The NBA regular season has ended and with the playoffs starting, we thought we'd give you our thoughts and a few betting suggestions along the way. We may do more of these for other events in the future depending on what kind of response we receive so we hope you find this useful and at least spread the word about our site!
If there have been 3 constants in life this decade, we can say they are death, taxes, and a Lebron-James-led team will represent the East in the NBA Finals. Since 2011, James has been in the NBA Finals every season, 4 times with the Heat of which he won twice and 3 times with the Cavaliers of which he won once. However, this was quite a tumultuous season for the best player in the world and this year will be the first time during this streak that James's team did not finish as the #1 or #2 seed in the East as the Cavs were barely able to maintain home court in the 1st round with the 4th seed. The Raptors were able to garner the #1 seed with Boston in tow at #2. The upstart Sixers took the #3 seed with the Pacers, Heat, Bucks and Wizards rounding out the rest of the seedings.
#1 Toronto Raptors (59-23)
The Raptors' offseason moves paid dividends and they enjoyed their best season in franchise history with 59 wins, eclipsing their previous mark of 56. The team from up north clinched their first #1 seed in the East and boasted the best bench unit in the league, led by offseason acquisition CJ Miles. Among the starters, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the way again and pack a formidable 1-2 punch that we believe just might be the best team in the East this year. Dwane Casey certainly deserves consideration for coach of the year (though he will not win it) for the season he put together!
We don't foresee too much trouble with the lackluster Wizards in Round 1 but the likely Round 2 matchup against the Cavs will probably be their toughest matchup of the playoffs aside from the Finals should they make it that far. The gap between James and the rest of the East appears to be narrowing with each year and the Cavs' issues could fill an entire sheet this year. We believe this is the Raptors' best chance with an injury-plagued Celtics team or inexperienced Sixers team waiting in the East finals. Despite finishing the year poorly (7-6 in their last 13 games and including an 0-10 ATS run), this is a dangerous team and a legitimate contender in our eyes!
#2 Boston Celtics (55-27)
The Celtics made a splash in the offseason with their free agent signing of Gordon Hayward and acquiring Kyrie Irving in a trade that also sent Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cavs. Hayward, playing under Brad Stevens who was also his coach at Butler University, seemed poised for a breakout season but in an unfortunate turn of events, was lost for the season in the very first game of the year. To make matters worse, Irving was bit by the injury bug as well and recently underwent surgery that ruled him out for the playoffs. Still, Stevens led his team to the 2nd best record in the East, even flirting with the #1 seed late in the season.
Brad Stevens is a coaching wizard and it's almost foolish to count him out after the season he put together. However, losing their 2 best players is simply too much to overcome by our estimation to win a title. Navigating through the East isn't out of the question though they do have a tough 1st round matchup against the Bucks who they split the regular season series with. But as far as winning the NBA Title, we are in firm agreement with the market in giving them very little chance.
#3 Philadelphia 76ers (52-30)
The Sixers years of tanking finally looks to have paid off as they were able to capture the #3 seed behind their two emerging stars Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons. Embiid suffered an orbital fracture late in th season and he has been ruled out for Game 1 in their series against the Heat. Still, the Sixers ended the season on a tear, rattling off 16 straight wins, including the last 10 without Embiid and had a top 3 defense in the NBA by many metrics.
The Sixers certainly turned some heads this year and may have signaled a changing of the guard in their thrilling 132-130 win over the Cavs late in the season that essentially clinched the #3 seed at the Cavs' expense. Simmons appears unfazed with everything that's thrown at him but we have to wonder if their lack of veteran leadership could be a cause for concern. This will be the first time in the playoffs for many of these players and we're just not sure they have the experience needed to win a title. The Heat present an intriguing matchup as they are hardly the most talented team but do have one of the better coaches in the league and have the big bodies inside that can bang with Embiid. Latest reports have Embiid back on the court for Game 2 and despite the Sixers playing well without him, the sooner he's back the better!
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)
Tumultuous doesn't being to describe the Cavs' season as it was rocky before it started with Kyrie Irving demanding to be traded in the offseason. Management obliged, trading him to the Celtics in return for an injured Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic along with the Nets' 2018 1st Round draft pick. The season got underway with the Cavs losing 7 out of their first 12 games though James is known for being a bit slow out of the gate. Winning 18 out of their next 19 games appeared to quell concerns but then a 7-14 run fueled by dissension in the locker room between the players, including the coach Tyronn Lue boiled over and the Cavs went with a hail mary and comletely retooled their roster. Disgruntled Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were shipped to the Lakers and Jazz, respectively and Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and George Hill were brought in from various teams. Since then, the new look Cavs are certainly an improvement but we're a bit cautious they haven't had the requisite time to gel as a team.
