The long slog of the NBA regular season finally gives way Saturday to the start of the playoffs, where the Cleveland Cavaliers begin defense of their championship, the Golden State Warriors try to reclaim their king-of-the-hill status, and all others try to prove they belong in the same area code. Covers checks in with the oddsmakers on six teams they don’t want to win the NBA title this time around.
Among those weighing in: Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip; Scott Cooley, odds consultant for offshore sportsbook Bookmaker.eu; Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas; and the lines manager for offshore site GTBets.eu.
Cleveland Cavaliers/Golden State Warriors
Avello and Cooley started with last year’s NBA finalists, both prohibitive favorites to face off again come June. Although the Cavs’ odds were never long, they still attracted enough money to be problematic. Avello said Cleveland heads into the playoffs at 3/1 to repeat as NBA champion, close to where the team has resided all season. The Warriors have been a minus-money chalk all year at the Wynn, and they are currently -170.
“The Cavs are definitely one of our liabilities. In fact, I think the Cavs are our only loser,” Avello said. “We’re rooting against Golden State, although they’re not a big loser for us anymore.”
Bookmaker.eu is also rooting against either of these teams winning – or even returning – to the NBA Finals this season. The Cavs are at +285, slightly inside their preseason number of +300, while Golden State is a prohibitive -190 chalk, after opening the season at -145.
“The Big Deuce – Cavaliers and Warriors – is where we always have a ton of liability,” Cooley said.
Cleveland is the East’s No. 2 seed, opening the playoffs Saturday in a best-of-7 series with No. 7 Indiana. Golden State, No. 1 in the West, opens the postseason Sunday against No. 8 Portland.
Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Co. have slid down the odds board, but enough bettors have stayed on board to create a fair amount of liability. The Clippers finished fourth in the West, pairing them against No. 5 Utah beginning Saturday.
“The Clippers started out at 16/1, but their odds have become longer and longer as the season went on, working their way all the way up to 50/1,” GTBets’ lines manager said. “With them still being a contending team, odds of 30/1 up to 50/1 do come with a bit of a sting, which plenty of bettors are rolling the dice on.”
The Wizards finished fourth in the East, earning a first-round playoff series against No. 5 Atlanta starting Sunday. Cooley said bettors seem to think maybe, just maybe, Cleveland could fall short this year and another East team could land in the Finals.
“We opened the Wizards at 130/1 last fall, and they are currently 33/1,” Cooley said of the Wizards’ futures book odds at Bookmaker.eu. “The East certainly isn’t wide open, but it does feel like there is more of a chance for an upset than in years past. Washington is a pretty darn good team that could mature a great deal this postseason.”
At CG books, including shops at The Cosmopolitan and Venetian on the Strip, Washington opened at 145/1, but is now posted at 45/1.
“They’re just a better team than anticipated, which led to the price change,” Simbal said.
The Celtics snared the No. 1 seed in the East, which is perhaps as much attributable to Cleveland’s indifference as Boston playing well. Still, the Celts get the benefit of the home court throughout the East playoffs, opening Sunday against No. 8 Chicago.
“Everyone was high on the C’s coming into the season, and they didn’t disappoint. And because of the franchise pedigree and market, we’ve incurred a good deal of futures bets on Boston,” Cooley said. “We opened the Celtics at 28/1 and are currently offering 15/1 odds. With home-court advantage, anything could happen.”
James Harden’s MVP-type numbers have certainly turned heads this year. The superstar guard leads the Rockets in scoring (29.1 ppg), assists (11.2 apg) and rebounds (8.1 rpg), helping Houston finish third in the West and gain a matchup against No. 6 Oklahoma City, with its own MVP candidate in triple-double machine Russell Westbrook.
“The Rockets have got a good team, and people were betting them early, when they were about 30/1 or so,” Avello said. “Now, they’re around 18/1.”
The Houston-Oklahoma City series starts Sunday.
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.