The NBA's play-in tournament starts on Tuesday and the bracket gets started on Saturday. The march to the NBA Finals is upon us.
Before the postseason begins, it's worth taking a look at the NBA championship odds from BetMGM and determining which teams actually have a chance, which are overvalued and which might be good bets as the postseason gets going.
The teams with no chance
There aren't many Saint Peter's — or even North Carolina — stories in the NBA playoffs. Usually the top teams advance. There has been one No. 4 seed (1969 Boston Celtics) and one No. 6 seed (1995 Houston Rockets) to win NBA championships.
Maybe one of the teams down BetMGM's odds list can make a long run, and if you want to bet on them, go for it. It just doesn't seem wise based on history. Let's cross these teams off: Nuggets (+2500), Raptors (+6600), Timberwolves (+8000), Bulls (+10000), Cavaliers (+12500), Hawks (+15000), Pelicans (+25000), Hornets (+40000) and Spurs (+50000).
We'll also put the Dallas Mavericks (+2500) on the "do not bet" list, which stinks because they played really well for a couple months. But Luka Doncic's injury just brings too much uncertainty. Cross them off unless we get some good news about Doncic's injury this week.
If a long shot is going to make a run ...
It's fun to take a chance on a team with some long odds, so let's talk about two candidates.
Doncic's injury could open up a chance for the Utah Jazz (+2800) to get going. According to NBA.com's advanced stats, the Jazz had the most efficient offense in the NBA this season. If they get by the Mavs because Doncic is out or not effective, maybe they can get on a run. The other team that might make a run out of nowhere could be the Los Angeles Clippers (+3500), who went 4-1 in games Paul George played after he returned from injury. The West doesn't have a lot of obvious contenders to knock off the Phoenix Suns, so maybe someone off the radar can provide some value.
The Phoenix Suns are +260, for two reasons: They've been the best team, and they play in the Western Conference. It's not great value to bet a heavy favorite like the Suns, but it's also tough to figure out who in the West will beat them. It's not crazy to take the Suns but it doesn't seem like there's a lot of value in it.
The other teams in the West
If you want to fade the Suns, the Golden State Warriors (+1000) or Memphis Grizzlies (+1200) are your best options. We're not sure yet about Steph Curry's return from a foot injury for Game 1 of the first round, but if the Warriors get past the Denver Nuggets in the first round, you'd assume Curry will be healthy and back to his normal self by Round 2. Then you'd like having that 10-to-1 ticket. The Grizzlies might be a year away, but they just keep winning (especially against the spread). They did go 2-1 against the Suns, including an impressive, tough 122-114 win over Phoenix on April 1. Don't rule out Memphis.
The Brooklyn Nets aren't even in the bracket yet. They play the Cleveland Cavaliers in a play-in game on Tuesday. Yet, they're the third favorite at +700. Remember, only one team lower than a No. 4 seed has ever won the NBA championship and no team beyond a No. 6 seed has ever done it. But we all know the Nets, with Kyrie Irving allowed to play home games now and Kevin Durant in the lineup, have a championship ceiling. I wouldn't bet them to win it all, but I'd understand it. They're a unique case.
Overvalued East teams
The Boston Celtics (+1000) were great late in the season. The Philadelphia 76ers (+1200) have two of the best players in the league, Joel Embiid and James Harden. Yet, it seems their odds should be longer. The Celtics are probably getting the Nets in the first round, which is a nightmare for a No. 2 seed. The Celtics' playoff road could be Nets, Bucks, Heat, Suns. Wow. The 76ers are fine but they haven't really popped with Harden and Embiid. After a good start with Harden, the 76ers were 9-7 in the last 16 games Harden played this regular season. Maybe the 76ers will turn it on and look unbeatable, but I'd like to see it first.
These two teams have value
There were times the Milwaukee Bucks (+700) looked bored with the regular season, and that makes sense after they won the championship last season. But they played the endgame well, avoiding the Nets in the first round and getting the Chicago Bulls. The Bucks are 15-1 in their last 16 games against the Bulls and have not lost to Chicago with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup since Mike Budenholzer was hired as coach in 2018. Milwaukee got over the championship hump and it wouldn't be surprising to see Antetokounmpo make another title run. Grabbing them at +700 odds isn't too bad.
The Miami Heat (+1000) are probably the best value bet. They are the No. 1 seed. They have two elite players (Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo), a great coach in Erik Spoelstra, they play great defense and had the best 3-point shooting percentage in the NBA. They made the NBA Finals just two years ago in the bubble. Yet how often have you heard anyone discuss the Heat amid all the talk about Devin Booker and the Suns, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks trying to repeat, all of the Nets hype, the 76ers figuring out Harden and Embiid as they go, etc.? They're a nice under-the-radar bet who probably will have an easy first-round opponent (assuming the Nets don't get the No. 8 seed) and they'll avoid the Bucks until the Eastern Conference finals, if both teams make it that far.
No matter who you're betting on, these NBA playoffs should be fun. Enjoy the ride.