NBA Playoffs Odds, Picks, Predictions: Mid-Series Bets for Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves, Celtics vs. Nets and More
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets.
We’re at least halfway through each of the first-round series. Some are snoozers, but others are gaining in intrigue. Entering the weekend, we have five matchups that could be tied entering the second week of the postseason.
How should you bet the series moving forward? Let’s take a series-by-series look at the the potential value spots in the East and West..
Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
Series Lead: Celtics 2-0
I bet the Nets to win the series and the Nets +1.5 games on the series spread.
The Nets may win both in Brooklyn to tie the series, but an 0-2 hole is an 0-2 hole. According to WhoWins.com, teams with a 2-0 lead in the first round are 82-4 all-time when it comes to closing out the series.
So, that’s not encouraging.
It’s an interesting question in this spot of whether Nets backers were wrong before the series or not. The Nets led with seconds to go in Game 1, despite the Celtics having more points in the paint, more second-chance points, more points off of turnovers, and more made 3s.
The Nets led by 17 in Game 2, and by seven in the fourth quarter, and still lost.
A foundational principle of betting the Nets is the belief that defenses can only do so much against top-tier offensive players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Sure, you can make them work, and sure, they’ll have a night here or there, but these are the best shot-makers on the planet. They’re going to win the 1-on-1 battles most of the time, right?
They are not.
Number of shots and eFG% on contest level:
Boston: 28, 60.7%
Brooklyn: 14, 78.6%
Boston: 48, 62.5%
Brooklyn: 40, 78.8%
Boston: 88, 51.7%
Brooklyn: 100, 45% (!!!)
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 22, 2022
When the Nets get loose, even just by a little bit, they’re toasting. Smoking. Red hot. Exactly what you’d expect.
But most of the time, the Celtics are forcing them into low percentage shots with great defense. Factoring shooter, location and contest level, the Nets are shooting five percentage points worse than expected on contested looks, the Celtics are shooting less than one percentage point better than expected.
But it’s also about the volume in those numbers in the tweet above. The Celtics are heavily contesting almost everything from the Nets. The Celtics are also getting the highest rate of uncontested shots per 100 possessions in the playoffs.
So, if your handicap in this series was Brooklyn’s defense is worse than their offense is better, you have been proven correct so far. And still, the margin has been incredibly tight as both games were winnable for the Nets.
The reason Brooklyn lost resides with one man: Kevin Durant.
To be clear, basketball is a possession game. It’s not all on one player — if Brooklyn’s defense played better, they would have won one or both of those games. But the Nets’ defense was never going to be better, that is not how they are built, and their defense has been fine relative to expectations.
Other players could have made more shots — Irving was brilliant in Game 1 and then went 4-of-13 for 10 points in Game 2. But Durant is the engine. He’s the team’s MVP, the NBA 75 guy.
Yet, in this series, he has shot 22-of-57 for a 41.23% eFG, with 96.5% of his shots contested. He’s also shot 9.38 percentage points worse than expected when factoring shooter, location, and contest level. Durant is taking low-expected eFG% shots (24th percentile via Second Spectrum data provided to Action Network) and shooting worse than expected on them.
There isn’t much to offer in the way of tactical adjustments either; Durant isn’t taking low percentage shots out of choice, and the Celtics will not let him get much, if anything, uncontested.
Here is the only play classified as uncontested by Durant in this series. Durant comes off a screen with Al Horford in drop coverage. Playing drop against Durant seems like madness, he’s one of the best pull-up shooters in league history!
Take a look at this contest:
That’s as good as you’re going to get coming over the top.
The Celtics are just beating the hell out of Durant:
Grant Williams bump him as he tries to cut through the screen, then Jaylen Brown bumps him on the switch and, as he’s cutting to the other side, watch Horford subtly stick his butt out and hit him coming through.
Then, Brown hits him again trying to post up and forces him all the way out to 3-point range. Here is a zoomed-in, slowed-down version:
Durant’s always had issues with positioning for the catch. It’s just a product of his frame. He can counter that in a number of ways, including bringing the ball up or catching it in the backcourt.
But what’s more important is the wear and tear Boston is putting on him.
The Celtics are also constantly swiping at the ball without fouling, and have disrupted his handle.
There’s no counter for this. There’s no way to get loose. The Nets can’t use Durant off-ball and force on-ball action to free him because the Celtics will bring help from elsewhere.
Durant just has to hit ridiculous shots. And he can do that. But we’ve seen him struggle with tough, physical defensive schemes in the past, especially on switches. This series combines the 2013 series vs. the Grizzlies without Westbrook and the 2018 series against Houston.
Physical defenders are switching on-ball, contesting everything, and harassing him. He’s good enough to rise above it, but he will need to do it in four of the next five games for Brooklyn to advance.
Meanwhile, Boston should get better offensively against a Nets team that is playing pretty well, but still has various defensive issues.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons is expected to play in Game 4, which should be … fun. Simmons is an all-world defender when he’s in rhythm, condition, and good health, none of which he’ll be for this series. Additionally, Simmons’ presence gives the Celtics an opponent to aggressively help off of as they double Durant and Irving.
The Nets make it tough to double right now because of how good Bruce Brown is on the short roll and the other shooters they have. Simmons will likely take Brown’s minutes, and given that Brown gave them excellent minutes after a rough Game 1, I’m not sure this will be a net positive.
