NBA Playoffs Odds & Betting Preview: Our Best First-Round Series Bets for the Postseason
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: A general view of signage during the NBA Playoffs.
NBA fans have waited 180 long days to get to the NBA Playoffs and they are finally here.
There’s no substitute for the drama that the postseason brings, and this year’s first-round matchups are giving our experts plenty of betting options.
Our NBA crew dug into the odds at various books to find the best value bets on every first-round playoff series currently available.
Read below for their favorite Round 1 bets on six series of this year’s NBA Playoffs.
NBA Round 1 Odds & Series Picks
No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
Austin Wang — Mavericks Win Series +250 (Caesars)
This one could backfire on me if Luka Doncic is seriously hurt, but if not, then this price is off. Calf strains are tricky, but I’m an eternal optimist and am banking on the 23-year old to recover quickly and get back on the court.
Look, I’m just as surprised as all of you. How have the Mavericks done it? There was so much front office turmoil in the offseason and they saw a huge turnover in their coaching staff and roster. They had a 17-18 record going into 2022, but they reeled off a huge run and finished 52-30. What a huge turnaround thanks to their commitment to defense, solid play from their role players and of course, the play of Doncic.
The Jazz were the opposite. They finished the season 4-7, blew a bunch of double-digit leads and showed some major team chemistry issues. They’ve also struggled against the league’s best teams, going 6-13 straight up against teams with a 60% win percentage or greater.
Dallas also has the home-court advantage, which I think will make a huge difference. They are one of the league’s best teams at home with a 29-12 record at home while the Jazz were 20-21 and had a record below .500 on the road. In addition, the Mavericks can play smaller and force Gobert out to the perimeter.
This line has an implied probability of 27.28% chance of Dallas winning, which is disrespectful. Take the Mavericks at this price and if Doncic is healthy, you can expect to be in a favorable position.
No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves
Matt Moore — Timberwolves Win Series +240 (BetMGM)
The concern all season has been the Grizzlies’ half-court offense. Things slow down in the playoffs and a team that is 23rd in half-court offense will likely struggle. The Wolves play two primary schemes against pick-and-roll: at-the-level and switch. The Grizzlies are bottom 10 against both coverages.
Meanwhile, with Steven Adams on the floor, the Grizzlies are forced to play drop coverage, which is why D’Angelo Russell has a +11.6 Net Rating in games against Memphis this season.
Tyler Schmidt — Grizzlies Win in Seven Games +340 (DraftKings)
The Memphis Grizzlies tied their franchise season win total as they captured the No. 2 Seed in the Western Conference. They have arguably the deepest team in the league as they proved that by going 20-5 without Ja Morant this season. Backup point guard Tyus Jones was incredible in Morant’s absence as recorded the best single season assist/turnover ratio (7.04) in NBA history.
Speaking of Morant, he is the first guard to lead the league in points scored in the paint. He averaged 27.4 points per game while shooting 49.3% from the field. Morant gets the headlines, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is leading the league in blocks, while Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are both averaging over 18 points per game.
Karl-Anthony Towns was a major disappointment in their play-in game as he fouled out in 24 minutes and only had 11 points. However, Towns is averaging 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game against the Grizzlies this season.
This series has a real chance to go the distance. During the season they both won two games on their home floor. The talent and playoff experience is nearly identical. The Timberwolves have been more inconsistent, but they have the pieces to make this a real challenge for the Grizzlies. I think the Grizzlies escape in seven games.
Joe Dellera — D’Angelo Russell Over 19.1 PPG -115 (DraftKings)
D’Angelo Russell has absolutely feasted on the Grizzlies this season. Matt noted his +11.6 Net Rating against Memphis this season and it is schematic — the Grizzlies are forced to play drop with Adams on the floor.
Unless they want one of their best rebounders and big men on the shelf, and gamble that Jaren Jackson Jr. is enough to defend Karl-Anthony Towns, they likely are forced to continue this defense in the playoffs.
Russell has averaged 18.1 points per game this season across 32 minutes per game but against the Timberwolves he is averaging an incredible 31 points, 6.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in 35.2 minutes per game across four games.
They simply have no answer for him.
Those games all took place with the Wolves playing Anthony Edwards, KAT, Patrick Beverly, and Malik Beasley. The Grizzlies were mostly whole too, Morant, JJJ, and Bane all played in four, Adams played in three, but they missed Dillon Brooks.
Looking back to data from last season, Brooks defended Russell on 16.1 partial possessions for a total of three minutes. Russell scored three points on two shots with two assists and the Wolves scored 22 (!) in those three minutes, per NBA Advanced Stats. I’d expect Brooks to primarily cover Anthony Edwards, and this would open up even more opportunities for Russell to score himself.
