For all intents and purposes, it was a hell of a first round in the NBA playoffs. There were series sweeps (adios Philadelphia, adios Indiana) and a couple that went all the way (hello Houston, hello Denver).
There were buzzer-beaters and phenomenal scoring efforts heralding the emergence of the game’s next superstars (see Doncic, L., Murray, J.) as well as heart-breaking individual efforts that ultimately came to naught (see Mitchell, D.).
The game’s best-known player (see James, L.) rediscovered his imperious form, while the reigning MVP (Antetokounmpo, G.) needed a first-game scare before eventually rolling over his scrappy first-round opponents.
In the midst of all that, there was a temporary halt to protest yet another police shooting in America. Yes, there has been no shortage of drama in the NBA bubble, even without the crowd support and the home-court advantages conferred to higher seeded teams. Arguably, the games have been more dramatic precisely for those reasons.
With the first round out of the way, it’s appropriate for Cloudbet’s trading experts to look at the big movers in the outright markets, as we continue to head into the next stage – the Conference Semifinals – of the most audacious sporting experiment ever undertaken.
Title odds: 7.09/+609 (from 14.7/+1374 at the start of the first round)
The Celtics have replaced Milwaukee as the favourites to take the Eastern Conference title after sweeping Philadelphia in the first round and taking a 2-1 lead over the Toronto Raptors. Jayson Tatum has been a stud in the playoffs, leading his team with 27 points per game, with solid support from Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. They’ve certainly stepped up and for now are more than accounting for the injured Gordon Hayward’s absence.
Meanwhile, their current opponents, the Raptors, have defied expectations this season even without star guard Kawhi Leonard, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers after leading Toronto to the NBA title last year. The Raps stellar run looked to be faltering in the face of a seriously motivated Celtics unit, even though they’ve kept their hopes alive with a Game 3 win.
Still, that win required a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from OG Anunoby, in a game where Boston looked a little too casual. Expect the Celtics to reapply themselves, and with Raps All-Star Pascal Siakam still in lacklustre form, Boston may just have the edge in talent.
The markets slightly favour Boston to win the series in six games (3.5/+250) and move on to the conference finals.
Title odds: 7.79/+679 (from 3.52/+252 at the start of the first round)
The Bucks, title favorites for much of this year, have had a less than stellar bubble experience, and they’ve been big drifters in the past week. They’ve won just 7 out of their 15 games since the season restarted, a far cry from their 77% win rate during the regular season – and they’ve now lost the two opening games of their series against the Miami Heat.
There are now indications in the market that Milwaukee gets put out this round. The line on a Heat series win is now 1.57 (-173), compared with 2.39 (+139) for the Bucks.
Commentators have questioned Milwaukee’s ability to defend strong 3-point shooting teams and their ability to close out tight games. They’ve suffered from sloppy ball handling, giving them the second-highest turnover rate among teams in this year’s playoffs.
Don’t discount the star power: Giannis Antetokounmpo is a clear favourite to win his second-straight league MVP award, and he’ll do everything he can to give the Bucks their first title since 1974. He’ll need much more help from the likes of Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, who have been inconsistent on the offensive end.
Antetokounmpo said as much after his team’s tight Game 2 loss against the Heat: “It’s about us. It’s always gonna be about us. That’s why we practice. That’s why we go through our game plan. That’s why we’ve got to come out and play harder,” he told reporters.
Miami heats up
Title odds: 8/+700 (from 29.4/+2846 at the start of the first round)
The Heat’s line has improved significantly after they swept Indiana 4-0 in the first round and kept their streak going against the Bucks. Miami cornerstone Jimmy Butler is playing close to his All-Star best, in spite of an indifferent (and very tight) Game 2 against Milwaukee.
Still, that game brought home how strong his supporting cast has been during these playoffs. This is a line-up that outgunned Indiana by an average margin of 10.5 points per match, and includes Duncan Robinson, who is fifth in the league for made 3-pointers this season.
Did we mention earlier that the Bucks have trouble defending 3s? The Heat made 37.9% of their regular-season attempts from beyond the arc, the second-highest rate in the league.
They can certainly pour on the points on a good day, but so can the Bucks. The key for Miami will be how they handle Antetokounmpo defensively, while keeping half an eye on his supporting cast to make sure they don’t light up. The Bucks know firsthand that a comeback is possible: Last year, they won the first two games against Toronto in the conference finals before losing four straight. Miami would do well to take heed – this series is far from over.
We the West
Los Angeles Clippers title odds: 3.14/+214 (from 3.84/+284 before the first round)
Los Angeles Lakers title odds: 3.54/+254 (from 3.77/+277)
While not a massive improvement in their lines, it’s worth just talking about the two LAs because of their star-studded line-ups, and because they’re favoured to face each other in the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers were efficient and effective in dispatching Dallas in the first round, even through injury and Covid-related personnel issues. Kawhi Leonard is the highest scorer of all players left in the playoffs, and his Clippers have averaged more points than any other unit in the postseason.
The Clippers are well rested compared with current opponents Denver, which had to survive a bruising 7-game series against Utah. LA are boosted by the return of guard Patrick Beverley from a calf injury, who will play big defensive minutes shadowing Denver stud Jamal Murray.
With all this in mind, markets favour the Clippers to prevail over the Nuggets in the current round. LA thumped Denver by 23 points in Game 1 of their series.
Meanwhile, after early bubble yips, the Lakers rediscovered their offense in their first-round 4-1 wine over Portland. GOAT contender Lebron James lifted his game when it mattered, as he has done frequently in his career. He’s currently the playoffs’ assists leader, with 10 dimes per game, while he and running mate Anthony Davis are in the top 10 for scoring.
The Lakers averaged 117 points in the Portland series, after posting 106 per game in the 8 regular season games in the bubble. They go up against a Houston Rockets team that can also score by the truckload, but is coming off a 7-game series against Oklahoma City. Rocket guard Russell Westbrook has been struggling with form and a thigh injury. All of that means the Lakers are heavy favourites (1.15/-654) to beat Houston (5.48/+448).
Results and odds are current as of 8am UTC on Friday 4 September
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