The Cavs' first round matchup against the Pacers should be a cakewalk as we're of the opinion that despite records and seedings, the Pacers are the worst team to make the playoffs in the East and the least talented as well. Things get interesting when they face their projected 2nd round matchup against the Raptors but for now, we'll just maintain the status quo in believing that while the Cavs still could run through the East, we're hesitant based on reasons stated above and certainly wouldn't consider at these market prices.
#5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Despite losing Paul George, the Pacers deserve credit for the season they had, especially Victor Oladipo who had a breakout season after languishing at Oklahoma City in Westbrook's shadow. Unfortunately, the Pacers are a bit of a one man show and lack enough depth and scoring options to be much of a threat aside from possibly winning maybe 1 game.
#6 Miami Heat (44-38)
The Heat, like the Pacers, really lack enough talent to be more than an annoyance to the top teams but they do draw an intriguing matchup in the first round against the inexperienced Sixers. The emergence of Kelly Olynyk has really provided a boost inside and with Hassan Whiteside in tow, the Heat can really trouble teams with their big men, either stretching the floor with Olynyk or playing bruising bully ball with Whiteside. Dwyane Wade's brief Cavs' experiment was a disaster but he has found his comfort zone again and can always be dangerous in the playoffs. While they could trouble the Sixers, ultimately we don't believe they have the shooters to win a 7 game series and anything beyond in the off chance they advance out of the first round.
#7 Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)
The Bucks are an intriguing team as they have one of the most exciting players in the league who also might supplant James as the best player in the league in a few years. That of course, is the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, but the Bucks really struggled at times and failed to find any momentum heading into the playoffs. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova are back, leaving the team relatively healthy but their defense is still in shambles and we can't see this team as even a dark horse with the team as it's constructed. They do, however, hold a somewhat favourable matchup in Round 1 against a Celtics team that recently received a crushing blow to their title hopes when Kyrie Irving underwent season-ending surgery. This is of course, reflected in the market with the Bucks as mere 2.36 outsiders but we're not sure if this is a bit too optimistic given home court is still with Boston and they have terrific balance and a strong inside presence.
#8 Washington Wizards (43-39)
The Wizards really stumbled down the stretch losing 11 of their last 16 games and underwhelmed for much of the season, in part due to losing John Wall for a large stretch as he required surgery on his knee. Wall and Beal have formed a solid duo on Washington that's been a difficult out for teams in the playoffs but marginal talent elsewhere and an aging and ineffective frontcourt has rendered this team a non-threat for the title. The Wizards' first round opponent Raptors are a familiar foe and we certainly expect Wall and Beal at their best but the Raptors have too much balance and the far superior bench to lose 4 out of 7. Wizards might be worth backing a game or two in a good spot but this should be an early exit for the Wizards this year.
The Western Conference was again the class of the NBA as they held the two best records in the NBA with the Rockets and the defending champion Warriors. The playoff picture was quite a sight to behold in the final weeks as the 3rd-10th seeds were a logjam all the way until the final day where complicated tiebreaking procedures made it unclear for multiple teams whether they would get home court or were out of the playoffs altogether. With the dust settled, it was the Nuggets who were the odd team out and just 2 games separating the Blazers at #3 with the Timberwolves at #8.
#1 Houston Rockets (65-17)
After another disappointing exit in the playoffs last year, the Rockets went all out and acquired superstar Chris Paul from the Clippers to make their intentions known. It certainly paid dividends as the Rockets cruised to the best record in the NBA at 65-17 and look every bit the Warriors' equals though the market still believes in the defending champions. The Rockets did have to give up a mini-team for Paul and lost some key contributors but it's hard to say any of them are missed with new additions Luc Mbah a Moute, Gerald Green and PJ Tucker providing plenty of 2-way play off the bench. James Harden should win his long-deserved MVP award and the only thing stopping a run to the WCF would be an injury(-ies)!
The Rockets face a Twolves team in the first round that we've criticized many times this season for their overuse of their starters and antiquated coaching style. Jimmy Butler's return has provided a boost but we can't see more than a game if that for the #8 seed. The projected 2nd round matchup is a bit interesting as the Thunder are always tough rivals and the Jazz have been one of the best 2nd half teams in the entire league. Nevertheless, this is the Rockets' year in our opinion and with the Warriors struggles, we believe they should be the favourites overall!