Additionally, in the Postseason, players generally see an uptick in their minutes. So while he averages 32 minutes per game this season, it’s much more likely that he sees minutes closer to the 37 he just played against the Clippers in the Play-In Tournament. That’s a 13.5% increase on his season average, which would put him at 20.5 points per game.
I love this spot considering the matchup, his season averages, and the expected increase in minutes — by playing this number on the series it removes some of the game-to-game variance in a series that aligns with Russell’s strengths.
No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 5 Toronto Raptors
Tyler Schmidt: Raptors Win Series +150 (DraftKings)
The 76ers are led by Joel Embiid who finished as the scoring leader averaging a career-high 30.6 points per game. He has averaged 29 points and 11.3 rebounds per game against the Raptors this season. However, the last two games were paired with James Harden and he shot 38.1% from the field. In those two games, Harden shot 33.3% from the field.
Another concern with the 76ers is they will be without their best perimeter defender Matisse Thybulle when they play in Toronto due to the vaccine mandate. That will cause problems against the Raptors who have incredible perimeter players, including OG Anunoby, who just returned to the lineup.
The Raptors won 14 of their last 18 games. They have a coaching advantage and experienced playoff veterans to win this series. They are balanced offensively with all five starters averaging over 15 points per game.
Embiid and Harden were first and third in both free throws made and attempted per game this season. However, they won’t be getting to the line nearly as much in the playoffs due to how games are officiated. There is a lot of pressure on Harden, especially if he starts failing early.
The Philadelphia crowd is a different beast. This may be considered an upset, but I’m going with the Raptors.
Matt Moore — 76ers Series Spread -1.5 Games +130 (BetMGM)
The Raptors are the trendy pick. The tough, championship core Raptors who never say die and are led by their championship coach. Their championship grit and championship heart and blah blah blah. We get it.
The Sixers are better. They have been better. They have a better Offensive Rating, a comparable Defensive Rating, the best player in the series, and home-court advantage.
The Raptors will be a pain to deal with. The series will go long. The coaching advantage is real.
But ultimately, the Raptors are trying to defend Joel Embiid with Precious Achiuwa, Chirs Boucher, and Khem Birch. You can send help, the Raptors will clog things. But Embiid is better than ever at handling double teams and by the end of the series will have won the long battle even if he loses some of the games.
Toronto is 25th in half-court offense. Much of the conversation has centered around James Harden’s struggles, while ignoring Tyrese Maxey’s improvement and Tobias Harris shooting 37% from behind the arc since All-Star.
No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets
Joe Dellera: Series Over 5.5 Games -160 (BetMGM)
The Denver Nuggets are underdogs to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. The Nuggets don’t expect that Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray will be able to join them for this showdown, the Warriors are also in flux due to Stephen Curry’s cloudy injury status for Game 1. This uncertainty is creating an interesting spot in the betting market.
Curry is obviously incredibly valuable and the Warriors should take care of business against the Nuggets. On the season, the Warriors have an adjusted Net Rating of +5.7 compared to Denver’s +2.2; both are solid numbers, but the Warriors’ second-ranked defense puts them ahead of Denver.
The issue here is regardless of whether Curry misses time, is they simply have no answer for the likely two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic. Jokic’s sheer size and multifaceted ability as a facilitator and scorer has been too much for the Warriors. In seven games against Golden State over the last two years, Jokic has averaged 25.9 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 8.4 assists.
It is important to note that Draymond Green did not play in any games against the Nuggets this season, but even in their contests last season Jokic had his way with the Warriors. Jokic does not have much help on this team but he can win multiple games on his own – this series should go long.
There’s a lot of juice on it, but I’m taking this series to go over 5.5 Games (-160) at BetMGM — I think Jokic can will this Nuggets team to at least two wins and in the event Curry misses more time to fully heal and not rush back we are getting added value here.
Brandon Anderson — Warriors Series Spread -1.5 Games +100 (DraftKings)
This is a terrible matchup for the Nuggets. If you focus on the Four Factors, Denver is bad at the things that hurt the Warriors, and its one biggest strength is matched by Golden State.
Start with the turnovers. We’ve known for half a decade that the best way to slow down this Warriors attack is to turn them over. Golden State has the second highest turnover rate in the league. But Denver ranks bottom-five at turning over the opponents, and the Warriors averaged only 11.0 turnovers per game in three games this season (excluding the one where they rested the key starters).
The Warriors also rank second in the NBA in 2-point percentage on offense while the Nuggets ranked 28th in 2-point percentage allowed. Golden State should score plenty in this series, especially if Stephen Curry is back and healthy as he claimed to be on The Draymond Green Podcast.
The Nuggets lead the league in both 2-point percentage and Effective Field Goal percentage. But defensively, the Warriors are elite, limiting easy and free looks and making everything harder for the opponent. We already know Green is healthy and this defense is ready to go, and they’ve been a tough matchup for Jokic over the years.
