NBA Playoff Bets: Should You Tail Bill Simmons’ Post-Break Picks?

NBA Playoff Bets: Should You Tail Bill Simmons’ Post-Break Picks? article feature image
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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James

  • Bill Simmons made four make or miss NBA playoff bets following the All-Star break.
  • Using consensus projections, we determine if NBA bettors should tail Simmons' picks.

The NBA All-Star Break is in the rearview mirror and playoffs are on the horizon. The Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors are locks for the postseason, but the stretch run will determine which squads earn the final seeds in each conference.

Bookmakers have posted odds for 10 teams to make or miss the playoffs:

These odds caught the attention of the NBA czar Bill Simmons. Never one to shy away from a bet, the guru of gambling shared four future wagers he placed:

Did 4 future bets for who’s making the playoffs/not making the playoffs…

Kings +400 YES … like them more than Lakers

Clips +110 NO … too much tanking potential

Detroit +125 NO … 13-23 since 12/1

Miami -130 YES … like their talent most of anyone in 7-11 range in East

— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) February 19, 2019

The Ringer CEO explained his reasoning for each bet, but do the numbers agree with the BS Podcast host?

To answer that question, I’ve created a consensus NBA playoff projection based on predictions from FiveThirtyEight, ESPN, NumberFire and Basketball-Reference. After determining each team’s chance to reach the postseason I calculated the implied probability of making or missing the playoffs based on the betting odds.

If the consensus projection is greater than the implied probability, there’s value in placing a wager.

According to the models, bettors are getting fair odds on the Sacramento Kings (+400) to make the playoffs as well as on the Detroit Pistons (+125) to miss the playoffs. But the numbers wouldn’t support backing the Los Angeles Clippers (+110) to miss the postseason or the Miami Heat (-130) to play past Game 82.

This is not to say that Simmons bets are wrong, and I would not fault anyone for tailing his picks given the extensive knowledge the former ESPNer has about the league. However, the consensus projections see the greater value in three additional bets:

Los Angeles Lakers: Miss Playoffs

  • Current odds: -145, Implied Probability: 59.2%
  • Lakers miss the playoffs 87.3% of the time

LeBron James hasn’t missed the postseason since his second year in the league, but his streak of 13 consecutive playoff runs is in danger. The Lakers are 28-29, marking the first time the King has had a losing record at the All-Star break since 2004.

Everyone assumes LeBron will flip the switch and carry LA to the playoffs, but the numbers suggest otherwise.

Los Angeles Clippers: Make Playoffs

  • Current odds: -130, Implied Probability: 56.5%
  • Clippers make the playoffs 73.4% of the time

As Simmons notes, there’s potential for the Clippers to tank. If Doc Rivers’ team makes the postseason, it has to send the Boston Celtics its 2019 first-round pick … but the Clippers can keep that selection if they miss the playoffs.

I understand why the organization would consider pumping the breaks in the second half of the season, but there’s too much upside with making the playoffs. For starters, this isn’t a deep draft according to experts, so losing a lottery protected pick isn’t the end of the world.

Second, and more importantly, reaching the postseason would be a strong selling point for free agents this summer. Having a competitive roster might be enough to convince Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard to sign with the Clips.

Charlotte Hornets: Miss Playoffs

  • Current odds: +120, Implied Probability: 45.5%
  • Hornets miss the playoffs 57.2% of the time

According to ESPN’s RPI rankings, the Hornets (27-30) have played one of the easiest schedules in the league this season and still have a losing record. But over the final 25 games of the season the Hornets will face the second-toughest schedule (behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder).

The highlight of Charlotte’s season will be hosting the All-Star Game as the team will be on the outside looking in when playoffs begin.

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