Assessing value for non-Warriors teams entering the NBA playoffs

The NBA postseason should provide entertaining games and series, but we’re still investing two months into a process that we all believe will culminate in another championship for the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors haven’t even been tested in the NBA Finals in Kevin Durant’s two seasons with the franchise, going 8-1 against the Cavaliers with an average winning margin of 14.4 points per game.

The only real difference this time is the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, which can be a blessing and a curse, but he’s an undeniable addition in terms of talent. 

The Warriors are available at ridiculous -210 odds to win the championship on DraftKings Sportsbook, but many other books offer them as steep as -250. DK Sportsbook, however, is also offering a future prop — the Warriors versus the field (+150). 

So is anybody capable of dethroning the champs? Let’s explore a few NBA futures.

Milwaukee Bucks: +165 Eastern Conference, +850 Championship

I wouldn’t take this number on the Bucks to win the East. I think with the Raptors, Sixers and Celtics all looming, none of these talented teams should be less than +200, particularly against a Bucks franchise that’s still new to the postseason party. 

But you can’t discount how dominant the Bucks were this season. Aside from resting all their best players in the final regular-season game, Milwaukee went a league-best 47-30-4 ATS. I think there’s some value in betting them at +850 to win the NBA Finals. While it’s my opinion the Bucks are being slightly overvalued in the East, they’re still the clear-cut favorites.

Milwaukee was the third-best home team against the spread in the NBA regular season, including a 23-point win against the Warriors in November. That was so early in the season, it’s difficult to put much weight on it, but it’s an indication of the Bucks’ capabilities.

Milwaukee would enjoy home-court advantage in the Finals against any Western Conference opponent. Milwaukee did lose by 10 at Oracle Arena, but its 27-14 road record speaks for itself. 

I wouldn’t place more than a half-unit on any NBA future that goes against the Warriors winning the title, but +850 is undervaluing the Bucks. They can push Golden State. 

Boston Celtics: +300 Eastern Conference, +1600 Championship

The Celtics are the 4-seed in the East — hence the fourth-best odds to win the conference. But they’re just as talented as any other team in the conference, so if they play to their potential, I think we’re getting some value on Boston. 

The Celtics’ appeal is simple — they’ve competed with every other contender with higher odds than them to win the title. 

Boston went 3-1 this season against Philadelphia, split 2-2 with Toronto, and despite losing the season series 1-2 to Milwaukee, dropped a road game by just one point. The Celtics are as good as these other teams on paper AND head-to-head this season, which makes them worth taking at +300 to win the conference.

Boston split with the Warriors this season, proving their ability to compete within those games. Golden State escaped Boston with a four-point victory in January. But the Celtics got their most impressive victory of the season when they mopped the floor with the Warriors in March, 128-95.

If you’re interested in a Celtics future bet, consider putting 75 percent of your wager on +300 to win the east and 25 percent to win the title at lucrative +1600 odds. 

Denver Nuggets: +900 Western Conference, +3000 Championship

The Warriors are an absurd -335 just to get out of the West, so betting on any other team in their conference is going to provide value. Denver is one of the best teams in the West, and courtesy of the No. 2 seed, wouldn’t see the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals. Perhaps Houston can take out Golden State before then, also. 

Golden State’s presence in the conference jacks up the number. Denver is +900 to win the West, whereas the Bucks are +850 to win the title.

While Denver went just 1-3 against the Warriors this season, the Nuggets have the balance to compete. Nikola Jokic provides a huge mismatch, even when Cousins is on the floor. The Dubs deserve to be huge favorites, but we’re talking about small wagers on futures. 

If you split this one with half your wager to win the conference and another half on the championship, you may be able to find hedging opportunities. (Look at what Texas Tech futures bettors did when the Red Raiders reached the national championship game. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: +1100 Western Conference, +2500 Championship

This bet is based on talent alone. Houston gets the hype with James Harden, but I think the duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George make for the second-most talented team in the West, even if their playoff seed doesn’t reflect that.

While their odds to win the West are a little higher than Denver’s, you’ll notice their championship odds are lower. That speaks to the talent level. 

Oklahoma City did manage to go 1-2 against the Warriors this season, and if there’s anyone that won’t back down from this matchup, it’s Westbrook. This team’s extremely streaky, so it could just fade out in the first-round, or get hot enough to compete with Golden State. 

After losing the first four games of the season, the Thunder ripped off a 26-9 stretch. The Thunder then lost five of their next six before getting hot again, winning 11-of-12.

Oklahoma City enters the postseason heating up following another skid, and while it’s unlikely, perhaps it can sustain this run through the playoffs. Like Denver, I think splitting a bet in half on winning the conference and the championship makes sense. 

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