Predicting the 5 Most Profitable NBA Finals Matchups

by Doug Murphy
on February 16, 2018

Do you ever wish that you could see in the future? Or maybe you could go back in time with a sports almanac like Biff from Back to the Future 2. I guess I’m dreaming right along with you.

Unfortunately, I don’t have these powers. I find it unlikely you do either unless you’re just here to compare notes. In that case, let’s get started!

The NBA Finals aren’t until June as we know, but it sure is fun looking at some of the possible matchups. This year is the first one in a while where we have several possible matchups with reasonable odds. If you want a lottery ticket, bet an 8-team parlay or the particularly youthful and talented finals matchup of the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

First, let’s take a small glimpse over at the select few teams who have a realistic shot at traversing the playoffs and reaching the finals.

It seems more than appropriate to start with the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. There isn’t a team with better chemistry, selflessness, or heart than the guys from Oakland. If this team performs anything like they did through last year’s playoffs, you can punch the ticket right now.

Houston is 2-0 versus the Warriors this year, and only a half-game behind them in the race for home-court advantage. While OKC has their share of superstars, the Warriors and Rockets have shown Western Conference dominance up to this point in the season.

The favorite to reach the finals from the Eastern Conference are the Cleveland Cavaliers. They recently added some role players and a 6th man who all play better defense than the players they traded away.

The Cavs trimmed the fat well before the trade deadline. In a recent contest, they trounced their conference rival Celtics in Boston on the night Paul Pierce’s jersey was raised to the rafters. The new guys looked great, and even James said it was like they had been playing together all along.

Speaking of the Kyrie Irving led Boston Celtics, they have been the best defensive team in the East this year. I think it was the legendary motivator Pat Riley who coined the term “Defense wins championships.”

The Celts will have their opportunity to prove that this year as so many teams have in the past. Offensive production hasn’t always been a constant for Boston this year. They do have shooters and a guy who can penetrate to create a shot of his own or dish for the trey.

The team no one seems to be talking about are the Toronto Raptors.

They have the best record in the East. This obviously puts them as the frontrunners for the all-important home-court advantage. Out of all the games played in Canada this year, the Toronto Raptors are 23-4. That gives them the best home record in not just the conference, but the entire league.

Houston Rockets vs Boston Celtics

Odds: +1000

Before the trade deadline, I would have put this as my best value matchup. +1000 can really pay off well, and both teams have the scoring power and defensive prowess respectively to make it. Boston didn’t look good at all against the Cleveland recently. Their defense has been their strength all year long, and Cleveland was scoring at will.

This means they will have to shot for shot and outduel the 6-gun Golden State Warriors. This is a tough one. Houston is probably going to need home court advantage if they want to have a good shot at defeating the Warriors in the playoffs.

While this pick still has good value, I wouldn’t try to get rich with one bet. With the resurgence in Cleveland, Toronto playing so consistent, and the Warriors in the West, I don’t see this matchup happening. Maybe next year guys.

Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors

Odds: +350

At first take, the initial thing you notice is how much lower this matchup would pay out. Why? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t because of the Raptors. Any odds we look at with Golden State in the matchup will be low.

These guys are just that good. In the Finals last year, Cleveland played great. It wasn’t nearly enough. That’s a Lebron James and Kyrie Irving team that was a step behind almost every game.

Golden State is the favorite out of the west. Can Toronto make it to their first ever NBA Finals? This may be their year. Winning 23/27 home games is a great start. Besides two close losses on the road against Boston and Washington, Toronto has dominated the Eastern Conference this year. They beat Cleveland by 34 a month ago.

One statistic I came across on ESPN.com that stood out to me was turnover differential. Toronto is #2 in the league while all the teams I’m mentioning today don’t crack the top ten. I found this to be a surprise.

Anywho, this is the most likely matchup on paper. Between home records and FG%/Opponent’s FG%, the Warriors-Raptors matchup appears to be the most likely playoff result. It doesn’t, however, give the lowest odds.

There’s a reason for this, and his name is Lebron James.

Cavs vs Warriors

Odds: +200

Who wants to see it again? To me, it doesn’t really feel like a clashing of the titans. It feels much more like Cleveland is getting another chance at the Warriors. The Cavs victory against Golden State in the NBA Finals of 2016 now feels like a distant memory.

+200 for this matchup really isn’t bad. With the Cavs recent post-trade deadline resurgence, they have a good opportunity to overtake the Raptors for the #1 spot in the East. If that happens, these odds will likely shrink even more to +150. So, get this bet in earlier than later even if it’s a small amount.

Cavs vs Rockets

Odds: +700

Lebron James has led his team to the NBA Finals for 7 straight years! That’s pretty good reason to put your money on the Cavs. We need both of these teams to make it, though. It’s almost like a parlay.

Houston has played a superb season up to this point and has the firepower to stay with Golden State down the stretch. If these two teams meet in the playoffs, the games will likely be decided by defense and free throw shooting.

The Warriors rank 3rd in the league in opponent’s FG%, while Houston struggles defensively at 20th. The Dubs of the Golden State are 1st in the league shooting above 80% from the line. Houston isn’t bad at 10th, but there’s your 1-2 point differential in a close game right there.

Houston’s defensive struggles will have to come to a halt if they want to compete with a Golden State team who plays at an elite level on both sides of the ball. It can be done, though. Home court would help.

Also, if Steph and KD could miraculously get hurt, that would open up the gates for Harden and Paul. The Rockets could make their first NBA Finals appearance since “Hakeem The Dream” led them to 2 NBA Titles in ‘94 and ‘95. Feel old yet?

Celtics vs Warriors

Odds: +300

As we know, the Celtics have arguably the best defense in the NBA. They are going to need to play tight every night if they want to slow down Lebron and his new band of brothers. Some experts have predicted this matchup, and it may likely happen.

I don’t see it, though. Boston looked lost recently against the new-look Cavaliers who will only continue to gel as we approach the playoffs.

Golden State is leading the league in FG% at 51%. That is far and above the rest of the NBA. Yes, they are the “Monstars” from Space Jam. They were assembled not to beat Jordan, though, but Lebron James.

One often overlooked factor in the Warriors success is their head coach Steve Kerr. This guy played with Michael Jordan under Phil Jackson only to be mentored as a coach under Gregg Popovich. Show me a coach in the league today with those credentials.

The odds on this matchup don’t hold much value in my opinion. If they were +500 or more, I would say throw a few bucks down. The Celts can beat Cleveland and I fully expect Golden State to come out of the West. It isn’t a longshot, but Lebron James.

This leads me to my pick for the best bet out of the potential matchups in the NBA Finals. I really really didn’t want to make this pick. It would be the fourth year in a row for both of these teams, and the Warriors would likely be strong favorites. I honestly thought I would find better value with the other matchups, but I’m going with Cleveland and Golden State again.

Best Bet – Cavaliers vs Warriors +200
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