The NBA playoff matchups are in place, teams are prepping like madmen, and the betting world is ready to predict the next “We Believe Warriors”. The American sports fan is infatuated with the idea of underdogs, and why wouldn’t they be? Watching a tight, nail-biting thriller during March Madness can be the highlight of the year for the average college basketball fan, especially with a Cinderella team coming out of nowhere to upset a higher seed. The unpredictability of these games increases viewership, makes unknown players into stars, and fills the betting man’s pockets full of cash. If done right, these underdog matchups can have massive financial incentives for those who will put their money with the numbers. While some playoff upsets might be easy to predict, there are a few that might sneak up on even the most avid NBA fan. Virtually no one believed that the 8th seed Warriors would upset the Western Conference favorite Dallas Mavericks in 2007, but the Warriors won in 6 games, shocking the NBA landscape. Are we in for another huge upset by an 8th seed this year? I wouldn’t say it’s likely, however some of these playoffs games might make an interesting, and fruitful bet. Here are the most likely upsets for round 1 of the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Lakers v Suns
The defending champion 7th seed Los Angeles Lakers face off against the 2nd seed Phoenix Suns at 3:30 pm on Sunday. The Suns have shocked most NBA fans with their unlikely regular season run, going 51-21 during this shortened season. With this Suns resurgence headlined by head coach Monty Williams, and future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul, there are many within the organization that believe a deep playoff run is coming. Why wouldn’t you? Phoenix has a top 10 offensive and defensive rating this season. Their coaching staff and fans really believe in the heart of this team. Outside of them, however, few seem optimistic. The Suns have fallen off a bit in the last 15 games. Their defense has dropped to the bottom half of the league, and it doesn’t look to be coming back with ease. With a younger team around them, Chris Paul and Jae Crowder have quite the task on their hands. Can you succeed in the playoffs against the dominate frontcourts in the West with Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, and DeAndre Ayton? Who knows? What we know, is that they cannot do it without Chris Paul. When Chris doesn’t play, the Suns are near the bottom in the league in defensive rating. Unfortunately for the Suns, Chris has a tendency to get injured, especially in the playoffs. He, along with the dynamic scoring that Devin Booker can bring, are the key for the Suns in this series. Another pretty important player for them is Mikal Bridges. Mikal has had a stellar season, but has a heck of a matchup this series against LeBron James.
LeBron has played fewer games than most this season, but when he has, the Lakers have thrived. When LeBron is on the court, the Lakers are +13.0 points per 100 possessions, and have the best defense in the league with a DRtg/100 of 106.5. When LeBron isn’t playing, the Lakers have the 4th worst offense in the league, but are only fairly average with him on the court. Now, I feel the need to clarify that a good portion of this time spent without LeBron, who was dealing with a high ankle sprain, was also spent without Anthony Davis. Davis is important for this team for sure, but I don’t think it’s shocking to anyone that the G.O.A.T. (depending on who you ask) is the key for the Lakers this series, but it needs to be reiterated. Without LeBron, the Lakers are just an average team. We saw during the play-in game with the Warriors, that the Lakers struggle when LeBron does. Luckily, he compensates for that with crazy, fade away game winners. I feel it is interesting to add that LeBron has made 97 career game tying/go-ahead field goals in the last minute of games. 97. Only 2nd in the last 25 years to Kobe Bryant.
The odds favor the Lakers, but the overall series isn’t what I am focusing on here. The Lakers are +375 to win in 5 games, and +250 to win in 6 games. If you believe in this team, and want to put your money where the numbers are, I think you should give consideration to these bets. If you’re feeling really frisky, the Lakers are +600 to sweep. Get those bets in now. If the Lakers blowout the Suns in game 1, you might be too late.
Heat v Bucks
Last season, the Heat shocked Milwaukee. Other than what some thought were delusional Heat fans on Twitter, no one had them beating the Bucks this bad. A close series for sure, but to lose in 5 games? Almost 4, if it weren’t for an insane shooting performance in game 4 by Khris Middleton. An unpredictable outcome for the 1 seed Bucks, who had a lot of time to think this offseason, and ask themselves some very important questions. How do we improve our guard position? Can we fix our defensive scheme? Is Giannis leaving? The answer to a few of those were answered quickly. Giannis re-signed, Coach Mike Budenholzer reworked the defense to add more switching, and they made a big-time trade to acquire former Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. The Bucks seem confident that they have what it takes to make a push to the Finals, but can they make it past a Heat team who dismantled them last year?
