NBA Playoffs Odds, Picks & Projections: Betting Analysis for Jazz vs. Mavericks, Raptors vs. 76ers and More Game 1s (April 16)
Mark Blinch/Getty Images. Pictured: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The NBA Playoffs are here and I’ll be providing projections for both Games 1-2 and 3-4. The totals should remain the same despite the venue change, but there is a difference.
Here’s what you’ll find in my model: projected team totals, projected combined totals, projected spreads for the matchup and the implied odds for the moneyline.
I’ll also be highlighting some of the entire playoff slate with in-depth, game-level analysis that goes beyond the numbers.
NBA Projections Model
NBA Playoffs Odds & Picks
Note: My projections won’t be updated in real-time throughout the day, but Action’s PRO Projections tool is dynamic and will reflect the latest injury and lineup news.
Check out my analysis for a few of the weekend’s Round 1 matchups.
Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks
This series between the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks has been drastically altered by a calf injury to Mavericks star Luka Doncic.
The Mavericks are just 8-9 without Doncic this season, and there’s been a tremendous drop-off in the offense without his presence. Given his combination of scoring and playmaking, the Mavericks are scoring 115.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor vs 111.1 with him off the floor (+4.4).
I spoke with Drew Dinsick (@whalecapper) who has Doncic’s presence on the floor as being worth 4.5 points in their first round matchup against the Utah Jazz and 3.5 points vs the average team.
Without Doncic, the Mavericks are one point worse than the average team. With my power ratings having the Mavericks as the eighth-best team in the league, this is a significant drop-off that puts them below average teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers.
My model with both teams at full strength makes the Mavericks -1.5, so if you take remove 4.5 points for the Doncic absence this line should be around Jazz -3 on the road. That means there likely is some value on the Mavericks — the Jazz are up to -6 at some books. This is a tough game to play and I’ll personally will be staying away from either side.
There’s generally a motivational edge when a team is missing their star player and we could likely see that here with the Mavericks. However, Doncic means so much to this team and in a playoff setting they could be overmatched.
The Jazz still have a top-10 offense and defense and rank third in Net Rating (6.2). With the Mavericks lacking bigs, Rudy Gobert should dominate on both sides of the ball and the Jazz should dominate inside against a Mavericks team that ranks 23rd in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (66.5%).
However, they’re on the verge of imploding, blowing double digit leads every week and this is a team which is under performing the market, going just 31-41 (43.1%) against the spread as a favorite and 14-19 (42.4%) as a road favorite.
The total is intriguing as we’ve seen this drop from the opener of 215.5 to 209 which is likely too low given how much both of these teams shoot the behind the arc. The Jazz are shooting a league leading 43.3% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc while the Mavericks are fifth, shooting 40.8% of their attempts from 3-point range.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Timberwolves take on the Grizzlies in what is likely going to be the most exciting first round playoff series. My model makes the Grizzlies -6.7 for their home games, right in line with the market, but the Wolves have some significant edges, particularly with their half-court offense. That’s what makes this matchup particularly intriguing.
The Grizzlies rank fourth in Offensive rating (115.8) and fifth in Defensive Rating (109.6); they’re one of the deepest teams in the league with Ja Morant at the helm with a core of Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr and Dillon Brooks.
Despite how great the Grizzlies were in the regular season, they are really good at things that can be neutralized in a playoff setting — transition scoring and offensive rebounding — while the Wolves have the better half- court offense, scoring 97.0 points per 100 possessions (14th) while the Grizzlies are scoring just 93.4, which ranks 22nd.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a major matchup problem for the Grizzlies and he’s averaging 23.3 points on 52.1% shooting along with 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games against the Grizzlies this season.
The Wolves put up an Offensive Rating of 121 across the season series, however, they’ve scored 111.5 per 100 possessions on the road compared to 130.9 at home so there is likely to be a drastic difference between the home/road splits in this series.
Home-court will likely loom large here as the Grizzlies are 30-11 straight up and 27-14 against the spread at home while the Wolves are 20-21 SU and 21-20 ATS on the road. The Wolves are a solid home team going 26-15 SU and 22-18-1 ATS at home. I trust the Grizzlies to win a road game before the Wolves and with the Wolves being the more undisciplined team, I think the Grizzlies should pull this series out.
Overall, I’d likely play this series looking to back home teams. However, it’s worth it to note that teams that won the Play-In Tournament have been successful in Game 1s in the very short sample we have.
Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers
One of my favorite axioms in sports betting is to avoid the public underdog and that phrase couldn’t be any more relevant than in Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers series. The Raptors are the trendy pick to upset the 76ers among fans, analysts, scouts and bettors, but personally, I’m not buying it.
A few things in life are guaranteed: Death, taxes and the Raptors losing Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. Since 1995, the Raptors have made the postseason 12 times. They’ve lost Game 1 in 11 of those 12 series with the only exception being their 2020 first round series against the Brooklyn Nets in the Orlando bubble.
Past trends aside, the 76ers are the far more talented team and have Joel Embiid, the best player in the series and a finalist for league MVP the last two seasons.
