and his cousin Sal over at Grantland, what follows are a few of my favorite postseason NBA bets, with lines courtesy of Bovada.1
Let’s get to it. 2
Pacers vs Hawks – Atlanta wins 4-1 (33-1), Atlanta wins 4-2 (12-1):
I’m typically not much for betting individual series results, and even less for pre-playoffs title odds – I subscribe to the idea that there are only a set few teams each year who can really win the title, and think oddsmakers are typically pretty on top of which teams these are. Same thing with first-round matchups,3 but the curious case of the Pacers piqued my interest here. There’s lots of talk about their end-of-season struggles being overblown, and while I find it likely that they’re nowhere near as bad as their performance over the last few weeks would indicate, there’s technically no definitive evidence of that. This team has played exactly one good game in the last three weeks, and has been embarrassed in several cases. They aren’t common, but history does include cases of teams who just completely lost it at some arbitrary point during a season and never got it back – given that we’ve never seen any kind of “on-off switch” from the Pacers, I’d say they’re at least a candidate to be this sort of team.
Meanwhile, Atlanta has given Indy all they can handle in their four matchups this year, actually outscoring the Pacers by 15 points in total. Paul George has struggled badly offensively when DeMarre Carroll plays for the Hawks (more on this soon), Paul Millsap creates some matchup issues, and Roy Hibbert can’t do much about Kyle Korver if he gets hot. It’s not the likely outcome by any means, but I think the large potential payout is worth a small wager.
Pacers vs Hawks – Paul George Average PPG UNDER 22:
Carroll missed one of the four matchups, but in the three he played in, George shot a combined 23-of-58 – good for 39.6%. Jazz fans know how much Carroll enjoys rising to the occasion against top opponents, particularly on defense, and I’d lay good money he spends the majority of his time on George hounding and denying him easy access to the ball. PG has gotten inside the paint for a smaller and smaller portion of his points as the year has gone on, per NBA.com, and coupled that with lessening efficiency on his jumper as well. I don’t expect either of these trends to change against Carroll, an underrated wing defender and an excellent physical build to guard a player like George.
Heat vs Bobcats – Al Jefferson Average PPG OVER 23:
This one requires no special insight whatsoever – the Heat are bad against talented opposing big men, particularly those who are a real scoring threat in the post, and Jefferson is the league’s premier post-first big. Greg Oden’s status is uncertain going in, and even if he does play he’ll get drawn into way too many fouls by Big Al’s array of fakes and counters. Chris Andersen is too small, Udonis Haslem has been inconsistent, and Chris Bosh is…well, Chris Bosh. Good work there, real human raptor:
That was from Al’s 38-point, 19-board massacre of the Heat’s frontcourt. I’m happily wagering we’ll see another game or two like it in this series.
Clippers vs Warriors – DeAndre Jordan Average PPG OVER 11, RPG OVER 13.5:
Jordan has given the Warriors all sorts of problems on the boards, racking up 61 rebounds in their four regular-season matchups, or 15 and a quarter per game. Not only that, but Andrew Bogut took part in all four of those games – he will likely miss at least the start of the series, if not the entire thing. This means David Lee and Jermaine O’Neal are the Dubs’ only real big men, and they have both Jordan and Blake Griffin to worry about – bets for Griffin’s over in these categories also likely wouldn’t be bad, but the thresholds are so much higher (at least for points) that I think Jordan is the better wager. With due attention given to Blake and Chris Paul, I expect him to continue thrashing Golden State’s front line for plenty of boards and close-in dunk opportunities.
Rockets vs Blazers – Rockets win 4-0 (13-2), Chandler Parsons Average PPG UNDER 16.5:
I don’t like this matchup for the Blazers at all. They’re going to have an incredibly hard time stopping Houston from getting whatever they want offensively, and I expect to see the same sort of shootouts as their regular-season series4, which favors Houston to me. Portland has resisted the full regression many predicted for them over the course of the final couple months, but I still think of them as a tad overrated, and I think Houston might be somewhat the opposite. I definitely have Houston winning the series, and especially if Patrick Beverley is healthy enough to provide his usual in-your-face defense on Damian Lillard (appearing in his first playoff series), I like the potential payout for a sweep here.
One area where I do give Portland a little edge is at small forward, where I expect Parsons and Nicholas Batum to match up a decent portion of the time. Batum is the type of defender who limits Parsons from getting the sort of shots he wants, and can stay with him through his excellent pump fake. Parsons shot 15 3s against Portland on the year, and made five of them – but only one of those came with Batum as his primary defender. He was 1-10 from deep with Batum on him, uncomfortable shooting over Batum’s long-armed challenges even after Batum had strayed away from him to help elsewhere. I think Houston will gore Portland in general, but mostly through James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Odds to Win NBA Championship – Oklahoma City (4-1), NBA Championship Exact Matchup – Heat vs Thunder (4-1):
For the record, I wouldn’t actually make either of these bets. As I mentioned above, I don’t particularly enjoy title odds at the beginning of the playoffs, because all the teams with any realistic chance have odds far too low to exploit. But I know it wouldn’t be a complete betting article if I didn’t make something of a Finals prediction, so here it is. I love the Spurs, but barring another major injury I just think Durant and Westbrook are going to be too much for them this year.
Meanwhile, I simply can’t justify betting against Miami in the East with Indy’s recent slide, especially since the Heat will avoid having to play both the Bulls and Pacers to make the Finals, the only two teams capable of at least slogging things up for them and taking them away from their comfort zone offensively. That said, with the way Miami has had to labor recently to win many of their games, I see a good chance they’re simply running out of gas after all the miles they’ve picked up the last few years. LeBron has proven he’s at least partially human this year, and the team’s overall defense has lost a step or two even when fully engaged. If I had to make a specific prediction, it would be Miami having the legs to get through inferior talent in the first three rounds, but running out of steam against an angry, significantly more talented Thunder team in the Finals. I think the 4-1 odds are decent enough that, with a gun to my head, these are the two Finals bets I would likely make.
Enjoy the playoffs, everyone!