Sportsbooks have undervalued the Warriors since last season, but are their NBA odds (-140) to win the Finals fair value? Probably not with the Spurs potentially in the way. Read up on it here.
Warriors Ain't That Great? Wrong!
As a basketball fan, it baffles me when people come up with excuses somehow belittling the Warriors' current greatness—and it happens. Some cannot accept an unorthodox jump-shooting team as superior. Although efficient, others point to the fact they do not own a shutdown defense. Some believe they lack that go-to, iso-scorer who can execute anywhere, anytime on the court à la Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James. The fact of the matter is, Golden State is an 18.5-point favorite on the NBA odds over Memphis tonight to set the NBA's regular-season wins record at 73 games. No jinx, but the bettor in me thinks its chances are quite good.
Sportsbooks are guilty of undervaluing Golden State as well. Despite going 67-15 last year in the regular season, winning the title, and finishing as only the eighth team in NBA history to own a points differential of 10 points or more per game, its win total prior to the season was set at 59.5. Since 1995, only eight teams have finished the year with an average scoring margin of 8.5 points or greater (Warriors 2014, Cavaliers 2008, Celtics 2007, Lakers 1999, Jazz 1996, and Bulls 1996, 1995), all but L.A. (56) posted 61 wins or more the following season.
What about the Warriors chances to repeat? Average odds backing them for another championship run is roughly -140 across most shops as of publication, the shortest price the betting market has seen in years at this point. In the 2012-13 season, the Heat were +150 to win it all on April 1st, which they did 4-3 over the Spurs. Last year, the Warriors were +225 at the start of April. Are books underestimating Golden State's title chances as we head into the playoffs? I do not think so; in fact, they might be a little short considering the circumstances.
First off, let me preface this by saying, if the team does falter in the postseason, I am not going to join the cause, and point the finger at coach Steve Kerr for failing to rest his players in search of the regular-season wins record. We covered Golden State's minor post All-Star blip and the notion of rest earlier. Essentially, they are younger than their closest championship competitors are, they are professional athletes, and all teams are subject to a similar grueling schedule—a handful of games off late in the year is not some miracle cure.
What is bothersome about the Warriors' odds is the fact they may have to go through San Antonio to reach the Finals. Both these teams are historically good—awesomely good, to be honest—and I would wager either one will beat the Eastern Conference representative at least eight times out of 10. Here is why. Remember that points differential factoid about the Warriors last season? Well, the Spurs (10.7) and Golden State (10.6) are now the ninth and tenth teams in NBA history to post a plus-10 scoring margin over their competitors. Seven of the previous eight won the title; only the 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks failed to, losing in the Western Conference Finals.
Need More Reasons?
Another reason I like the Warriors or Spurs over the East is this: since 2002, playoff teams owning a 4-point average scoring margin or better over their opponents are 276-105 SU (72 percent) in individual games. In series where the margin remained 4-points or better throughout, teams are 62-4 to move on. The Cavaliers own the Eastern Conference's top points differential mark at 6.1, fourth best in the NBA. It seems unlikely they would be able to close the gap to less than four points throughout a playoff run. For what it's worth, the Thunder's 7.3 average scoring margin is the third best in the league, while the Raptors, the No. 2 seed in the East, own a 4.5 differential.
The problem with the Warriors odds to win the Finals is that bettors we'll likely see close to the same series price, probably a little shorter, if they meet the Spurs to settle the Western Conference. The betting public, often over reacting to recent events, will look at the Warriors 92-86 win in San Antonio Sunday, which bounced the Spurs chances for league history as the only team to go undefeated at home, as evidence they can handle coach Gregg Popovich's squad. There is a reason oddsmakers opened the Warriors 5.5-point underdogs for that game: these two are not that far apart. Under any other circumstances, I would say Golden State's price to win it all is a valuable NBA pick.—not right now with San Antonio potentially in the way.