NBA Coast-to-Coast (5/10/18)

By Frank Brank
NBA Coast-to-Coast breaks down trends in play and interesting tidbits in the NBA as they relate to team rankings, sports betting, and overall style of play. We may cover anything from recent trends in line movement to coaching rotations that may affect the outcome of games.

This week, we'll look at Conference Finals series odds for the remaining four teams.

The Cavaliers and Celtics, despite their struggles and injuries, have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. On the back of LeBron James, the Cavs have earned the opportunity to travel to Boston for a chance at another NBA Finals. Make no mistake, this Cleveland team is unlike any previous LeBron James-led team in that the supporting cast is quite a bit below average. It hasn't stopped James, though, who may be getting better at this point in his career.

He'll have to go up against arguably the best coach in the NBA, Brad Stevens. One could have made the case that the Celtics were one of the worst teams to make the playoffs after their injury-plagued season. Nonetheless, they easily handled the 76ers who were, on paper, much better than Boston. From the same standards, sportsbooks and bettors seem to think the Cavaliers are about on par with the Sixers.

Cleveland has started out as a small favorite, at most books, against the Celtics at home. This would translate to about a seven-point favorite once the Cavs travel back to Cleveland next week. Given those odds, Cleveland's odds of making the Finals translates to about 70%, according to most sportsbooks. Those are sizeable odds considering Boston's home court advantage.

In game one, the Cavs are currently small favorites; however, our model prefers the Celtics as small favorites by a similar margin as they were against Philadelphia in the final game. As a reminder, the 76ers were two or three point favorites on the road against the Celtics to start their series, as well.

From our game by game odds, we project the Celtics to win 54.3% of their home games and just 29.9% of their away games. Thus, the Cavs may be underdogs on the road by our numbers, but are large favorites at home. Even though they are promised less games at home than the Celtics, they still have a decent-sized chance of taking the series. At just 36.4% odds (+175), the Celtics chances are small, but tangible. Again, these were about the same odds they were given against the Sixers. Hence, we do like the Cavs to move on to the next round, but we expect them to win this series 63.6% of the time, not 70% of the time.

The Warriors and Rockets, as expected, faced little opposition to Western Conference Finals as each won eight of their ten games with most by large margins. Steph Curry returned last round for the Warriors and quickly showed why he's the team's best player. Chris Paul will likely draw the impossible task of slowing down Curry throughout this series. One could argue this is the matchup to watch considering Paul's incredible defense and Curry's ability to make nearly every defender look pedestrian.

James Harden, at times, will be staring at his former teammate and improved defender, Kevin Durant, with the majority of his possessions being left up to Klay Thompson. Defending the Rockets seems to be an impossible task. In fact, Houston was 42-3 during the regular season when Paul, Harden, and Capela were starting and healthy. Combined with an 8-2 postseason record, the three have boosted Houston to an absurd 50-5 record. There's no reason this team shouldn't be considered to have one of the best threesomes in the sport.

Regardless, sportsbooks had opened the Rockets as small favorites before bettors moved the line heavily in Golden State's favor. The Warriors are currently around 63% favorites against the Rockets, even without home court advantage. Those odds are nearly unprecedented considering the Rockets clearly had the better regular season and have not struggled, by any means, during the playoffs while playing somewhat tougher competition in said playoffs. For reference, our model prefers the Rockets as four-point favorites at home while being four-point underdogs on the road. Hence, our model suggests these teams are about equal when playing at full strength. The only method in which we'd arrive at the Warriors being sizeable favorites in this series is to throw out the statistics from this season and simply rely on preseason projections.

In each team's home game, we project them to win 61.9% of the time. Thus, the only advantage for the Rockets in this series is going to be the extra game they'd be rewarded at home if the series gets to seven games. Thus, we'd expect Houston to win this series 53.9% (-117) of the time. The Rockets, historically, have worse players, but they've undoubtedly played better so far this season. That works out, in our model, to evaluate these teams as about equals. With home court advantage, the Rockets are slightly on the plus-side of the coin flip that is the NBA playoffs.