The Raptors don’t have any bigs who can defend Embiid — Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch and Chris Boucher are 6-foot-9 or shorter — who is averaging 30.6 points on 49.9% shooting along with 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists this season. The Raptors rank 22nd in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (66.3%), so I expect Embiid to dominate inside.
With James Harden playing alongside Embiid, the 76ers rank first in Free Throw Rate (23.3%) and are attempting 28.2 free throws per game since the All-Star break. The Raptors rank 21st in opponent free throw rate (20) so expect the 76ers to get to the line at will.
All those free throws will hurt the Raptors on the opposite end of the floor as they generate much of their offense in transition. The Raptors rank fourth in transition points per 100 possessions (3.6), but they struggle to score in the half court, scoring just 91.3 points per 100 possessions.
In the playoffs, the game tends to slow down and they’ll be facing a 76ers defense that ranks seventh in Half-Court Defensive Rating (93). Scoring will be a struggle for the Raptors in Game 1, particularly on the road where role players tend not to play as well as they would at home
The 76ers’ weakness is their bench, however their starting lineup is one of the best in the NBA this season. In 20 games and 323 minutes, the Harden-Tyrese Maxey-Matisse Thybulle-Tobias Harris-Embiid lineup has the second-best Net Rating in the league, outscoring teams by +20.2 per 100 possessions.
Since trading for Harden, Harris and Maxey are thriving in their roles, both shooting 40% from behind the arc. With the Raptors allowing the eighth-highest frequency of 3-point field goal attempts and ranking 18th in opponent 3-point shooting percentage (36%), I expect the 76ers offense to shoot well from behind the arc.
With teams electing to shorten rotations in the postseason, this 76ers starting lineup should overcome their deficiencies of their bench unit. While many may look to the Doc Rivers-Nick Nurse coaching matchup as a mismatch, I don’t believe Nurse can overcome the talent disparity here.
I had home court in the NBA postseason last season priced at around six points and since Thybulle will be available for home games, this feels like a good spot to buy low on a 76ers team that is undervalued by the public.
Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry will return to the floor for Game 1 and all indications from team practices are that he should be fully able to play — though head coach Steve Kerr will monitor his minutes.
Nikola Jokic is having arguably one of the greatest seasons of all time but he can’t win a playoff series by himself. The biggest issue the Nuggets will have will be dealing with the Warriors’s stellar guards Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson. That Austin Rivers is likely the best option to defend Curry does not bode well for the Nuggets here.
The Nuggets have struggled to defend recently, allowing 118.1 points per 100 possessions over the past two weeks. They’re 17th in Defensive eFG% (55.1%), 28th eFG% at the rim (69.3%) and 15th in opponent three point shooting percentage (37.3%). As much as this Warriors offense is struggling, they should be able to score efficiently here.
With the Warriors having the league’s second best Defensive Rating (107.6) and Draymond Green to slow down Jokic, I’m expecting a dominant Warriors performance in the first playoff game in Chase Center, where they’ve been dominant going 31-10 SU and 23-16-2.
Lay the -6.5 with the Warriors.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Miami Heat
The Atlanta Hawks made it into the postseason with their 107-101 come from behind victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. We continue to see success in Game 1 from teams that won the Play-In Tournament.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ve become the third team to make it into the postseason via the play-in tournament to win outright and the fourth team to cover the spread in Game 1. We’ve seen the Portland Trail Blazers (2020) and Memphis Grizzlies (2021) win their first game off the Play-In and Washington Wizards covered in Game 1 agains the Philadelphia 76ers last year.
Nonetheless, the Miami Heat host the Hawks in a game where they’ve been installed as 7-point favorites with a total of 219.5. The Hawks will now play their third game in five nights all of which are taking place in different cities. The Heat didn’t get a chance to prepare for their opponent not knowing their opponent until Friday, however they are well rested against a team who has been playing heavy minutes over the last five days. There’s no real way to quantify the rest vs rust variable however it’s clear the Hawks aren’t the same team on the road where they’re just 16-25 SU and 14-27.
The Hawks also lost Clint Capela to a knee injury on Friday however, they could have some reinforcements coming with the return of John Collins.
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins – out since March 11 due to foot and finger injuries – will attempt to play in Game 1 of series vs. Miami on Sunday, sources tell me and @ChrisKirschner. He has been upgraded to questionable.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 16, 2022
This could be huge for the Hawks as he’s averaged 20 points on 60% shooting along with 8 rebounds in the last six games against the Heat. Despite the absence of Capela, Onyeka Okongwu has proven to be a capable replacement and with Collins in the lineup the Hawks feel live in this matchup.
The Hawks have the league’s 2nd best Offensive Rating, scoring 116.3 points per 100 possessions in their non-garbage time minutes and while they struggle defensively this is a Heat team which can struggle to score in the half court. While Kyle Lowry is a solid defender, at his age, he can’t keep up with Trae Young and I expect this Hawks offense to score enough to keep this close. With my model making this game Heat -4, I’ll take the 7 points with the Hawks.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics
My model makes this game closer to Celtics -7 even with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. I know, that’s pretty big disparity but this Nets team hasn’t been very good this season. Many people may be tempted to back the Nets as they’re scoring 124.8 points per 100 possessions in lineups with Durant and Irving but this is a team which can’t consistently get stops, meaning they constantly find themselves in coin flips needing their stars to score 60-80 points to win.
