THE 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on 11th March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the action resumes on 30th July with 22 teams returning to play with eight regular season games scheduled before the end-of-season play-offs. US sports fan Kyle Robins (@AhhYeahKyleYeah) is on-hand to oversee the action for us.
NBA Season Preview: 2019/20 Betting Preview
On 30th July, just short of five months after the indefinite suspension of the league, 22 teams converge on Orlando to resume the NBA season in a so called ‘Disney World Bubble’.
Like every other major sports organisation, the NBA has been severely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, and still continues to do so, even with a resumption date agreed.
So much controversy still surrounds the proposed start of the NBA season in Orlando, with numerous players already opting out of their options to play, and more expected along the way. Not to mention the 25 players already testing positive for COVID-19 itself and the continued fight against social injustice on the streets of the US.
Add all this to the fact that home court advantage has pretty much been diminished with this new format, it opens up a completely new way to look at the NBA from a betting perspective. For anyone unfamiliar with the NBA and its play-off seeding format, let me break it down as simply as I can.
The play-off format
Like the NFL, the NBA is broken into two Conferences’ (East & West). Eight teams from each Conference proceed through to the play-offs, ranked from best regular season record, to worst.
From there, the rankings then determine who plays who, and would also usually provide teams with home court advantage. The first seed from both East and West will play the eighth seed from their respective Conferences, the second seed will play the seventh, third play sixth and fourth play fifth.
From here, teams will continue to play through ranked games, resulting in Eastern and Western Conference champions, who then precede to the NBA finals to face off against each other.
The good thing for us is the play-off bracket remains exactly the same as how it would usually play out, so the series will still remain at the best of seven, meaning the first to four wins’ proceeds through to the next round.
Last year the number one ranked Golden State Warriors out of the West faced off against the number two ranked Toronto Raptors from the East, resulting in a 4-2 Raptors series win, meaning nothing is exactly guaranteed for the number one seeds.
Twenty-two teams have been invited back for the restart – 13 from the West and nine from the East.
Currently the LA Lakers sit atop the Western Conference with a 49-14 record, five games clear of the LA Clippers, with just four game separating them from the Dallas Mavericks in seventh. The Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets are squeezed in between, with the Memphis Grizzlies rounding off the eighth seed, but have five teams hunting them down for that position.
The East is a bit clearer cut than the West. Milwaukee Bucks are seven games ahead of the second-placed Raptors, with the Boston Celtics third and Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic making up the best of the rest.
Given teams will play eight more regular season games before the play-offs commence, it doesn’t leave much wiggleroom for positional changes in the rankings, especially the in the less competitive Eastern Conference.
The West is certainly where more of the questions have arisen from in the build-up, with the main one being, will the Lakers and Clippers hold onto first and second to potentially set up a star-studded match-up in the Western finals. But another more interesting question being asked, especially from my perspective, is which of the five teams will win the battle for the eighth seed.
The interesting thing when looking into the ‘Team to be the #8 Seed in the Western Conference Play-offs’ market with Paddy Power, is that the way the NBA have outlaid this new format. It’s not quite as simple as just finishing in eighth and that being that.
Putting it the simplest way I can, if the ninth seeded team finishes the season within four games of the eighth seed, then a play in series will be used to decide which team advances to the play-offs.
For example, if Memphis finishes at 40-33 in eighth and Portland finishes ninth with a record of 36 and 38, a play in will take place. However, if they finished ningh with a 35-39 record, there would be no such play-off.
In the scenario of a ‘best of three’ play in series, the eight seed would then need to win just one game between the two to advance, whilst the ninth seed would need to win two games.
Right. Now given all of that, the margin for a team making the eighth seed lies with a much higher percentage than it usually would, so the market makes interesting reading.
Pelicans can hold onto the eighth seed
We can pretty much rule the Suns and the Spurs out of the race already.
Let’s face it, the NBA has invited them back to so both can make a little extra money. The Spurs are without star big man Lamarcus Aldridge and the Suns are just the Suns. The Kings are the next best placed team in 11th, but just don’t have as much talent as the teams above them to be competitive.
Now that leaves us the Grizzlies, sitting at 32-33, who currently hold eighth seed, with the Trail Blazers (29-37) in ninth and the Pelicans (28-36) in 10th sitting just behind.
