This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
The NBA is still on hold indefinitely, but hope remains that the 2019-20 season will eventually resume in some form or fashion.
While the four-round, seven-game-series format may be unlikely given the increasingly complicated time constraints, the league appears committed to finding a resolution – even if that means getting creative.
Commissioner Adam Silver has remained open to tweaking the format to accommodate the unique conditions. Regardless, any move to resume games within the next few months would "almost 100 percent" mean playing a significant chunk – if not all – postseason games without fans, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
"If the NBA comes back, at least in the short term, it's going to be in empty arenas, or even empty aircraft hangars where they put down a court," Windhorst said. "And it's probably going to be in a centralized location, where the players can be sequestered."
Per Marc Berman of the New York Post, the league may look to arrange a single-site, 16-team playoff with no fans, which would be preceded by a five-to-seven game "finish" to the regular season. Berman notes that a single-elimination tournament is unlikely, but the league could pivot to a reduced, best-of-three format.
The obvious destination for a one-site event is UNLV in Las Vegas, which has hosted recent summer leagues with all 30 clubs. Hotels are plentiful. One destination reportedly discussed was the Bahamas. According to an NBA source, there's also been internal talks about Orlando, Atlantic City, Hawaii and Louisville hosting the playoffs.
It's important to note that the league continues to play things by ear, and nothing is set in stone at this point. But if/when the NBA resumes play, the postseason is almost guaranteed to look quite a bit different than what we've come to expect.
Round 1 Odds Released
While we play the waiting game, the folks in Las Vegas have released odds for the prospective first-round series, assuming the standings lock and play resumes with the regular postseason format.
Unsurprisingly, the two one-seeds in each conference (Milwaukee, LA Lakers) are massive favorites in Round 1. The two-seeds – the Raptors and Clippers – are also heavy favorites, though things do get interesting in the 3-6 matchups.
Boston and Philadelphia opens as at even odds (-110), while Denver (-125) is a slight favorite over Houston (+105).
Currently, the Celtics hold a 4.5-game advantage over the Sixers, but there's a case to be made that the extended layoff could benefit Philadelphia more than any other playoff team. Both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were banged up before the league suspended play, and Simmons, in particular, looked to be dealing with an injury that may have carried into the postseason. The Sixers haven't said much about Simmons' back injury since the stoppage, but if play is to resume in June or July, he'll likely be much closer to full strength.
Here's a look at the numbers from each book:
|LA Lakers: +250||Milwaukee: +250|
|LA Clippers: +333||Houston: +1300|
|Toronto: +1800||Boston: +2000|
|Miami: +2000||Philadelphia: +2200|
|Denver: +3000||Utah: +3000|
|Dallas: +4000||Brooklyn: +6600|
|Oklahoma City: +8000||Indiana: +10000|
|Memphis: +20000||New Orleans: +20000|
|Milwaukee: +240||LA Lakers: +270|
|LA Clippers: +340||Houston: +1200|
|Boston: +2000||Toronto: +2400|
|Utah: +2400||Denver: +2500|
|Miami: +2700||Philadelphia: +2700|
|Dallas: +3600||Brooklyn: +6000|
|Indiana: +10000||Oklahoma City: +11000|
|Memphis: +21000||New Orleans: +21000|
At a glance, nothing too surprising. DraftKings pits the Lakers and Milwaukee at identical +250 odds, while FanDuel still gives a slight edge to the Bucks, despite the Lakers winning their nationally televised rematch less than a week before the league shut down.
I still believe strongly that one of the Lakers, Bucks or Clippers is winning the title, but the wrench the coronavirus has thrown into the season does add a certain element of variance. It'll be impossible to predict how a months-long hiatus impacts teams, players and coaches. Beyond that, with a seven-game format appearing relatively unlikely, the possibility of shorter series could reduce the advantage for higher-seeded teams. And with no fans in
arenas airplane hangars, home court advantage would essentially vanish – potentially a major coup for a team like the Clippers.
Still, outside of those top three, I struggle to find much value. I don't mind Denver at 30/1 or even Houston at 13/1, but if you're betting on any non-Los Angeles entity in the West, it means that team will likely have to beat both LA teams to reach the Finals. And even if that happens, they'd still have to win the Finals, which could very well mean beating a historically dominant Bucks team.
Dominant as Milwaukee may be, I still think the true value plays lie in the East. Philadelphia at 27/1 is certainly appealing, even if the Sixers have given bettors little to no reason to trust them this season. But the bulk of Philly's struggles have come on the road, a disadvantage that will, in all likelihood, be mitigated in whatever the playoff format comes to be.
Boston (20/1) and Toronto (24/1) are also reasonable plays. The Celtics are more talented and have the higher ceiling, but given the current standings, they have a greater chance to be upset in Round 1. Toronto should breeze past the Nets, which would then mean a meeting with either Boston or Philadelphia in Round 2. Pushing off the Bucks until the Conference Finals is nice, but realistically, if you're wagering on any of these three teams, pick the one you feel is best constructed to beat Milwaukee.
In terms of the teams with longer odds, the NBA historically doesn't reward betting on lower seeds. Maybe an expeditious format lays the foundation for an upset or two early on, but I don't see much value in any of the longshots. Dallas at 40/1 is borderline-interesting, but drawing the Clippers in Round 1 is a virtual death sentence.
One final note: If you're wondering where the Magic's odds are, they are, in fact, available. DraftKings has Orlando at +30000, while FanDuel is a bet more generous at +25000. Any time you can put money a team that's locked into a playoff spot but has worse odds than three teams (NOR, POR, SAN) that won't make the playoffs, you have to consider it.