I just don’t see a way forward for the likely MVP. He doesn’t have any help, and there are no reinforcements coming. If I were confident Steph was healthy, I might expect a sweep here, and honestly I might nibble the +750 at BetMGM. But we’re getting even odds at Warriors in six or fewer games, and that’s my favorite series bet of the first round.
No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets
Raheem Palmer: Celtics Win Series -130 (DraftKings)
It’s never easy betting against Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in a seven game series, but based on the numbers, I have to do it.
— Raheem Palmer (@iamrahstradamus) April 13, 2022
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 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.”
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Chicago Bulls
Raheem Palmer: Bucks Series Spread -2.5 Games -175 | Bucks Win in 4 Games +250 (PointsBet)
Do you remember the last time the Bulls defeated the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup? It was Dec. 26, 2017. The Bucks have defeated the Bulls in 16 out of their last 17 games with the only win coming on May 16th, the last day of the regular season last year in a game where the Bucks benched their starters.
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. In four games against the Bulls the season, the Bucks won all them by an average margin of 14.7 points.
Trends aside, the Bulls are overmatched here.
Their defense has fallen apart without Lonzo Ball as they’re allowing 114.1 points per 100 possessions, 22nd among NBA teams. Against top 10 offenses, they’re allowing a whopping 118.1 points per 100 possessions. With Nikola Vucevic in the middle, they simply have no answer for Antetokounmpo.
At best, DeMar Derozan and Zach LaVine can get hot and steal a game, but I’m struggling to see them winning one given their lack of answers for this Bucks offense. I’ll back the Bucks -2.5 games at -180 and I’ll also back them to sweep the Bulls at +260.
The Bucks are 10 point favorites for Game 1 and 2 and will likely be 5-6 point favorites for Game 3. You’re essentially fading the Game 3 loss as they will likely be huge favorites in Game 4 should they go up 3-0. With opportunities to hedge in Game 3 in the live markets, I think there’s good value on the sweep here.
Austin Wang — Bucks Series Spread -2.5 Games -175
Yes, this is juicy, but this is one that I cannot ignore.
The Chicago Bulls deserve some credit. They had a busy offseason and were even mocked for signing DeMar DeRozan in free agency. Yet, he’s had a stellar season and the Bulls were able to exceed expectations and silence the doubters. They finished the season with a 46-36 record and went over their regular season win total of 42.5.
It shouldn’t have been so close, but the Bulls sputtered towards the end of the season, going 8-15 straight up and 6-16-1 against the spread after the All-Star Break. They performed terribly against the top tier of competition in the NBA. They went 7-19 SU against teams with a 60% win percentage or greater.
The Bulls have some big game players in DeRozan and Zach LaVine, but their metrics indicate they are an average team. They were 13th in Offensive Rating and 22nd in Defensive Rating for the season. Those are not great signs for the Bulls, who will face the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks and whom they lost all four of their regular season matchups.
On the other hand, the Bucks felt like they were coasting all season long, especially at the beginning. I think they will flip the switch now that they are in the playoffs and make some quick work of the struggling Bulls.
Perhaps DeRozan comes through with a magical game that gets them one win, but banking on a 4-0 or 4-1 victory is my favorite bet. Alternatively, betting Bucks to win the season series 4-1 at +190 (DraftKings) is another good option.
Brandon Anderson — Bucks Series Spread -2.5 Games -175 | Bucks Win in 4 Games +250 (PointsBet)
I’m fully on board with Raheem here. The Bulls stink. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
Chicago is 8-15 since the All-Star Break. The Bulls rank bottom six in both Offensive and Defensive Rating during that stretch, despite trying desperately to win games and stay out of the play-in tournament.
They rank third to last in Net Rating after the break at -7.1; there are any number of teams straight up tanking and trying to lose games, and the Bulls were only better than two of them.
Chicago went 2-21 this season against teams that finished as top-four seeds, and both of the wins came in early November. Raheem also pointed this out but it must be noted again: The Bulls last beat Giannis Antetokounmpo on a basketball court in 2017. Yes, 2017!
Michael Jordan is not walking through that door. Scottie Pippen is not walking through that door. Neither is Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, or Chet Walker. Oh, and Lonzo Ball isn’t either.
The Bulls rank bottom 10 in Net Rating in all but the fourth quarter for the season. They are cooked. At least they won’t have to travel far to get back home for the summer.
You can listen to the more creative and more complicated version of my Bucks position on the Buckets Podcast, but let’s keep it simple here.
Bucks in five does the trick, and I’ll get the sweep too if Milwaukee doesn’t leave the gentlemen’s door open. I’m ready for the defending champs to make a statement.