NBA Playoff Scenarios Creating Betting Value on Final Day of Regular Season
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
- Matt LaMarca breaks down what's at stake in every Wednesday night game and how NBA playoff scenarios are creating betting value.
It all comes down to this.
The NBA will wrap up its regular season on Wednesday night, and there’s still a whole lot left to play for. The Eastern Conference is still looking for its eighth playoff team, while only two teams have locked up their seed in the Western Conference.
At the other end of the spectrum, teams will be jockeying for better position in the NBA lottery, and two legends will get one last opportunity to shine before riding off into the sunset.
Nearly all of the 11 games has something at stake, so let’s break down each to see if that could lead to some betting value.
Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (-2.5): 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: This is one of the few games on the slate in which both teams are squarely locked into their current positions.
The Pacers will be the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, setting up a first-round matchup against the Celtics, while the Hawks have locked up the fifth-best lottery odds for the No. 1 pick.
Betting impact: The Pacers have already ruled out Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see other veterans like Darren Collison also be ruled out before tip.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have played some of their best basketball over the second half of the season, posting a record of 20-11 against the spread since Feb. 1. There could be some value in targeting them as a small home favorite against a shorthanded Pacers’ lineup.
Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs (-14): 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Spurs could finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 in the Western Conference depending on what happens tonight.
The 8-seed is obviously the nightmare scenario — no one wants to play the Warriors in the first round — but the Spurs can guarantee the 7-seed at worst with a win over the Mavericks, or even move up to No. 6 with a win and a Thunder loss.
A Spurs win would also benefit the Mavericks, who currently have the ninth-best lottery odds but could move into a three-way tie for seventh if everything breaks right for them. They’ll only keep their pick in this draft if it falls inside the top five, so every percentage point matters.
Really though, this game is about saying farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He’s the most important player in the history of the Mavericks, and one of the most important players in the history of the NBA.
Betting impact: Dirk has already said he plans to play, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll play close to the 32 minutes he saw in the final home game of his career on Tuesday.
Ultimately, his presence on the court has to be considered a negative for the Mavericks at this point in his career, which could create some value with the Spurs. The Mavericks have posted a Net Rating of -0.5 points per 100 possessions with Dirk off the court this season, but that number has fallen to -3.9 points per 100 possessions with Dirk on the court. He did manage to score a season-high 30 points on Tuesday, but he needed a Kobe Bryant-like 31 shots to get there.
Betting big favorites in the final game of the regular season has also been historically profitable. Favorites of at least 10 points have posted a 22-14 record against the spread since 2005, good for a +18.9% Return On Investment (ROI).
Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers (-6.5): 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: Absolutely nothing.
The 76ers are locked into the 3-seed in the East while the Bulls are locked into the fourth-worst record in the league. Chicago will have a 12.5% chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Betting impact: With nothing left to play for, the 76ers have very little motivation to push any of their regulars. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris have already been ruled out for rest, and Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Jonah Bolden are unlikely to play.
That’s caused this line to drop to just 6.5 after opening at 8.5 as of writing (see live odds here).
The Bulls are going to be shorthanded, too. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter and Kris Dunn have all been ruled out, but the guys who will play are going to be motivated to prove they belong in the NBA after this season.
They were much more appealing at +8.5, but there still might be some value with the Bulls at their current number.
Golden State Warriors (-4) at Memphis Grizzlies: 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: This game means far more to the Grizzlies that it does to the Warriors.
The Warriors have already secured the No. 1 seed in the West while the Grizzlies need a loss to guarantee a top seven spot in the NBA lottery. Their pick goes to the Celtics if it falls outside of the top eight, so this game could have massive repercussions on the future of Memphis’ franchise.
Betting impact: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins have already been ruled out while Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are currently listed as questionable. The absence of Curry could provide a little betting value on the total. It’s currently listed at 215 points, but the Warriors have played slower and have averaged a whopping 13.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Curry off the court this season.
The Grizzlies have played at the slowest pace, and unders have hit at a 55.7% clip in games involving them this season.
Detroit Pistons (-9.5) at New York Knicks: 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Pistons have more to play for than almost any other team tonight. They control their own fate for the Eastern Conference playoffs and will guarantee the 8-seed at worst with a win over the hapless Knicks. The Pistons could also potentially grab the 7-seed with a win of their own plus wins for the Nets and Hornets.
The Knicks have spent the entire season #NotTryinforZion and have locked up the worst record in the NBA. Of course, the teams with the three worst records all have the same odds for the No. 1 pick this season, so the Knicks are apparently not even good at not being good.
Betting impact: The Pistons barely squeaked out a win on Tuesday against the Grizzlies’ fourth stringers in a do-or-die situation, so I wouldn’t blame you if you were uneasy about backing Detroit tonight.
That said, that’s a short-sighted way of looking at things. Historically, road favorites of at least eight points are a ridiculous 8-1 ATS in the final game of the regular season.
Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets (-5.5): 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Heat secured a win over the 76ers in Dwyane Wade’s final home game, but the Pistons’ win ultimately eliminated Miami from playoff contention.
The Nets need to win to secure the 6-seed in the East, and they’d fall to No. 7 seed with a loss coupled with either a Pistons win or a Magic win. The 2-seed Raptors have been significantly better than the Nets in terms of net rating, so earning the 6-seed could make a big difference on Brooklyn’s playoff outlook.
