The 2014 NBA playoffs have begun, but it's not too late to catch up and get ready for the remaining series to tip off. It’s a great time to place a bet on the action, if you haven’t already, if you have a good idea of which teams are going to win their initial best-of-seven showdowns.
Even if you aren’t too sure but still want to get some skin in the game, you should keep reading for my picks and predictions on the outcome of every matchup in the first round of the postseason. Let’s take a look at those, plus the updated odds for each series and more.
|Round 1 Matchups, Odds and Predictions|
|Eastern Conference Matchups and Odds||Prediction|
|No. 1 Indiana Pacers (-560) vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks (+480)||Pacers in five|
|No. 2 Miami Heat (-2000) vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats (+1200)||Heat in four|
|No. 3 Toronto Raptors (+110) vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets (-130)||Raptors in seven|
|No. 4 Chicago Bulls (-190) vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards (+170)||Bulls in six|
|Western Conference Matchups and Odds|
|No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (-675) vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks (+550)||Spurs in five|
|No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (-350) vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (+300)||Thunder in six|
|No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers (-350) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (+300)||Clippers in six|
|No. 4 Houston Rockets (-190) vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers (+170)||Rockets in seven|
|RJ Bell of Pregame.com via Twitter (@RJinVegas)|
Best Round 1 Bet: San Antonio Spurs (-675) over Dallas Mavericks
The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs are a great pick to oust the No. 8 Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and the odds are quite respectable for those backing the chalk.
While there are surer series available to bet in the opening round, such as the Miami Heat over the Charlotte Bobcats, the large risk for a tiny reward makes the endeavor relatively worthless for a majority of bettors.
While you are still risking close to seven dollars to win one back in this scenario, there isn’t a safer venture on the board—especially among the Western Conference clashes.
The Spurs were able to win the West with a combination of potent offense and strong team defense, proving to be a two-way powerhouse that has its eye on nabbing a title that slipped away a little less than one year ago.
Dallas’ superstar forward, Dirk Nowitzki, admitted that his side has an uphill battle, as per Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "We’ll just let it all hang out. But they’re a great team. After the All-Star break, they’ve been rolling. They’re definitely the favorites in the series. That’s pretty obvious. But we’re going in there to compete and we’ll see what happens."
San Antonio finished sixth in the league in offensive efficiency and fourth in defense, two impressive marks that prove how well-rounded this unit truly is. Dallas, on the other hand, was slightly better on the offensive end (ranking third in the NBA) but abysmal in terms of defense (coming in as the 22nd-most efficient squad defensively).
That lopsided figure enabled the Mavs to win enough regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs in a tough Western Conference but won’t be enough to get them any further. While it is cliche by now, defense does win championships, and it almost always requires a top-tier defense to advance to the NBA Finals.
As you can see in the table below, the 2005-06 Heat were the only recent team able to overcome their shortcomings on defense, but that group was still much closer to the league-leading defensive unit (89.4 points per 100 possessions compared to the Spurs’ 84.2) than Dallas this year (105.9 points per 100 possessions to the Indiana Pacers’ 96.7):
|Offensive and Defensive Efficiency of Recent NBA Champions|
|Season||Finals Teams||Offensive Efficiency||Offensive Efficiency Ranking||Defensive Efficiency||Defensive Efficiency Ranking|
|San Antonio Spurs||105.9||7||99.2||3|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||107.1||2||100||9|
|2009-10||Los Angeles Lakers||105.9||11||101.1||5 (tie)|
|Boston Celtics||105.4||13||101.1||5 (tie)|
|2008-09||Los Angeles Lakers||109.8||3||101.9||5|
|Los Angeles Lakers||96.5||4||89.8||9|
|2006-07||San Antonio Spurs||92.7||5||84.4||3|
|2004-05||San Antonio Spurs||91.2||8||82.3||1|
|Detroit Pistons||89.2||17||85||3 (tie)|
|2003-04||Detroit Pistons||85||19 (tie)||78.7||2|
|Los Angeles Lakers||89.7||6||85.1||11 (tie)|
|2002-03||San Antonio Spurs||88.1||11 (tie)||83.3||2|
|New Jersey Nets||87||18||81.2||1|
|http://www.sportingcharts.com/ and ESPN.com|
While teams lacking in defense have won first-round series before, the Mavs aren’t going to pull off the improbable here. The Spurs swept the four-game regular-season series, and that was with their best players playing limited minutes.
With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhki Leonard all set to play increased roles as head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotations tighten, you should easily be able to picture this battle becoming more lopsided than it was in the prior meetings.
The Mavs would need Nowitzki to play out of his mind and get a number of lucky breaks to have a shot at pulling the upset. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram outlined what another key player has to do for Dallas to have a shot:
Regardless, it’s hard to envision any scenario in which the pesky Mavs can oust a juggernaut San Antonio squad motivated by vengeance to return to the Finals.
Bet the Spurs big, and watch as they advance to the conference semis in short order, treating the Mavs as a mere speed bump on the journey to a title.