NBA Playoffs Round 2 Odds & Betting Preview: Our Best Series Bets for the Conference Semifinals
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks.
While we’re technically not done with Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs, the second round is here, and the matchups are highly intriguing.
In the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks clash in a star-studded matchup that features three former MVP winners. On that same side of the bracket, the surging Atlanta Hawks face the Philadelphia 76ers, who are down their star player Joel Embiid ahead of Game 1.
In the West, the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns will do battle as the league’s likely 2021 MVP, Nikola Jokic, will face off with one of the NBA’s top scorers in Devin Booker. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks have one more game to decide who gets to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
With the postseason picture mostly set, our NBA crew is focusing in on the East with their favorite bets for Round 2.
Take a look at how they are approaching the Conference Semifinals below.
NBA Odds & Picks
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Brooklyn Nets
Joe Dellera: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton versus Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden — a Battle of Big 3s.
I think whoever comes out of this series has a strong chance of winning the title given Joel Embiid’s injury, but I’m not prepared to lay into their title odds with such a daunting series ahead.
These teams are very evenly matched, and now that we have seen the Bucks adapt and absolutely destroy the Heat in the first round, I’m prepared to back Antetokounmpo to finally advance.
The key to this series will be how the Bucks contain the Nets on defense. We all know the Nets got Joe Harris plenty of help to advance and bring a title to Brooklyn, but with the type of offensive firepower the Nets have in their Big 3, it’s absolutely critical for the Bucks to contain the damage.
There’s no real answer for Durant, Harden, or Irving. They are some of the most skilled players to ever set foot on a court. There’s plenty that can be done to mitigate their impact and how their gravity frees up easy buckets for the supporting cast of Harris, Blake Griffin, Landry Shamet, and Nic Claxton.
The Bucks demonstrated they can switch on defense and are not reliant on drop coverage. They went through growing pains in the regular season with the idea that they would be better prepared for a postseason series, and the time has come.
Antetokounmpo can man up on Durant, Holiday can cover Harden or Irving, and PJ Tucker is a huge physical presence and enforcer. The Bucks are strong enough defensively to avoid double teams, and by relying on switching rather than dropping, they can prevent easy looks for sharpshooters like Harris.
On the other side of the ball, the Nets’ defense has looked better, but they still gave up 117.6 points per 100 possessions to a Celtics team that was essentially just Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker on one knee.
The Bucks are a totally different animal.
Over the regular season, they averaged 117.5 points per 100 possessions, seventh-best in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. The Nets managed to defend the corner 3 and the rim well during the regular season, and even though they held the Bucks to just 36% shooting from 3-point range in their three regular-season matchups, the Bucks still prevailed in two games.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Brooklyn Nets
Matt Moore: I went into great detail about this series, which I think is easily a matchup of the two best teams left in the playoffs. You can read about it in full here, but here’s the short version: the Bucks are live in this series.
I bet them at +185 at a book earlier in the week, and you can still find them somewhere between there and +160. The series win spreads are sharper, but Bucks +1.5 wins at -136 (DraftKings) also has value and allows for the Nets to come out on top in a seven-game series.
The Bucks’ firepower is what’s being underestimated. Durant, Harden, and Irving are clearly elite scorers, but two of those three are subpar defenders, while Middleton, Holiday, and Antetokounmpo are all stellar on defense.
The Bucks just have more counters than the Nets. That’s fine for Brooklyn since it’s not trying to find matchup advantages beyond forcing a switch onto Forbes or Connaughton if he’s playing. The Nets will just score because they’re great.
But going from the completely outmatched Boston Celtics to this Bucks team is a stark adjustment. The Bucks can matchup hunt vs. a switch with Holiday and Middleton, and Antetokounmpo doesn’t really have a counter on the Nets, especially with Jeff Green out with injury.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Brandon Anderson: Unfortunately, this is a bet against Joel Embiid. Philadelphia can say whatever it wants, but I do not trust Embiid to be healthy. I never trusted it all year and never bought this team getting a clean bill of health for two months of grueling playoff games — as it turns out they barely even made it through one week.
I hope Embiid is healthy, that this is a blip, and that Philly gets a full effort going forward. With Embiid playing 33 or more minutes this season, the Sixers have been nearly unbeatable at 20-5. But they’re only 33-19 in their other games. That’s the difference between a 66-win juggernaut and a 52-win team about at Atlanta’s trajectory.
Of course, Atlanta is going in the other direction. The Hawks are 31-12 since Nate McMillan took over and the team finally got healthy. That’s a 59-win team over the course of a full season, and Atlanta looked the part for much of a dominant first-round win in which it was the better team for all but one quarter. Atlanta’s defense was much improved, and the offense did enough.
Philly has struggled some with smaller guards like Trae Young in the past, and while the Sixers’ defense was still good without Embiid this season, it’s not quite the same. More importantly, Philly’s offense was far, far worse without Embiid. I don’t trust the Sixers to come up with enough points to keep up with the Hawks if Embiid can’t give a full effort.
The Hawks have a big depth and bench advantage. They’re healthier. They might end up with a rebounding advantage if Embiid is out or limited — the Hawks ranked sixth this season in Offensive Rebounding Percentage — and Atlanta does a great job cobbling together second-chance and free throw points, which should help against an aggressive defense that fouls a lot.
With little or no Embiid, I think this series is at best an even matchup. I picked the Hawks -1.5 last series. It paid off nicely, and I’m going back to the well. If this series goes long, I don’t love Atlanta in a Game 7.
It’s more likely Embiid would be playing by then, and Game 7s tend to be physical and ugly, and that favors Philly. At -1.5 on the series, the Hawks just need to win in fewer than seven — and at +250, they only have to do that 29% of the time for this math to be in my favor. I like those odds.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Austin Wang: Both of these teams completed a gentleman’s sweep of their respective Round 1 opponents and had three days to rest up.
Will it be enough time for Joel Embiid to recover from the meniscus tear in his right knee?
There are some players with an unlucky injury history who cannot be trusted, and unfortunately for the 76ers, Embiid is in that category. Although the injury does not appear to be serious, the MVP candidate Embiid playing at below 100% is a cause for concern against the Hawks, who are coming into the second round with plenty of momentum.
As Brandon mentioned, since Nate McMillan took over as the Hawks head coach on March 1, they are 31-12 straight up with a 27-16-0 (62.2%) ATS record. During this time, they’ve battled adversity with many of their key players missing time.
This is the healthiest Atlanta has been all season, and I believe it can overwhelm the 76ers with its depth. Young has that “it” factor and the killer instinct to go into a hostile Madison Square Garden, keep his poise and annihilate the Knicks like an assassin. The Hawks also have the interior defense between John Collins and Clint Capela to limit Embiid whether he’s healthy or not.
Ben Simmons should do a better job guarding Young, but the potential of Embiid missing some time makes me bearish on the 76ers. Their Net Rating decreases by 12.4 points with him off the court, per Basketball-Reference. In addition, should Embiid re-aggravate the injury or need to miss any additional games, the 76ers have a ho-hum 11-11 record when Embiid does not suit up.
At +160, the books are implying that the heavy underdog Hawks have only a 40.82% chance of winning this series, a value buy with Embiid not at full strength.