May 6, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) shoots the ball past New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) during the second half of game three of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
NBA Futures Picks: There is value to be had in a wide-open NBA playoffs field
As I have frequently stated frequently in my sports handicapping columns, sports wagering is not about the names on the front or back of the jersey, it’s about finding value and capitalizing on that value. If you stay true to that formula, your chances for success in the long run increase substantially.
I am of the belief that this year’s run to the NBA Championship presents several excellent value opportunities in what I deem a wide-open field that lacks a truly elite team.
Yes, based on the level of talent on the roster, their regular-season performance, and their run to the NBA Finals last season, along with the Milwaukee Bucks first-round ouster, conventional wisdom would say the Boston Celtics should be the overwhelming favorite to win the title. The sportsbooks seem to have taken that stance making Boston a mere +165 (FanDuel) to with the NBA title and -175 (FanDuel) to win the Eastern Conference crown.
While I agree that the Celtics are the best team still alive in the NBA playoffs and should be the favorite, their uneven performance thus far in the postseason and their season-long struggles in closing out games and winning close games (17-25 in games decided by 6 points or less in the regular season and 0-4 in the playoffs) leads me to believe that this is a vulnerable favorite who could fall along the way clearing the path for the right, live underdog. Our job is to isolate those underdogs with a real chance to get to the promised land and who also present good value.
Without any further adieu, here are my three value plays to win the NBA title:
Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship +2800 at DraftKings:
Is it me or does this Miami Heat team look an awful lot like the 2020 bubble team that made a run to the NBA Finals before falling to the Lakers? That club was a five-seed that knocked off fourth-seeded Indiana, top-seeded Milwaukee, and the No. 3-seeded Celtics before losing to the Lakers in six games. That Lakers club was a much stronger team than anyone coming out of the West this season, and like that bubble team, this Heat group has caught fire downing top-seeded Milwaukee and holding a 2-1 edge on the fifth-seeded Knicks going into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Forget the wealth of undrafted free agents in the rotation and the eighth seed, they have far and away the best postseason player in the Eastern Conference in Jimmy Butler and a tremendous coach with multiple championships on his resume in Erik Spoelstra. Add in that they are playing the best ball on a night-in, night-out basis of any team in the playoffs and +2800 is way too juicy to pass up.
New York Knicks to win the NBA Championship +5500 at DraftKings:
This Knicks team turned into an elite offensive team in the second half of the NBA season, and while they weren’t the turtle-slow, lockdown defensive unit you expect a Tom Thibodeau Knicks team to be, they didn’t lose that identity entirely, still ranking in the bottom third in pace and top half of the NBA in defensive efficiency. While they have struggled thus far in their series against Miami, if New York can right itself and find a way past Miami, they have the offensive firepower to keep up with any team remaining in the playoffs and can still call on its defense for a big stop in a big spot. While it will be an uphill climb for the Knicks, they are worth a flyer from a value standpoint as the longest shot in the field.
Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship +500 at FanDuel:
While not the outstanding value that the previous two bets present, the Lakers in my mind have the easiest path to the NBA Finals as I’m not a believer in anyone in the Western Conference. The remake of the Lakers has made them a lethal offensive team that will push the pace every chance they get. They also have arguably the best basketball player in the history of sneakers in LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing at the top of his game on both ends of the floor. With Davis locked in defensively, Los Angeles is good enough on that end of the floor to keep up with any team remaining in the postseason not named the Boston Celtics. Offensively, with the transformation they made at the trade deadline, they have the ability to outscore any team in the NBA on a nightly basis. Should they find a way past a Warriors team that can’t deal with the interior presence of Davis as I expect, I believe the Lakers have a pretty clear path to the Finals, and if Boston falls, they have the inside track on the NBA Championship.
A one-unit play on the Heat and the Lakers and a half-unit play on the Knicks has you turning a tidy profit if any of these three teams win the NBA title.