As the NBA season winds down toward a climatic finish, it’s hard to believe we are already down to four teams. The Denver Nuggets will host the Los Angeles Lakers to open the action Tuesday, while the Miami Heat travel to Boston to take on the Celtics on Wednesday.
This year’s postseason was projected to be more wide-open, and it surely did not disappoint. Prior to this season, teams that advanced via the play-in tournament had never won a postseason series. This year, we have two of those teams (Miami and L.A.) playing in the conference finals.
Both the Lakers and Heat enter Game 1 as underdogs, with Miami assuming the role of the largest long shot at +400 odds to advance to the NBA Finals. It’s not surprising to see either in that role as No. 7 and No. 8 seeds, but I still contend both have a real chance to pull off yet another upset. I can also understand why the money is coming in on the favorites. The Nuggets are the No.1 seed in the Western Conference, and Boston earned the NBA's second-best regular season record.
So rather than try and convince you to load up on each underdog, I wanted to look at some of the different ways we can wager on the series at BetMGM. I targeted the length of the series for those who might disagree with my inclination to back the dogs, and some long-shot plays for those who believe the Lakers and Heat aren’t quite finished yet.
Series to go 7 games +180
If you believe Nikola Jokic is the best player in basketball and will lead this Nuggets team to its first NBA title, I can understand why. Denver played phenomenally against Phoenix, it has home-court advantage and is playing its best basketball right now. But the Lakers aren’t getting rid of LeBron James in six games.
In order for that to happen, Denver would have to close out the series on the Lakers home floor. That’s where the Lakers are 6-0 during the playoffs, beating opponents by an average of 18 points per game. Denver has never been a strong team on the road (19-22 regular season, 2-3 playoffs). If you want to assume Denver wins the series, the more likely close-out opportunities are Games 5 and 7. At +180 odds, I will take my chances this one goes seven games.
Correct Series Result - Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 +600
My Lakers backers can stay for this conversation, as we take it one step further. As I alluded to above, both teams are very tough to beat on their home floors. Each team is a perfect 6-0 at home in the playoffs. The Lakers won nine straight games in L.A., and the Nuggets are now 40-7 (including the playoffs) in Denver. Nobody would be shocked to see these teams trade home wins throughout the first six games, setting the table for an epic seventh game.
If the series unfolds that way, having 6-to-1 odds on LeBron James in a Game 7 would be as good as it gets. If you are worried L.A. is out of gas at that point, you can hedge with Denver’s moneyline or let it ride with the King. Regardless, if you are on the Lakers, I think this bet is worth a look.
Boston Celtics (-550) vs. Miami Heat (+400)
Series Total Games O/U - Over 5.5 (-105)
Miami is a massive underdog for good reason, but I still think they are live in this series. Erik Spoelstra has done an outstanding job with his rotations and Jimmy Butler should be a lot closer to 100%. If Butler is fully healthy, it’s fair to argue the Heat will have the best player and coach on the floor in this series. That has to get you at least two wins, doesn’t it?
If we get Sunday’s version of Jayson Tatum for the whole series, then we can shred this ticket early and move on. But, that’s not what we have seen out of this Celtics team this postseason. Tatum has been inconsistent, and they didn’t play with any type of urgency in the Atlanta or the Philadelphia series. If the Hawks, who play little-to-no defense, pushed Boston to six games, I will take my chances with this Miami team to at least do the same.
Game/Series Double - Miami Heat to win Game 1 and Miami Heat to win the series +900
Welcome to the long-shot portion of the program. If the Heat are going to pull off the upset, their most likely path includes stealing the series opener. Maybe the series price of +400 isn't enough to get you to buy into Heat culture, but +900 odds have to at least initiate a conversation.
The Celtics are getting two full days off to recover, but they are still coming off an emotional Game 7 against the 76ers. The Heat have been resting since they finished off New York on Friday night, and teams in Boston’s position (off a Game 7) have historically struggled in the opening game of the following series. We saw it impact a veteran team like the Warriors after Sacramento pushed them to seven games. I didn’t like how Boston started the series flat against Philly, and Miami is going to be well-rested and motivated to make a statement from the jump. I like the Heat in Game 1 and the series, so it makes sense for me to combine the two outcomes at +900 for a small bet.