If you write about NBA betting, you inevitably write about the Warriors … a lot. From the start of the year, it has been obvious they were the best team; the question has always been about timing. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, your opportunity to back the best team is almost gone.
Sportsbooks are telling us that Golden State and Cleveland are the only teams who can realistically win the title … again. The Warriors are currently 5/11 to capture the championship; the Cavs are a shade over 3/1; everyone else is at least 18/1.
There are legitimate arguments for the Spurs and Rockets, and lesser points to be made for the Celtics and Wizards. But if you toss a few dollars on any of them, you are taking a flier. Their paths to the championship likely require beating both the Warriors and Cavs. Daunting to say the least.
Cleveland’s start to the playoffs has helped the betting market a bit for everyone else in the league. The Cavs were not dominant during the regular season, particularly on the road, and there was some thought they were vulnerable entering the postseason. Though Boston or Washington could keep LeBron and company out of the NBA Finals, the Cavs’ 8-0 postseason record has re-solidified them as the heavy Eastern Conference favorite. Their success is the only thing keeping the Warriors from being 1/4 favorites, or better.
It would waste everyone’s time to list the dozen reasons why Golden State is so good. They won the title two years ago, blew a 3-1 lead last year, and added Kevin Durant in the off-season. They have won more games in three years than any team in league history. Though Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights, and Leandro Barbosa were significant losses, Durant, David West, JaVale McGee, Matt Barnes, and Zaza Pachulia are a significantly better package.
The reason to bet the Warriors now is simple: they have not yet seen their odds hit what will be a high-water mark. You are laying just over 1/2 at this stage, but if they meet the Cavs in the Finals, the odds will be more like 2/7. Golden State is going to be 1/8 or 1/9 against the Rockets or Spurs in the West Finals. If at any point you want to buy back a small amount of their opponent, that’s no problem.
On the flip side, Cleveland’s odds aren’t moving. They are 16/5 to repeat as champs now, and are projected to be just over 3/1 if they advance to the NBA Finals. In other words, the Cavs odds are maxed out. They have been as good as they can be up to this point in the playoffs, and there isn’t much room to bend on price. They will be in the range of 3/1 so long as they continue to win.
If you have doubts about the Warriors beating the Spurs or Rockets, you should not bet on Golden State, and in fact you should put a few bucks on those big longshots. However, if you think the Warriors are going to the Finals, you should be on them now. In the unlikely event the Cavs falter, your odds on Golden State will have incredible value. If Cleveland meets Golden State, you will still have have bought a one-to-two number when the updated odds will be two-to-seven. Game theory is worthwhile when you look at long-term bets. The Warriors still offer some opportunity, but the value window is not going to be open much longer.