The NBA playoffs are set to begin today. The last time we got to say that was back in mid-April of 2019 when the D’Angelo Russell led Brooklyn Nets squared off against a Sixers team with Jimmy Butler. Heck, we were just five days removed from Virginia capping off their Cinderella story run by defeating Texas Tech to win the NCAA “March Madness” Tournament. Oh, March Madness, how we missed you this year.
Anyway, as the Nuggets and Jazz are set to tip-off the 2020 NBA Playoffs in the bubble atmosphere in Orlando, here is one bet per series that I think represents value:
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Rockets to win 4-3, +400
Chris Paul vs. the team who traded him last offseason. Russell Westbrook vs. the team who he was the face of the franchise for multiple seasons and was a member of since being drafted in 2008 when they were still the SuperSonics. The storylines for this series are clear.
The storylines are important because these two teams will compete at a high level especially given that they each have an All-Star guard who will have a chip on their shoulder. With this in mind, I expect that it’ll be a factor in pushing this series to the brink. The Rockets are the favorites in the series, as they should be, but with Westbrook expected to miss at least the start of the series with a quad injury, it gives me all the more reason to think that it’ll go to a game 7.
The odds for the Rockets to win 4-1 are +500, and the odds for the series to go over 6.5 games are +200, so the value is certainly there.
Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz: Nuggets to win 4-1, +350
The Nuggets are the far superior team. They have the best player in the series in Nikola Jokic and have so much more depth than the Jazz, who have already lost Bogdanovic and will now miss Mike Conley for a little bit as he (rightfully) travels back to Ohio to be with his family following the birth of his birth. Assuming that Jordan Clarkson gets inserted into the starting lineup, the Jazz will bring *checks notes* Emmanuel Mudiay, Georges Niang, and Tony Bradley off the bench. A Miye Oni sighting might even be a reality. Yikes.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets produce depth like its nobody’s business. P.J. Dozier has worked himself into a fathomable rotational piece, Keita Bates-Diop saw some action in the seeding games, and I know their main guards weren’t totally healthy, but man this team has a bunch of dudes. I mean, Michael Porter Jr. finally came to life as many had hoped, earning himself a 2nd team all-seeding games nod.
Donovan Mitchell’s heroics will give the Jazz a victory at some point in this series, but Denver has way too much fire-power for the Jazz to seriously compete with.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks: Clippers to win 4-1, +275
I’m as big a Luka Doncic fan as there is, but the Clippers are going to make relatively easy work of the Mavs. Doncic is already a superstar in this league and I think he can be the best player on a championship team in the future, but that’s the future because currently, he’s going to face Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the mighty Clippers.
The Clippers appear to have found a rhythm and are expected to get Montrezl Harrell back in action for the start of the playoffs. They’re scary. Aside from their top four guys, their depth is deep and although it does fluctuate in consistency––I have my doubts about Reggie Jackson in general and Shamet has been weird in the seeding games, but Zubac and JaMychal Green have been stepping up–– that’s not going to matter against Dallas here.
It’s -105 to go under 5.5 games, so why not take the Clippers in 5? Look, similar to the Denver-Utah series, Luka is going to probably go off in one game that’ll propel Dallas to victory, but the Clippers will put their foot down after that potential game occurs and end the series quickly and professionally.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers: Lakers to win 4-3, +550
Oh, man. These teams meet in the opening round with the top-seeded Lakers not playing that well while the eight seeded Blazers enter having won their final four games. Portland has been widely watched and talked about recently, and for good reason. Dame Lillard won the seeding games MVP on the back of three consecutive spectacular, carrying-the-team type performances to clinch the 8-seed. Then they held on against the Grizzlies in the first of potential two play-in games to earn a date with these Lakers. (Aside: Poor Suns. They were fun to root for and earned my respect.)
However, the hope for the Lakers is that LeBron turns up once game 1 of the series begins, in regards to both physical play, but also in regards to channeling a re-found determination and focus that manifests throughout the entire team. While that is hope, which is a reasonable hope––LeBron has a track record of getting his team’s ready to go for the postseason–– there are a few certainties that favor the Lakers: One, the Blazers lack wing defense against LeBron. Two, nobody can guard Anthony Davis. Three, the Blazers had the third-worst defensive rating among the 22 teams in the seeding games.
Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic are devastating for opposing defenses. Dame has been an assassin lately. The Blazers have developed a strong sense of trust and continuity, as would be expected from a team that has essentially been in must-win mode since the seeding games began. For these reasons, I think this series go the distance, but ultimately, when I close my eyes and imagine what the end of this series looks like, it’s difficult to imagine LeBron losing a first-round series, especially alongside such a talent like Anthony Davis.
Odds via DraftKings, taken on August 16th.
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