Football season is now in full swing, but basketball is right around the corner. Despite the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks’ stirring win over the Phoenix Suns in the Finals feels like it happened very recently, we are only a few weeks away from the beginning of yet another NBA season.
Here’s hoping the upcoming 2021-22 campaign goes a bit more smoothly than the past couple. The league is back to an 82-game schedule this year, and we should see buildings full of fans from start-to-finish. No more empty arenas or bubbles, please.
NBA betting sites are starting to ramp up their offerings with the season about to get underway. DraftKings is going above-and-beyond with their team and player props. Right now, you can even wager on whether certain teams will finish above or below a specific seed in their respective conferences.
A team finishing “under” a 5.5 seed would have to finish between Nos. 1 and 4 in the final conference standings. A team finishing “over” a 5.5 seed would have to finish sixth or worse in order for your bet to cash. Get it? Good.
Here are my favorite NBA conference seeding value bets heading into 2021-22.
Golden State has missed out on the playoffs in each of the two seasons since their most recent Finals appearance in 2019. However, fans and oddsmakers are optimistic that the Dubs can make another run at a conference title in 2022. Thompson is finally healthy, and Curry is fresh off of one of the most productive seasons of his legendary career.
The Warriors were good last year, but they still finished just six games over .500 and crashed out of the play-in tourney. The core of Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green isn’t getting any younger, and the re-signing of Iguodala doesn’t really change my opinion of their roster for the better.
The issue for Golden State a season ago was finding players that could score whenever Curry was off the floor. Andrew Wiggins simply isn’t that guy. Maybe Jordan Poole or Moses Moody can help pick up the slack this season, but neither is a go-to option at this stage of their respective careers. There’s no telling how Thompson will fare on the heels of two consecutive serious injuries, either.
I get why the Warriors are generating buzz, but I’ll have to see them in action before I can buy in. The Western Conference is still loaded, so finishing fifth or higher won’t be an easy task. Both LA teams should be in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Utah isn’t going anywhere after finishing as the top seed in the West last year. Denver, Dallas, and Phoenix are all capable of finishing anywhere from 1-through-7 in the conference, too.
A lot would have to go right for Golden State to leapfrog most of those teams after finishing ninth a season ago.
As a result, I like the even-money value you can get on the Dubs to finish sixth or lower in the West. There are still a lot of questions here that need to be answered before we can say they’re back to being title contenders.
Lillard has been a loyal soldier throughout his career in Portland, but even he seems to be on the brink of requesting a trade. The Blazers have only advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs once in his career. While they have been a steady playoff qualifier over the years, star players want to win titles. As of now, Lillard has no chance to accomplish that goal as a member of the Trail Blazers.
The team fired Terry Stotts after its second straight first-round exit last year, and he was replaced with first-time head coach Chauncey Billups. Nothing against Billups, but that isn’t the move the team needs. Lillard may be in a different uniform before the end of the year. If he isn’t, there’s a pretty decent chance that at least one of CJ McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic will be.
The Blazers finished sixth in the West last year, but they were tied (on record) with both the Mavericks and Lakers. Portland could have very easily finished seventh. There’s also reason to believe the Lakers, Grizzlies, and Warriors – all of whom finished south of the Blazers in the standings – will move up this season.
There are only so many ways the Blazers can find their way back into a playoff spot. It’s a numbers game in the Western Conference, and I think Portland will be lucky to avoid the play-in tourney. As is the case with Golden State, I think oddsmakers’ expectations of the Blazers are a bit too aggressive. I’ll gladly bet the over on Portland’s playoff seed at +100 odds.
New York has spent its offseason bringing back most of last year’s team. That may cap their ultimate ceiling, but I also think they’ve done well to solidify their status as a playoff team. Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose, and Julius Randle all signed new pacts to stay in the Big Apple.