The Durant-Irving-Curry-Drummond-Brown starting lineup is scoring 118.9 points per 100 possessions but is giving up 117.9 on the opposite end of the floor for a Net Rating of just +1.1.
My power ratings have the Celtics as the league’s best team (even better than the Suns) primarily based on their defense, which ranks first in the NBA, allowing just 106.9 points per 100 possessions in their non-garbage time minutes. The Celtics are the more complete team and if they’re capable of just decreasing the efficiency of Durant and Irving just slightly, they should win this game and this series.
The Celtics offense can be inconsistent at times but they’re still 10th in Offensive Rating in their non-garbage time minutes (114.3) and the Nets are unlikely to slow this team down as they’re just 21st in Defensive Rating (113.6), they’re 22nd in turnover rate (13.2%) and they’re dead last in defensive rebounding rate (28.1%) showing an inability to end possessions even when they do get a stop.
If you’re betting on the Nets, you’re essentially betting that Durant and Irving’s shotmaking can overcome all of their other issues, which could happen but they’ll need to sustain extremely high work loads. In the play-in game against the Cavaliers, the Nets could barely survive non-Durant minutes.
That said, I think Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are ready to take the leap into being the cream of the crop of the Eastern Conference. Tatum’s 54 point game against the Nets in March showed that he can be the best player in this series.
This is a team which has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 3 out of 4 seasons before a down year with a first round exit which ended at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets in 2021.
To quote James Brown … for the Celtics this is “The Big Payback.”
I’ll back the Celtics in Game 1 and for the series.
Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have been downright dominant against the Bulls this season, winning the four matchups by an average of 14.7 points with the last two matchups being decided by a combined 49 points.
Mike Budenholzer also owns the Central Division as a whole during his tenure with the Bucks, coaching his team to a 50-8 record. While the Bulls are a different team this season, this does speak to the dominance the Bucks have exhibited in this matchup — the last time Giannis Antetokounmpo lost to the Bulls was December 2017.
The Bucks should get whatever they want offensively in this matchup as the Bulls rank just 25th in Defensive Rating since the All-Star break, allowing 117.9 points per 100 possessions. The only teams that were worse defensively during this span were a bunch of the league’s disappointments — Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers. With their defense playing so poorly, it’s no surprise the Bulls went 8-15 since the break.
They’ve been equally as bad in the half court and transition, struggling to contain the ball, guard the pick-and-roll and defend without fouling as they rank 20th in opponent Free Throw Rate (20). The Bulls are also allowing the highest frequency of field goal attempts at the rim (36.5%), they are all but drawing dead at stopping Antetokounmpo who finished second in scoring, averaging 29.9 points while also grabbing 11.2 rebounds and dishing 5.8 assists.
The Bulls haven’t had any answers for him this season and that should continue here — it’s tough to imagine them slowing down Middleton or Holiday either as the Bulls also struggle to defend the perimeter, allowing opposing teams to shoot the fourth-highest field goal percentage from behind the arc (37.2%). With the Bucks shooting the sixth-highest frequency of 3s and making them at the eighth-highest rate (37%), they should outmatch the Bulls offensively based primarily on their volume of 3s.
I backed the Bucks -2.5 games on the series spread and to win in 4 games +250 and while I expect to win and dominate this series, the point spread is the great equalizer.
My model makes this game Bucks -10.35 which is where the market has it. The last two matchups were telling however as the Bucks defeated the Bulls by a combined 49 points.
I don’t want to lay the 10 full game but I expect the Bucks to jump on the Bulls early and send a message. I’ll lay the 5.5 points on the Bucks in the first half.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Phoenix Suns
This is another game which fits the trend of backing teams that won the Play-in tournament with the New Orleans Pelicans defeating the Los Angeles Clippers to make the postseason. As Jalen Rose from ESPN & the Double XX Posse says “I’m Not Gon’ Be Able to Do it” .
The Suns are the league’s best team. Led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns won a franchise best 64 games and finished with the league’s best Net Rating (+7.5) behind the 4th best Offensive Rating (114.8) and third best Defensive Rating (107.3). Three of the four games between the Suns and Pelicans weren’t particularly close and the Pelicans won the other in a game where Paul didn’t play. Nonetheless, there isn’t much we can take from their regular season matchups.
I don’t expect this to be a fast paced game with neither team playing a ton of possessions this season. We’ve seen some movement towards the under with this number opening at 226 and has since been bet down to 224.5. My model makes this game 219 so there is some value there particularly with a Pelicans Offense which is just 27th in half court offensive rating (91.2) and is scoring just 108.9 points per 100 possessions (20th) against top 10 defenses. With a spread of -10 this game could have blowout potential and get us under the total but this is a pass for me given how potent the Suns offense is.