Betting impact: This line opened up at 3.5 but has been bet all the way to 5.5, which qualifies the Nets for an interesting trend (per John Ewing): Favorites in the final two games of the season have historically covered at a 57.6% rate after receiving a line move of at least one point in their direction.
Oklahoma City Thunder (-4.5) at Milwaukee Bucks: 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Thunder control their own fate for the 6-seed in the West and will lock it up with a win over Bucks. Paul George put them in this position after draining a game-winner against the Rockets on Tuesday night.
It’s hard to say how valuable the 6-seed is compared to the 7-seed since the 2-seed is still very much up for grabs, but it’s clear that the Thunder are going for it. A loss combined with a Spurs win and a Clippers win would cause the Thunder to fall to 8-seed in the West and set up a doomsday first round matchup against the Warriors.
Milwaukee has already secured the best record in the NBA, so the Bucks have nothing to gain with a win.
Betting impact: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Mirotic and Brook Lopez have already been ruled out while Pat Connaughton is questionable. There’s no word yet on Khris Middleton or Eric Bledsoe, but they could definitely be ruled out, too.
We’ve seen the Bucks rest virtually their entire roster once already recently, putting out a starting lineup of Tim Frazier, Bonzie Colson, D.J. Wilson, Sterling Brown and Lopez against the Hawks two weeks ago.
The Thunder also fit the above trend from Ewing, and it’s been even more potent when featuring road favorites, who have covered at a 60% clip with a +17.8% ROI.
Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets (-4.5): 8 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Magic have secured their playoff spot by virtue of winning their division, but their seed is still very much up in the air. They could finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 depending on what happens tonight.
They’ll grab the 6-seed with a Heat win over the Nets coupled with either a win of their own or a Pistons win over the Knicks. The Magic will finish No. 7 at best if the Nets secure a win over Miami, but they’ll fall to No. 8 with a Nets win, a loss to the Hornets and a Pistons win.
Charlotte also needs a win tonight to have any chance of making the playoffs. The best the Hornets can do is grab the 8-seed, but they’ll also need the Pistons to lose as a big favorite to the Knicks.
Betting impact: This is the third game in a row that the Ewing trend applies to.
The line movement is likely a result of the news that Nikola Vucevic is questionable with an illness. The Magic have posted a net rating of +4.6 points per 100 possessions with Vucevic on the court vs. -6.4 with him off, so his status is going to have a huge impact on this game.
Sacramento Kings at Portland Trail Blazers (-8.5): 10:30 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Blazers still have a chance to grab the No. 3 seed in the West with a win tonight, which would be extremely valuable for them heading into the playoffs. They need a win of their own combined with a Nuggets win. The Rockets to fall to No. 4 in that scenario, which would mean the Blazers would avoid both the Warriors and Rockets until the Western Conference Finals.
The Kings are currently locked in a three-way tie for the 12th-best lottery odds, but their pick is going to go to Boston regardless of how they finish. With that in mind, they have no real incentive to rest any starters.
Betting impact: The Blazers are yet another team who fit the Ewing trend — this spread opened up at Blazers -7 — but I don’t think the same logic applies to them.
The Kings are one of the few teams that are out of playoff contention but still seem interested in playing basketball, and all of their key players are still logging regular minutes. They’ve been the second-best team in basketball ATS — only the Bucks own a better record — and they’ve gone 10-5-1 ATS when getting between six and 10 points this season.
This game seems like a stay away.
Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers (-6.5): 10:30 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Jazz secured the 5-seed in the West with their win over Denver in Tuesday night, giving them little incentive against the Clippers. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them rest some of their key players. That said, some people who bet the over on the Jazz’s season long win total are still sweating: Their line closed at 50.5, and they’re currently sitting on just 50 wins.
The Clippers are also locked into the playoffs, but they’ll need a win to have any chance of avoiding the Warriors in the first round. They can move up to the No. 7 seed, but they’ll need a win over the Jazz combined with either a Spurs loss or a Thunder loss.
Betting impact: It seems unlikely that the Jazz will have their full compliment of players tonight. Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto and Kyle Korver all sat out Tuesday’s win and some combination of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors could join them on the sidelines.
The Jazz have relied heavily on their top players this season — their combination of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Jae Crowder and Gobert has posted the third-best net rating among lineups with at least 300 minutes — so any potential absences would create some value with the Clippers.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets (-11.5): 10:30 p.m. ET
What’s at stake: The Nuggets have been one of the best teams this season, but they need a win over the Timberwolves to hold on to the 2-seed in the West. A Nuggets win combined with a Blazers win would give Denver the same appealing combination as the Blazers: Avoiding the Warriors and Rockets until the Western Conference Finals. But a Nuggets loss would vault the Rockets to the 2-seed.
The lowest that the Nuggets could fall in the standings is the third spot.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are just looking to close the book on yet another disappointing season. A loss does give them a slight benefit in terms of lottery odds — they would slip into a tie with the Lakers with a win — but this can’t be where the Timberwolves expected to be after making the playoffs last season.
Betting impact: Karl-Anthony Towns wasn’t able to suit up against the Raptors on Tuesday, and head coach Ryan Saunders didn’t seem optimistic that KAT would be able to go tonight. The Timberwolves ultimately lost by 20 points on Tuesday night, which is not all that surprising: They’ve posted a net rating of -5.4 points per 100 possessions with Towns off the court since the Jimmy Butler trade.
The Nuggets should be extremely motivated to take care of business — and there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to.