Follow the Favorites to Cash
The simplest way to make money betting NBA futures is following history as any NBA basketball handicapper should know. Only once since 1970 has a team that finished lower than third place in either conference gone on to win the NBA title.
That team was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, who finished sixth in the Western Conference that season (still strong 47-35 record) after winning the NBA title the previous season. However, key contributors Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe and even Hakeem Olajuwon all missed significant time due to injury during the regular season, but the late season acquisition of Clyde Drexler and a return of health of especially Olajuwon, catapulted the Rockets to back to back championships.
This season, it is a given Miami or Indiana will be coming out of the East. While Toronto is a nice turnaround story, the NBA odds are nearly insurmountable the Raptors would defeat both teams in the playoffs to reach The Finals.
The West is bit more wild with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland at the top of the conference standings, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Phoenix and Golden State not lurking far behind.
Understanding the Numbers in the East
At all sportsbooks, the Heat and Pacers are the overall favorites and the most common price is +220 on each. Though Indiana has stumbled a bit of late, they still maintain a three-game lead over Miami in the loss column and this is all important to them, since if they were to meet in the East Finals this year, they would have the home court advantage.
Indiana has the hunger factor, wanting to knock Miami off its perch as two-time defending champions and they might have that edge as we pick apart the numbers.
Like last season, the Pacers are No. 1 in field goal percentage defense again. The Heat are never going to lead the NBA in this category because of their style of play, nonetheless, last season they finished sixth in the category at 44 percent, this season to date they are 24th, at 46.1 percent. Coach Erik Spoelstra and his team can certainly improve this number, but has two years of chasing the dream left this team bored in the regular season?
Understanding the Numbers in the West
Earlier I had mentioned the Houston championship teams and on that roster was little-used Scott Brooks, the head coach of Oklahoma City. With the Thunder’s recent surge led by white-hot Kevin Durant, they have surpassed Indiana for the best record (same number of losses however) and they are the third overall choice to be champions at +450 NBA odds.
But Oklahoma City is not winning the title without Russell Westbrook, who is expected back sometime around the All-Star break. Westbrook’s health is tantamount as we saw in last year’s playoffs, but he will have to be like Dwayne Wade and realize this is Durant’s team and acquiesce to him.
San Antonio (+1200) and Portland (+1500) are next, yet both come with baggage. The Spurs have four players out presently and this once deep roster is in tatters and they are paying the price with a 3-5 record since Jan. 17. Eventually, everyone should be healthy but can the aging core players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) realistically make another postseason run?
Portland’s field goal percentage defense is just slightly better than Miami’s at 45.8 percent (19th ) and the way playoff basketball is played, it is cause for alarm the Trail Blazers are 0-4 SU and ATS in previous outings when they score fewer than 100 points.
Phoenix is too young and Golden State has too many holes to be considered serious. Dallas and Memphis have shown in the last few years they lack fundamental elements to be considered elite teams.
Quite possibly the most intriguing team in the West is the L.A. Clippers. The Clips are fourth out West and 11-4 without Chris Paul, who’s been out with a separated shoulder. Los Angeles is at +1800 and if they can get Paul back relatively soon, they could make a run at a higher seed being just three games back and everyone making NBA picks knows how good a coach Doc Rivers is.
The Final Decree
Based on where we are today, an Indiana and Oklahoma City final seems realistic (that is +400 at certain sportsbooks) and if the Clippers reach the Top 3 in the Western Conference, they could be a play (+1300 at the moment).
While the Pacers and Thunder are hardly exciting wagers, there is nothing wrong with winning.