For perhaps the first time, both teams with home-court advantage in the NBA conference finals are series underdogs.
In the West, the Houston Rockets are plus 185 underdogs to the Golden State Warriors (minus 230). In the East, the Boston Celtics are plus 250 underdogs to the Cleveland Cavaliers (minus 310).
It’s unclear if the NBA has seen that scenario before, but baseball did in its League Championship Series in 2015, when the Kansas City Royals upset the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets upset the Chicago Cubs as home underdogs.
Professional sports bettor Erin Rynning expects both underdogs to prevail and derail a fourth consecutive NBA Finals matchup of the Warriors and Cavaliers.
“It’s simply not a foregone conclusion this year that it’s the Warriors vs. LeBron (James),” said Rynning (@ersports1, sportsmemo.com). “I think you can play both series dogs and end with a profit.”
Handicapper Doug Fitz also is backing the Celtics and Rockets.
“You just can’t pass up the value you’re getting in both of these series,” said Fitz (Systemplays.com). “Even if you split on these, you’re still going to make a profit.”
Celtics (+250) over Cavaliers, series
Before the playoffs started, Rynning recommended a futures bet on Boston at 20-1 to win the East. He likes the Celtics to beat Cleveland in seven games.
“At this point, you can’t discount the Celtics. Their young talent is that good and they have the better coach, defense and home court,” he said. “LeBron is ridiculous, yes, but this is still his worst supporting cast in recent memory and it will show in this series.”
Fitz, a Cleveland native, also gives Boston a huge coaching edge in Brad Stevens over Tyronn Lue and noted that the Celtics have the NBA’s best record against the spread (59-33-2, 64.1 percent) and are 7-0 at home in the playoffs.
On the flip side, the Cavaliers have the league’s worst ATS mark at 35-57-1 (38 percent).
“Cleveland’s (odds are) inflated a bit, just because we get so much LeBron money,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said.
Rockets (+185) over Warriors, series
Before the postseason, Rynning picked the Rockets to knock off the Warriors in what shapes up as the de facto NBA Finals. He likes Houston to upset Golden State in seven games.
“I’ve been on the Rockets all season, and I’m not quite ready to get off,” he said. “James Harden and Chris Paul possess the talent to play with the Warriors. Meanwhile, Clint Capela is the X factor with his defense and offense at the rim.
“The Warriors are going to have to raise their game a couple notches to beat the Rockets. Keep in mind they’ve faced much easier paths in recent years.”
The price is right for Fitz.
“The Rockets and the Warriors are pretty much evenly matched, so if you’re going to give me a good plus number on the team with the home-court advantage, I’ll take it,” he said.
Sherman also gives the edge to Houston.
“Houston’s got all the weapons,” he said. “They can challenge these guys.”
Golden State has the NBA’s third-worst spread record at 38-53-1 (41.8 percent).
NBA Finals no contest
Looking ahead to the NBA Finals, Sherman projects the Warriors to be minus 700 favorites over the Cavaliers (plus 500) and minus 1,100 favorites over the Celtics (plus 700).
“We still really don’t think whoever comes out of the East has much of a chance against whoever comes out of the West,” he said.