The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat play Saturday May 22nd at 2pm, and I for one am very intrigued by this rematch. Milwaukee is the favorite for this series, which is understandable, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to count this HEAT team out. With betting odds of -275 to win the series, The Bucks seem to be the heavy favorite and I’m not sure why. Sure, this Bucks team seems mature and levelheaded than last year, I wouldn’t deny that. But there are some things that have changed this year for the worst that Miami can take advantage of. Milwaukee allows opponents to shoot 39.3% from 3, ranking 29th this season. One of the primary reasons Miami pulled off the upset last season was a ludicrous shooting performance from a few of their key guys. If Duncan Robinson has an insane shooting game or two, the Bucks might be staring down the barrel of a 1st round exit.
Miami has been riddled with injuries this year, but that hasn’t stopped them recently. The Heat have won 12 of their last 16, and their role players are heating up at just the right time. It would be silly not to mention Jimmy Butler too. Butler is having his greatest statistical season of his career, and hasn’t seemed to want to stop. When he is on the court, the Heat have a +10.1 point differential. The primary reason for this success is gritty, hard-nosed team defense. The Heat lack a good amount of defense from some of their primary scorers, but make up for it a ton with the duo of Bam Adebayo and Butler. If Miami wants to stop this Bucks team defensively, they need to do it in transition. Transition possessions account for 17.8% of Milwaukee’s offense, which they will try to emphasize to beat this Miami team. Unfortunately for them, Miami is a top 10 transition defense team in the NBA, and coach Erik Spoelstra is a defensive mastermind. A few dangerous moves and this series could be over as fast as the previous one. If the Bucks panic on defence, look out for some beautiful Jimmy Butler drives and dishes to open shooters. If the panic follows on offense, look out for an empty seat on that cold Milwaukee bench next year.
If you’re trying to go for the safest bet to make some actual money, I’d put a good chunk of change on the Heat pulling this series out. There are enough numbers to support a very close series, and I wouldn’t ever take Jimmy Butler for granted. All it takes is a few big games, and they might face a 2-1 series headed back to Miami for game 4.
Nuggets v Trailblazers
With Nuggets center Nikola Jokic having an insurmountable lead in the MVP race, it’s no wonder why the Nuggets are favored in this series. Former 15th overall pick Michael Porter Jr. is having an all-star caliber end-of-season breakthrough. Nothing seems to stop Jokic, Aaron Gordon has been an excellent addition to the core of their nucleus, and they’ve gotten the help from a good number of role players as well. Other than a few loses that were “totally not on purpose”, the Nuggets have looked great these past few weeks. All of this accomplished without their star point guard Jamal Murray, who tore his ACL earlier this season. All of that praise to say that, despite all of this success, I’m not sure that I believe this version of the Nuggets are guaranteed to win this series. Not because of their lack of talent, but because of the sheer amount their opponent has. Portland’s offense is ridiculous, and can’t be stopped. Damian Lillard has every right to be offended at the underdog label here. Just like the 42 wins that saved a Trailblazers fan’s house, Lillard has a good chance at pulling through on this one.
Lillard and the Trailblazers are dominating the offensive side of the ball this season. Not only are they currently in control of the 2nd best offense in the NBA, but the small stats prove why they’re a winning, well coached, and fundamentally sound team. Portland is 2nd in points/100 possessions this season, and 3rd in 3pt percentage. Not only that, but Portland has the lowest turnover rate in the entire league at 11.2%. This offense has the chance to carry Portland deep into the playoffs. As long as they can figure out a way to be semi-competent on defense, Portland can stay in games and make it close. This is just the position the Trailblazers want to be in. Just like all the great clutch shooters, Lillard can keep Portland in games they have no business being in. Lillard has 68 points on 48% shooting this season during the last minute of a close game. With his clutch shooting, along with a deadly backcourt partner in CJ McCollum, Portland can compete against the lackluster Denver guards. I’m as big of a Facundo Campazzo fan as the next guy, but his matchup against Lillard will be the key factor in this series. Will he be up for the challenge? If you ask him, I’m sure he’s as confident as ever. Let’s just wait until game 3 when he’s been chasing Lillard around for 48 minutes.
With Denver, there are a lot of holes that Jamal Murray filled for them last year in the bubble playoffs. This series is a real test for Denver. Can you survive in the NBA playoffs without a premier perimeter threat? Can a team with a 119.9 defensive rating against top 10 offenses do enough to stop Portland? With this many questions, I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver has early struggles, and the veterans on Portland use that weak spot to close out the series as fast as they can. If this series comes down to the last game, you can bet on Lillard taking, and most likely making, a barrage of clutch shots. The Blazers are +100 to win the series, and to me, this is an easy low risk bet. Portland is close enough to the level of this Denver team, that this series could easily be a coin flip.
When betting, it’s easy to look at a few betting lines and throw your money at a gut feeling. Whether it’s sports, your latest stock purchase, or a stupid bet with your buddies, being informed is always the smart move. Have a great playoff betting season, and I wish you the best of luck!