The Knicks also addressed a couple areas of need by signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Walker, in spite of his health concerns, is an immediate upgrade over Elfrid Payton as the team’s starting point guard. The addition of Fournier will also give New York a proven scorer capable of picking up some of the slack offensively.
Whether Randle will be able to replicate his All-Star form remains to be seen, but he looked like a perfect fit under Tom Thibodeau last year. Thibodeau has a well-earned reputation for getting the absolute most out of his teams, so I’m not expecting the Knicks’ surprisingly-stingy defense to drop off much, if at all, this season.
New York also has the benefit of playing in the East, which is rather soft at the bottom. The Atlantic Division is admittedly tough, but Boston and Washington were able to make the playoffs last year with sub-.500 records. You don’t have to challenge for 50 wins to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Even if the Knicks’ winning percentage dips a bit from last year’s .569 mark, I think New York has enough talent to make the playoffs pretty comfortably. Take the -140 odds on the under on 8.5 and run for the hills.
Of course, that didn’t translate to the playoffs, because it rarely ever does for this team. Utah was upset by the Clippers in the second round of the postseason, though injuries played a big role. Donovan Mitchell was hobbled by an ankle injury throughout the playoffs, while Mike Conley only played in a couple of the games after suffering a hamstring issue late in the regular season. Perhaps better health would have helped the Jazz advance further.
The 2021-22 Jazz will look a lot like the 2020-21 version. That bodes well for their chances of earning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but I don’t think this team will finish with the league’s best record again. Utah added Rudy Gay in order to add another scoring presence to the second unit, but the team will still go as far as Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can carry it.
The Jazz do get the benefit of sharing the Northwest Division with a couple of also-rans in Oklahoma City and Minnesota, but they’ll have some competition at the top from Denver. After a thrilling regular season was overshadowed by yet another early playoff exit, I’m not convinced the Jazz will go all-out in an attempt to chase the top seed again this time around. Prioritizing health for the playoffs over going after a few extra regular-season wins is probably in Utah’s best long-term interests.
Utah also finished just one game in front of Phoenix for that top seed a year ago, so it’s not like this team ran away with the No. 1 spot. The Lakers should be better, assuming they can stay healthy. The Suns aren’t going anywhere, while teams like the Nuggets and Mavs should continue to improve. Utah’s perch atop the conference is extremely tenuous given how many solid teams occupy the West.
Obviously, that’s something that could affect their final place in the standings. I think you’re clearly getting better value on the Jazz to finish third or worse at +115 than you are on their -140 odds to finish inside the top-two.
Unfortunately, they’ll have to get used to that. Leonard is expected to miss much of the upcoming season after undergoing offseason knee surgery, so it’ll be up to Paul George to keep the team afloat in the meantime. We know George is fully capable of thriving as a team’s No. 1 offensive option. PG-13 was lights-out in the playoffs, quieting many of his doubters along the way. The former All-Star averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 5.4 per games across the Clips’ 19 playoff games earlier this summer.
We shall see. LAC is returning most of last year’s team, though they did make a major move by trading Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo to Memphis in exchange for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe will likely serve as a complementary scorer for the Clippers alongside the likes of Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard.
The Clips should be able to nab a playoff spot fairly easily, but the long-term absence of Kawhi means the team will likely be closer to the bottom of the playoff picture than the top. Oddsmakers have the Clips at -140 to finish seventh or worse in the West, which is fair given the quality of the conference at large.
On the flip side, this team knows how to win without Leonard. Kawhi has been in-and-out of the lineup since arriving in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. Since Leonard signed as a free agent in 2019, the Clippers have gone a very respectable 67-5o in the games he’s missed.
The West as a whole is fairly unpredictable this season. Utah and Phoenix aren’t entrenched by any means at the top of the conference, which means the final standings could easily wind up being pretty jumbled 1-through-8. At +115, I really don’t mind a shot on the Clippers to finish sixth or better given the question marks up-and-down the West. Every team has its own issues to sort out, so I like the buy-low odds you’re getting on the Clips to exceed expectations this year.
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