There’s an awful lot of talk in the Twittersphere that the NBA want the Pelicans and rookie sensation Zion Williamson to make the play-offs, to bolster their viewing figures, and given the rescheduled fixtures they’ve been given, it certainly does seem to be leaning in their favour.
The Pelicans match-up with the Spurs, Magic, Wizards and Kings twice, whilst they only play two teams ranked higher than eighth (Clippers & Jazz). Compare that with the Grizzlies and Blazers, who both have much tougher schedules, the reasonable take would be the Pelicans at 11/4 and that is exactly what I’m going to do.
Of the three teams, the Grizzlies undoubtedly have the weakest roster, and the time off has certainly helped getting players back healthy for both the Blazers and Pelicans. Whilst Portland has much more experience than New Orleans, and perhaps just about shades them in terms of talent, my reason behind this pick is solely based on both teams remaining schedules.
I certainly fancy them to beat the Kings, Wizards, Spurs and Magic, much more so than I do the Blazers beating Celtics, Clippers, Rockets, 76ers and Nuggets. Then whilst it isn’t likely Memphis will lose enough games for the Pelicans to straight out beat them to the eighth seed, I still fancy them to have more than enough to win two games against the Grizzlies in the scenario I spoke of before.
New Orleans won by double digits in both meetings between the two teams back in January, and I can’t see Memphis having enough on defence to slow down Zion and co.
I just hope I don’t regret taking the Blazers at 9/2 to make that eighth seed, because that certainly does represent value given the amount of talent they have.
Now in terms of the actual Championship itself, obviously it’s hard to look past the two current number one seeds in each Conference who are for obvious reasons, the two favourites.
The LeBron-led Lakers, priced at 13/5, lead the market, but they have also just lost one of their better defensive players in Avery Bradley, who has opted out of playing.
The Bucks are just behind them at 14/5, powered by the Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo, currently hold the best record in the NBA at 53-12, and the 6ft 11 big man is averaging a career high 29.6 points to date this season. He also has a decent supporting cast that fits the teams’ system and is built around his skill set allowing him to thrive.
The Kawhi and George duo that represent the Clippers are third favourites at 17/5, then it’s a rather big drop down to the Houston Rockets at 16/1 and the Celtics at 20/1. Whilst I do like the Celtics as a sleeper, I much prefer to back them at 15/2 to win the Eastern Conference. Because although I really like them, I don’t quite have enough confidence on them over either the Lakers or Clippers.
Celtics can clinch Eastern Conference
Boston has one of the youngest rosters in the NBA at an average of 25.3 years-old, and when you compare that to the four oldest rosters, something doesn’t quite add up. The Clippers, Lakers, Bucks and Rockets have the four oldest teams in the NBA, and also head up the top four favourites in the betting market and that’s no coincidence. Experience certainly plays a big part in the playoffs.
The thing working in the Celtics favour, is they have one of the best starting line-ups in the league, and are the only team who have three players averaging over 20 points per-game, in Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum.
The big ‘if’ for them, is can they contain, or at least slow down Giannis, when they inevitably face off against the Bucks. There are certainly a lot of questions surrounding their ability to do so, lacking that big inside presence to guard him one on one, but when I look at their talent alone, and mark them up man for man with the Bucks, there’s not many spots I’m taking a Bucks player over a Celtic.
Without getting too much into the specifics, I just personally think there isn’t too much separating the two teams, certainly not enough to make to Bucks 8/15 and Boston 15/2. The teams split there two regular season meetings and before lockdown Jason Tatum was developing into potentially one of the best five players in the league, and that’s where my confidence stems from.
If Tatum can keep that momentum rolling into this ‘Orlando bubble’ along with his stronger supporting cast, I am much more willing to take the value pick over the favourite.
One thing is for certain with this return of the NBA, and that’s that everything is even more unpredictable. Will no crowds play a part? Will more players drop out? Will a superstar contact coronavirus? Who knows. But to me, this seems a perfect opportunity to take a punt on a few of the outsiders, because nobody really knows how things are going to play out.
NBA 2019/20 – Boston Celtics to win the Eastern Conference (15/2 Sportingbet)
NBA 2019/20 – New Orleans Pelicans to be #8 Seed in the Western Conference Play-Offs (11/4 Paddy Power)