#2 Golden State Warriors (58-24)
The Warriors looked to be every bit the superteam as they sought back to back titles and their 3rd in 4 years but the big story were injuries that hit their 4 All-Stars at various points throughout the season. When the bench was called upon to step up, they failed in many ways and their overall play from their reserves took a step down. Stephen Curry remains sidelined for the champions and his return is unclear thought reports have him targeting the 2nd round. The Warriors finished the season on a 7-10 run with some lopsided losses that came with the majority of their players healthy. We still recognize them as one of the clear title contenders but we believe there has been something missing from their play this season!
First round matchup against the Spurs shouldn't be too difficult given that Kawhi Leonard is unlikely to step foot on a court again this season. However, a 2nd round matchup against the Blazers or Pelicans could be troubling as both teams have matchups they can exploit. We're unsure how serious Curry's injury really is but at this point, we believe they need him if they're going to defeat the Rockets in a 7 game series!
#3 Portland Trail Blazers (49-33)
The Blazers surpassed all expectations as they won the Northwest Division despite many projecting them for a last place finish. Their defense improved by leaps and bounds and Jusuf Nurkic really shined in his role inside and developed tremendous chemistry with the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Blazers ended the year losing 4 out of their last 5 but they really rounded into form the 2nd half of the season and could provide a test to the Warriors should they make it into the 2nd round, especially if Curry remains sidelined.
First round matchup against the Pelicans won't be easy, however, as the team from New Orleans has found their groove despite losing one of their superstars DeMarcus Cousins for the season. In any case, we don't see them much as title contenders but they could surprise some if Lillard and McCollum can get hot.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34)
The Thunder made a splash in the offseason, acquiring superstar 2-way player Paul George from the Pacers and Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks. The question was never about the conglomeration of talent but whether they could all coexist with Russell Westbrook at the helm. Predictably, the team had their up and down moments and George does appear to have fit in but Anthony doesn't appear to be more than an average player at this point and we just don't see enough team chemistry for this team to be a title threat.
The Thunder face the Jazz in the first round and they can thank the tiebreaking procedures for giving them home court as the Jazz enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. This should be a closely contested series but we don't give either team too much of a chance against the Rockets next round!
#5 Utah Jazz (48-34)
It's almost a shame the Jazz ended the season at #5 in the West as they won 29 out of their last 34 games including a rousing 119-79 win over the defending champions Warriors in the penultimate game of the regular season. They were led by rookie Donovan Mitchell who appeared to be unfazed by everything the league threw at him and with one of the best rim protectors down low in Rudy Gobert, this is a team that could give a mild scare to the Rockets should they meet in the 2nd round. Unfortunately, we just don't see enough scoring threats to make this team a viable upset candidate. As well as they played, this is largely reflected in the market and we just don't see enough value!
#6 New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)
The Pelicans season looked to be lost when they lost DeMarcus Cousins fo the rest of the year but this team has performed admirably, led by Anthony Davis who has put the team on his shoulders. Emeka Okafor has been a terrific story, signing out of the G-League and has provided a defensive presence but again, this is a team that's too dependent on one player for us to see as a viable threat. We don't see much here outside of possibly a 1st round upset!
#7 San Antonio Spurs (47-35)
The Spurs were at the center of one of the more intriguing storylines of the season as Kawhi Leonard briefly returned from a quadriceps injury only to sit himself out as his doctors disagreed with the team's doctors on whether he was healthy enough to play. In any case, it doesn't appear that Leonard will set foot on a court this season and with him go any title aspirations the Spurs had. Coach Greg Popovich has to be commended for the job he did leading his team to 47 wins and a playoff berth but we can't see a team led by LaMarcus Aldridge and an aging Rudy Gay capable of making a deep playoff run. And succeeding in making the playoffs, they were promptly rewarded with a matchup against the defending champions. Even without Curry, the Spurs are simply outclassed here and there is only so much Popovich can do from the sidelines!
#8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
The Twolves ended a 12 year long playoff drought so they should be commended for that accomplishment but this is a team we've criticized, mostly for Tom Thibodeau's antiquated coaching philosophy that runs his starters into the ground as they play more minutes than any other team in the league. Jimmy Butler's return has provided a boost but their defense is extremely poor and just do not have the shooters to keep up with the Rockets.
Rockets 3.00 (Pinnacle)
Raptors 9.77 (BetCRIS)
Celtics 1.625 (Pinnacle) (vs Bucks)
Pelicans 2.84 (BetCRIS) (vs Trail Blazers)