The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin today and the Warriors are probably going to win the title. That comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched the league during the past few seasons. However, sitting at less than even money, is Golden State the best bet, value-wise? At their current odds, they only offer value if their title chances are better than 60-percent. Other teams are less likely to raise a banner, but provide more bang for your buck.
Join me as I scrutinize the field to find a horse to ride.
2017 NBA Finals Odds
Golden State: 20/33
The Warriors won 67 games during the regular season, six more than San Antonio, a dozen more than Houston, and 14 ahead of the top team in the East, Boston. Steve Kerr’s squad holds home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, which is massive: they went 39-2 at Oracle last season and 36-5 this year.
Golden State navigated 20 games late in the regular season without Kevin Durant and, for a time, looked lost without him. But they put together a 15-1 finish and now KD is healthy for the postseason. Casual fans know the Warriors for their league-leading offense. Don’t sleep on this team defensively. They gave up over 104 PPG, but that’s because of the pace they play at, which creates more possessions for both teams. They actually led the league in field-goal defense and three-point defense and were second in defensive efficiency. They’re more complete than most realize.
It has been a weird year for the Cavs. They yielded the number-one seed in the East to Boston. That’s not entirely bad news. Yes, they risk playing a Game 7 on the road in the Eastern Conference finals, but they just annihilated the Celtics in Boston 114-91. And having the two-seed avoids a first-round matchup with a Chicago team that’s given them problems.
The team enters the playoffs fourth in the league in scoring, fifth in shooting percentage, and second from downtown. If the Cavs are going to hoist a second Larry O’Brien Trophy in as many years, the defense will have to get markedly better. It’s been the second-worst unit in the NBA since the All-Star break.
The main reason for optimism, aside from the fact that they just blew out the top team in the East in their last meaningful game, is LeBron James. In case you hadn’t heard, King James has been in the last six NBA Finals.
San Antonio: 9/1
The Spurs hit 60 victories for the third time in four seasons, and incredibly topped 50 Ws for an 18th consecutive campaign. (Can we retroactively give Gregg Popovich, like, 10 more Coach of the Year awards?) The question is: can San Antonio beat Golden State? The Spurs won two of three regular season meetings with the Warriors, but don’t put too much emphasis on those. The first was on the opening day of the season. The second saw Golden State rest the bulk of its stars. The Warriors won the last meeting, which took place in Texas, handily (110-98).
Kawhi Leonard is having an MVP-type season for San Antonio. (Well, he would be if it weren’t for Russell Westbrook and James Harden.) He’s led the Spurs to just over 105 points a game (14th) and 1.077 points-per-possession (seventh). They really butter their bread on the defensive end, though, leading the league in defensive efficiency, while finishing second in points-against and field-goal defense, and fifth in three-point defense.
With 53 wins, the Celtics finished two games ahead of the Cavs and Raptors in the Eastern Conference. But they went 1-2 against both Cleveland and Toronto during the regular season and they aren’t really elite at either end of the floor. Boston finished the regular season seventh in the league in scoring, but only ninth in offensive efficiency and in the middle of the pack in shooting. They were 15th in scoring defense and 12th in defensive efficiency. One thing they do very well on D is prevent the triple, finishing second in three-point defense, something that could be huge if they matchup with the Cavs, who connect on a league-best 13 per game.
Lacking the star power or visibility of several other contenders, the Raptors followed up last season’s run to the Eastern Conference finals with another 50-plus-win season. Like Boston, they’re more balanced than offensively or defensively dominant, sitting tenth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That said, the defense now looks like the better unit for the Raps after picking up stoppers PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline.
Point guard Kyle Lowry missed a big chunk of time toward the end of the season, but was able to get a few games under his belt before the playoffs and reintegrated pretty seamlessly. That’s big with a dangerous first-round matchup with the Bucks looming.
The Warriors are the best team but taking that price is ridiculous. The Cavs number is perhaps more ridiculous. Setting aside LeBron’s playoff pedigree, they might be the third-best team in the East right now. If you don’t think Golden State can be beat, betting on the Celtics or Raptors to reach the NBA finals offers value. They’re similar teams with similar chances to knock-off James and the Cavs, so Toronto’s the better option at nearly twice the odds of Boston.
If you think Golden State can be beat, San Antonio is the most likely suitor. But I’m scared away by what we saw from the Warriors last in the season, especially in their final matchup with the Spurs.
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