This isn’t to say the series is over.
I’m chasing bad money with good, but I think the Nets can get two games based on those first two. Durant can have one spectacular game and one good enough. I’m going light, but I’ll take my chances that Durant can get the Nets back on track.
BET: Nets +2.5 Series Spread -143 (BetRivers)
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Series Lead: Grizzlies 2-1
Let me tell you how much fun it was having Wolves +2 and Wolves +180 to win the series while watching the meltdown in Game 3. I couldn’t even hedge Grizzlies moneyline because I was at the arena for Nuggets–Warriors Game 3 with too much going on.
I took the Wolves in this series because I felt they had a tactical advantage in the half court, and I was right. They took Game 1, played Steven Adams completely out of the series and held a 26-point lead in Game 3.
What I didn’t account for is the massive mental edge in this series. The Grizzlies are dogs. They just keep hounding you and no team in the league, not even the Warriors, is as good at sensing and riding the momentum wave.
Chris Finch allowed a 20-0 run without calling a timeout. It’s easy to say “rookie head coach,” but Finch has been a head coach in other spots. He likely assumed the variance would settle and he’d need the timeouts for a close game later.
He overestimated his team’s ability to stop the run.
The Wolves just cratered. Bad shots, bad decision-making, tentative play.
This is the play I keep thinking about:
The Wolves’ win probability dropped by less than a percentage point on that sequence, but going from an 18-point lead with the ball to end the quarter to a 16-point lead on a turnover was a big deal. That, to me, was the real start of the collapse.
So much of this series is about the Wolves beating the Grizzlies and then beating themselves. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t credit Memphis as they were rabid wolverines in Game 3. The Grizzlies took the game and the Wolves’ beating hearts from their chests. They punked them and ran wild. It was incredible to watch.
If Minnesota can compose itself, it can absolutely even this series and send it back to Memphis 2-2. But that’s a big if given that Karl-Anthony Towns seems frazzled, D’Angelo Russell is absent and the Wolves’ veteran leader is the volatile Patrick Beverley.
The Wolves in this series are averaging 1.07 points per possession in pick and rolls including passes (fifth-best of any team in the playoffs). They’re averaging .87 points per possession in isolation (fourth worst in the playoffs), while averaging the fifth-most possessions per game in isolation.
Now, some of that is the Grizzlies have gone switch-heavy since Game 1. But when the Wolves are patient, they’re creating good looks and the switch has given them an edge on the glass.
The Wolves won the second-chance points in Game 3 through three quarters 12-6. Then, they lost the fourth quarter on the glass and gave up 17 second-chance points, while recording just six of their own.
Seventeen to six. What a collapse.
I can’t feel good about the Wolves in this series after that collapse, but objectively there’s still value on them. Win Game 4 and everything changes. Minnesota is +500 or better to win the series and I still think that has value, as does Wolves +1.5 on the win spread at +165.
BET: Timberwolves +1.5 Series Wins +165 (BetMGM)
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
Series Lead: 76ers 3-0
I bet Sixers -1.5 and -2.5 on the win spread, so obviously I’m feeling good here. I was worried about the Raptors going full-on Undertaker-out-of-the-casket given how the Sixers have responded in the past.
There’s not much to bet, here. There’s no reason to think the Raptors can pull themselves back; Game 3 was their shot. They had it, and Precious Achiuwa missed free throws and then Embiid buried them.
We’ll start looking toward Heat–76ers soon. But I also don’t think there’s a reason to bet the sweep. The Raptors are prideful and tough, and the Sixers are going to have a low motivation spot in Game 4. They might put the hammer down anyway.
But the Raptors are going to have to win two games before I even start to think of betting the other way, even though the price would drop.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Utah Jazz
Series Lead: Mavericks 2-1
Everything that I talked about in this video is still true:
Luka Doncic is expected to be back playing on a bad calf, and that’s concerning. There is value in betting against anything that disrupts rhythm, but trying to figure out how much value is tough.
It should be noted that in 2020, the Jazz lost three straight to end the series once the Nuggets figured them out, and four straight in 2021 when the Clippers figured them out.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder finally got desperate enough to bench Rudy Gobert and try to play small. It helped Utah‘s comeback, but eventually fizzled out. What has worked is playing Hassan Whiteside in spots, because of Whiteside’s scoring threat and rebound ability.
The Jazz look headed for a complete implosion. I don’t love the Mavs in Game 4, but I’m good with the +500 I took after Game 1, which I advised in the pre-series guide.
I’ll be on Rudy Gobert unders in Game 4 due to Snyder leaning toward small ball.
BEST BET: Mavs -1.5 Series Spread +135 (BetMGM)
Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets
Series Lead: Warriors 3-0
Get your brooms out.
The Nuggets’ best shot was in Game 3. They played a great game and it just wasn’t enough. You can feel safe betting on the Warriors.
The Warriors’ title odds are good. I would advise that you keep in mind that the Grizzlies have matched up well with the Warriors last year and this season.
The Grizzlies love to play in chaos, even more than the Warriors. That series is going to be tougher than it looks if Memphis gets past Minnesota.
BET: Warriors +280 to win the NBA Finals (BetMGM)
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