The drama of the NBA’s regular-season finales was a fitting preamble for the playoffs.
Several seeds were determined in the final day of the season, highlighting the parity we’ll see in postseason play. While the league’s top seeds have the best chance of winning a championship, it’s not just hyperbole to suggest that anything can happen in the playoffs.
Teams like the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers have the potential to play a big spoiler role this year, despite their seeding and lack of superstar talent. If Oklahoma City and Miami aren’t careful, their championship runs could end at the hands of those upstart squads.
The No. 2 seeds have their own problems to worry about with the playoffs pairings now decided. New York and San Antonio are very capable of making a deep playoff run, but some questions are yet to be answered.
Oddsmakers didn’t stray very far from the norm in setting odds for each of the top four seeds in the playoffs. There are few surprises on the list, but that doesn’t mean all four teams will have an easy path to the finals. Things rarely go as planned in the NBA playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the championship odds for the top four seeds and break down what to expect when they take the floor this postseason.
*Betting odds acquired from Bovada.lv.
(2) New York Knicks: 15-1
Despite a rash of injuries in the second half of the season, the New York Knicks have caught fire at the right time. With a recent 13-game winning streak in their pocket, the Knicks have plenty of momentum to make a splash in the playoffs.
Still, there’s cause for concern.
New York often plays a one-dimensional style of basketball predicated on long-range jumpers and perimeter scoring. If Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith can’t get shots to fall in a given contest, the Knicks have serious problems putting points on the board. Complementary scoring from the likes of Chris Copeland and Raymond Felton has been nice, but New York will need a lot more of it in the playoffs.
Postseason matchups will be the determining factor in how far the Knicks can advance in postseason play. The potential for an early-round upset is certainly present, especially with an experienced Boston Celtics squad waiting in the first round and a potential matchup with the Indiana Pacers looming in the second.
At 15-1, New York has the fourth-best odds of winning the championship, With all due respect to the Knicks, the odds would have to be stacked a little more in their favor for me to put money on a New York championship this year.
(2) San Antonio Spurs: 17-2
The Spurs found the fountain of youth this season, but it appears to have dried up. San Antonio is plagued with injuries, and a deep playoff run is far from guaranteed.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw (likely out for the season) all appear on the latest edition of San Antonio’s injury report (via CBSSports.com). If the Spurs can’t get healthy in a hurry, they have to hope for a short first-round series with a favorable outcome.
It’s hard to write off the Spurs, though. With arguably the best coach in basketball at the helm and a trio of ultra-talented veterans in Duncan, Ginobili and Parker (not to mention tremendous depth), San Antonio could be the best team few expect to make a title run.
The No. 2 seed in the West has better odds than New York of winning the championship, but it still isn’t a strong favorite by any means. And with 17-2 odds, betting on the Spurs isn’t exactly a lucrative venture, either.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder: 9-2
Will this be the year Oklahoma City breaks through the final barrier of NBA dominance? So far there’s reason to be hopeful.
But James Harden’s absence has certainly been apparent at times this season as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been asked to do an awful lot to keep Oklahoma City ahead of the West’s surging playoff squads.
Paired with a frontcourt that hasn’t quite met expectations, the Thunder don’t appear to be much further along than they were at this point last year.
That’s not to say Oklahoma City is going to succumb to a first-round exit or a shocking second-round upset, but the Western Conference is as strong as ever this year. Durant and Westbrook will have to be incredibly consistent throughout the playoffs.
Still, Oklahoma City’s odd are extremely favorable. At 9-2, betting on the Thunder may be the most lucrative option of all playoff squads.
(1) Miami Heat: 2-3
Unfavorable odds are the only reason to not bet on the Heat this year. At 2-3, you would have to place a sizeable sum on Miami to get a reasonable payout.
But there’s a reason Miami is so heavily favored, and it extends far beyond a 27-game winning streak and the presence of a couple bona fide superstars. The Heat know what it takes to win an NBA championship.
The “anything can happen” mantra is the most honest justification for not expecting the Heat to win another title, but there’s also the matter of a poor record against the Knicks and Pacers.
Indiana and New York combined for a 5-2 record against the Heat this season, and each team highlighting some weaknesses that could hold Miami back in the playoffs. In comparison, no other Eastern Conference playoffs squad won more than one game against the Heat this season (Chicago).
Miami is still the smart bet to win another ring, but it certainly won’t be an easy task. Even if the Heat can escape a matchup with either Brooklyn or Chicago, they could still face Indiana or New York before the NBA Finals.