The first round of the NBA Playoffs is almost always a snoozefest. There’s usually one, maybe two super compelling series, and the rest of the time it’s favorites going through the motions.
That doesn’t appear that’ll be the case this year, however. From Toronto’s historic inconsistency, to Boston’s injury woes, to the Warriors without Curry, to the Thunder’s volatility, this may be the most vulnerable crop of favorites we’ve seen in quite some time.
But where’s the value? Here’s a look at the best series to fade the favorites.
All odds via Westgate as of Thursday evening.
RAPTORS -700 / WIZARDS +500
The Raptors have done everything we could’ve asked. They had the best record in the East. They had the third-best net rating in the league. They beat good teams and bad teams and mediocre teams.
And yet, the team has never won a Game 1, and this core lost first-round series in 2014 and 2015, including one to this very same Wizards team.
On the other hand, this Raptors core has never lost a first-round series to a team that didn’t have Paul Pierce.
The 5-1 odds don’t represent outstanding value to fade Washington in a 1-8 matchup. The Raptors split the season series with the Wizards, but Washington really did slump to finish the year. It was basically the giant elephant in this situation:
Toronto slipped a little over the last month, but the Raptors have a +10.4 net rating at home. This is the best team in franchise history. There’s just no way to feel like the Wizards can take four from them.
However, take a good long look at that Game 1 line of Wizards +8.
CELTICS -155 / BUCKS +135
This is going to get hammered. No Gordon Hayward. No Kyrie Irving. No Marcus Smart. A Bucks team with more top-end talent. It all screams upset. But something to consider: The Celtics were +3.0 per 100 possessions vs. the Bucks this year without Irving or Smart on the floor. With Jayson Tatum and Horford, they were +19.0.
The Bucks have become a little too trendy of an upset pick. The Celtics are more disciplined, have better balance and will give absolute maximum effort. Kyrie Irving’s absence drastically lowers Boston’s ceiling. But it doesn’t impact its floor considerably. The Celtics can still play to a requisite level to beat a flawed Bucks team, even if it takes a long while.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS -550 / MIAMI HEAT +400
Trust the process? Take the dog.
The Sixers are on a 16-game winning streak, but almost all of them came against teams that were tanking. Philadelphia went 2-2 in the regular season vs. this Heat team. There’s ample evidence that playoff experience is overrated by the books. But the Sixers are brutally young, Joel Embiid’s face requires a mask, and Markelle Fultz has been back just two weeks.
Oh, and Brett Brown has never coached a playoff series. On the other side, you get 4-1 odds on Erik Spoelstra and his band of faceless ninjas ready to pull the upset.
The Heat are a hard team to scout because they don’t have a focal point. You can’t try to take away one guy. They have athletes, shooters, bigs and great guards.
Yes, the Sixers were a significantly better team throughout the course of the regular season — there’s a 4.5-point net differential gap between the two — but that’s baked into the 4-1 odds. Historically, 3 vs. 6 matchups have been vulnerable for the favorites, and this Heat team might be able to exploit certain issues with the Sixers, like Simmons’ shooting problems and Embiid’s turnover issues.
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