How Injuries and Playoff Upsets Have Impacted NBA Title Odds
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard.
This NBA postseason has been a wild ride.
Entering the playoffs there were six teams with odds shorter than 10-1 — Nets, Lakers, Bucks, 76ers, Jazz, Clippers and BetMGM had the biggest handle on the Lakers, Nets, Nuggets and the Sixers in these playoffs.
All four have been eliminated even before the conference finals and only the Bucks and Clippers among the top six teams on the odds board.
Parity is strong, chaos is a ladder, and the title chase is as wide open as we’ve seen in decades. But it would be impossible to tell the story of the postseason up to this point without chronicling the massive amount of injuries to star players.
Here’s a look at how the odds for the contenders have evolved throughout the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and how injuries have shaped those odds.
Anthony Davis — Groin Injury in Round 1
The Lakers were the second-favorite behind the Nets coming into the playoffs. LA was +300 on May 30 before Game 4, a loss to the Suns to even the series.
They moved to +500 after that game, and then to +1000 after Game 5. Davis ultimately played five minutes in Game 6, largely unable to move, as the Lakers were eliminated.
The Suns were +4000 on May 30 before Game 4, and +750 five days later.
Joel Embiid — Meniscus Injury in Round 1
Embiid suffered the injury in Game 4, a partial tear but did not require surgery and it was deemed he would receive treatment and continue to play. The Sixers went from +600 to +750 overnight and were +900 the morning of Game 5 vs. the Wizards, which he missed.
When the Sixers advanced, that number didn’t go down, at all, a telling sign of oddsmakers’ expectations.
Embiid was still dominant in the Hawks series, but as it wore on, he had trouble in the second-half of games. He was particularly bad in the Sixers’ Game 5 collapse, and in Game 7 he lost the ball for a dagger transition dunk from Danilo Gallinari and then badly missed a three.
The Sixers moved to +600 (where they were on May 30 before the injury) before they lost Game 4, the lowest point they would reach before their elimination. The Sixers still held 9.82% of BetMGM’s title handle before their elimination, a big win for the book.
Mike Conley — Hamstring Injury in Round 1
Conley had suffered a hamstring injury mid-season and then re-aggravated it a month before the playoffs. So the fact that Conley re-injured it a second time probably should have been considered a bigger problem, despite Conley saying after Game 5 it didn’t feel as significant.
Combined with the Lakers’ exit, the Jazz moved to +350 from +450 after advancing over Memphis. The books either did not consider Conley’s injury to be as serious as it ended up being, or just not as impactful at the time.
James Harden — Hamstring Injury in Round 2
Harden had dealt with a bad hamstring for much of the second half of the season; this was his first game back, and he came up lame in the first few minutes.
However, as a telling sign of where the confidence and handle was on Brooklyn in their series vs. Milwaukee, the odds for the Nets still shortened to +160 after the Nets won Game 1.
After all, they still had two other superstars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Ir …
Kyrie Irving — Ankle Injury in Round 2
Irving suffered an ankle sprain, widely thought to be a Grade 2, in Game 4 as the Bucks evened the series, leaving the Nets without Irving and Harden. The next day, the Nets’ odds went from +130 to +260. However, they dropped back to +180 after the Bucks collapsed in Game 5.
The Nets were eventually eliminated in seven games, however, a massive win for the book as the Nets held over 38% of BetMGM’s handle on the NBA title.
Kawhi Leonard — Knee Injury in Round 2
Leonard suffered the injury in the closing minutes of the Clippers’ win to even the series 2-2, but word that it could potentially be an ACL injury (the Clippers are officially calling it a knee sprain) didn’t circulate until two days later on June 16. The Clippers were +550 on June 15, and moved to +1000 after news of the severity hit.
Even with their advancing to the conference finals against a Suns team they beat in the regular season, the Clippers entered that series as a dog and have the third-longest odds of the four remaining teams.
Chris Paul — Enters COVID Protocols, Before Conference Finals
The Suns had been dominant in the playoffs, had an extra week of rest on whoever they would face in the conference finals and maybe, somehow, Chris Paul had avoided his bad luck in the playoffs. Nope, word came down he had entered health and safety protocols for COVID-19 on the same day of the Leonard injury news.
His status was unknown on June 16 but after the news, the Suns moved from +375 to +450. However, the fact it didn’t move further was indicative of the optimism that Paul will be available to play at some point in this series.
That fact was echoed by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski after Game 1 of the Conference finals, when he said Paul would play at some point, though he is, as of this writing, still out.
Current NBA Title Odds
Here’s a look at how the conference finalists’ odds have changed through these things.
Milwaukee Bucks: +510 to +110
Milwaukee had the hardest road of any of the final four. They had to take on the Heat, who knocked them out last year, (they swept them) and then the superstar Nets as a +165 series dog.
It took an injury to Irving, Harden playing on one leg for the last stretch of the series and all seven games for the Bucks to advance and become the betting favorites. Even after all this, Milwaukee still held just 5.45% of BetMGM’s title handle before Game 7 last Sunday.
Phoenix Suns: +4000 to +160
The Suns weren’t even favored to get out of the first round. They were facing the defending champion Lakers, and everything always seems to go the Lakers’ way in NBA history (since the 1970’s at least). Not this time. Davis (and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) went down with injuries and the Suns absolutely trounced the Lakers to move to +750.
They took out both the Western Conference finalists from last year (both with significant injuries) to advance to the Conference finals.
Every year there’s one team that’s having a “special season” even if they don’t win the title, and sometimes they do. The Blazers in 2019, the Nuggets in 2020, and the Suns in 2021 are those teams. Everything’s breaking the Suns’ way.
The Suns account for 6.5% of BetMGM’s current title handle, more than the Bucks.
LA Clippers: +1200 to +750
The Clippers set themselves up for success with their playoff draw, having to face the Mavericks and Jazz in the first two rounds. Turns out, they were right. They went down 0-2 to the Mavericks and the world pounced on them, only for the Clippers to dig themselves back out and go to +500 entering Round 2.
So of course, they lost the first two games there, and moved to +1600. Then, somehow, they fought back despite losing Leonard to injury.
The Clippers have shown more resiliency this postseason than maybe ever in franchise history. Now, without Leonard and facing the red-hot Suns, down 0-1, they are once again up against it. Can they respond? They’ve moved back to +750 after losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers hold just 4.27% of BetMGM’s title handle.
Atlanta Hawks: 66-1 to 11-1
No one gave them a shot vs. the Sixers, though we said on Ehe Action Network Podcast that the Hawks were live because of the matchup. Atlanta shocked the Sixers in Game 1, rallied back down 2-1 to even the series, then rallied again down 26 points in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead.
At that point, Atlanta had moved to +1800. Now, they are +1100 and heavy dogs again vs. the Bucks.
The Hawks represent the largest outstanding liability for BetMGM at long odds with 2.7% of the handle, including this from April:
Back in April, two bets @betmgm were placed on the Atlanta Hawks:
• $10,000 to win $500,000 (+5000) to win the Eastern Conference
• $10,000 to win $1,500,000 (+15000) to win the NBA Championship
The Hawks are now +850 to win the East and +2000 to win the NBA Championship 👀 pic.twitter.com/5CYTKsJXkZ
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) June 7, 2021
The Hawks winning the East would represent one of the longest preseason odds winners we’ve seen in NBA history.