Two Game 4s were played Sunday and the other two are scheduled for Monday, putting us at the exact midpoint of the second round of the NBA playoffs — if we assume all series will go seven games, which actually feels like a perfectly reasonable assumption the way these matchups are playing out so far.
Looking at the futures odds across the regulated U.S. mobile sportsbooks, with two series knotted at 2-2 and two at 2-1, there are three clear takeaways:
Despite their frequent sloppiness and inexperienced coach, the deep and talented Boston Celtics, coming off a wild overtime loss to the 76ers in Philadelphia Sunday by 1 point and by about two-tenths of a second, are the decisive favorite to win it all. This is in part due to them having the best regular-season record of all the remaining teams, and in part due to arguably four of the five best teams residing on the other side of the bracket. The most bettor-friendly championship price available on Boston as of Monday morning is +165 at FanDuel.
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks are playing for a consolation prize when they renew acquaintances in Game 4 Monday night. DraftKings has them priced at +2800 and +5500, respectively, to win the title. One of the two teams has to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, and both of them would be live ‘dogs against either the Celtics or Sixers, but pulling off that upset and one more against the West winner has been deemed little more than a three-quarter-court prayer by the bookmakers.
It’s a five-way jump ball in between the favored Celtics and the written-off Heat and Knicks. Most sportsbooks have the Denver Nuggets, L.A. Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and 76ers each under 10/1 to win the title. Exact prices and orders vary. DraftKings does list Philly just outside that 10/1 cutoff at +1100. Some books have the Lakers shorter than the Nuggets. Some books list the Warriors at longer odds than the Sixers. But all five teams can be found somewhere at a price between +475 and +850, making this an unusually wide-open postseason — and probably offering value for a bettor who particularly believes in one of these squads.
A live +15000 Finals MVP candidate?
Monday’s Heat-Knicks Game 4 in Miami (the Heat are favored by 4.5 at most books, with Jimmy Butler officially listed as a “game-time decision” but expected to play) will have little bearing on most of the futures odds.
The late game Monday, however, could well shake up the odds board. The Lakers have a chance to go up 3-1 with another home win over the defending champs (L.A. is favored by 3) in what is the marquee series of the second round with casual basketball fans. If Steph Curry’s Warriors tie up the series and reclaim home-court advantage, the Western Conference contenders could wake up Tuesday morning in nearly a four-way futures odds tie. If LeBron James’ Lakers prevail, we’ll have a seventh seed that finished the regular season barely above .500 as the clear-cut second choice to win it all.
Speaking of superstars like LeBron and Steph, as the NBA basks in having nearly all of its biggest names still in the hunt — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic are just about the only notable exceptions — the NBA Finals MVP betting markets are fascinating. Three remaining teams have a clear singular standout whose MVP odds aren’t far off from his team’s title odds: Nikola Jokic for Denver (+500 at both BetMGM and DraftKings), Curry for Golden State (ranging from +800 to +1000, much like the Warriors), and Butler for Miami (from +2200 to +3000).
The other five teams can be unpredictable as to who will be their best player over the course of a series.
For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum is the overall Finals MVP favorite (as low as +250), but teammate Jaylen Brown (+650 to +850) is third overall at most sportsbooks. For the Lakers, there’s very little odds separation between LeBron (as high as +1000 at FanDuel) and Anthony Davis (+1300 at FD but only +900 at other books).
There’s no separation at all between the Suns’ top two stars. The prices vary from book to book, but one thing FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM agree on is that it’s a dead heat for MVP between Devin Booker and Kevin Durant at odds ranging from +1000 to +1300. Nobody seems to be taking the Knicks’ MVP candidates terribly seriously, but for what it’s worth, Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are priced similarly (DraftKings happens to have them both at +9000).
And then there are the 76ers, for whom Joel Embiid was the best player all season. The league’s 2022-23 MVP has by far the shortest price on the Sixers for Finals MVP, between +1000 and +1400, while he plays through a sprained knee. But in two of the last four games, Sixers point guard James Harden has been spectacular. In the other two of the last four games, Harden has been spectacularly awful.
The Sixers still need to win two of three against the favored Celtics, including winning at least one road game, and then win two more series for it to matter. But it’s worth observing how Harden’s MVP prices vary as wildly as the quality of his play.
At FanDuel, he’s +4500. Marginal at best, right? Well, at BetMGM, Harden is +15000. Some would still call that marginal given Harden’s career playoff history, but 150/1 is a heck of a lot better than 45/1 if said marginal wager comes in.
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