NBA Betting Playoff Preview: Can The Mavs Survive Without Luka Doncic?

Spencer Dinwiddie #26 of the Dallas Mavericks calls out a play during the second half of the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on April 03, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Image Credit: John Fisher/Getty Images

Welcome back to the NBA Betting Dime. If you’re new here, welcome! This is a safe space that combines some of the things that make basketball and NBA betting so special. You can expect to find some analytical deep dives into NBA betting, social media clips, gambling information, and maybe some pop culture references sprinkled in.

This week’s edition will be betting-heavy, including picks for all six of the currently confirmed first-round playoff series. I’ll also take a look at why the Celtics’ fans should just forgive Kyrie Irving already, crown the Dunk of the Year champion, and break down why Patrick Beverley’s celebration was not too over the top.

Let’s dive right in.

1. Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets

ayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics
Image Credit: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

This is the series I’m most excited about, and I’m sure that’s true for most of you as well. There’s plenty of bad blood between these sides, but more importantly, it’s a match between two really good basketball teams.

The Celtics have had a phenomenal season, and they were one of my favorites to win the Eastern Conference before the injury to Robert Williams. It remains to be seen if Williams can return at some point during the postseason, but it almost certainly won’t happen in the first round. The Celtics’ success is built on the back of their elite defense, and Williams was a huge part of that success.

However, the Celtics have still posted a Net Rating of +5.2 with Williams off the floor this season. However, they went just 1-3 vs. Eastern Conference playoff foes over their final seven games without Williams, losing to the Raptors, Heat, and Bucks.

On the other side, the Nets are the biggest wild card in recent postseason memory. Their metrics this season leave a lot to be desired, but the talent on this team is scary. They put that on display during their play-in victory over the Cavaliers, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant scoring 59 points on 67.7 percent shooting.

The defense remains a major question mark, but it’s possible that Ben Simmons will join the rotation at some point during the playoffs. That could have an impact on their offensive numbers, but it’s hard to imagine a team with Irving and Durant struggling too much on that end of the floor.

The volatility of the Nets makes this a fascinating series in the betting market. The Nets have better odds to win the title than the Celtics (+600 vs. +800 on DraftKings Sportsbook) but the Celtics are -130 favorites to win the series.

Ultimately, the big question is just how much you trust the numbers. 538 has the Celtics as the best team in basketball – even without Williams – while other projection systems have the Celtics as big favorites to advance.

I’m going to side with the numbers. Even with Durant and Irving going off vs. the Cavaliers, they still managed just 115 points in a seven-point home win. The NBA is a star-driven league, but the Nets have virtually nothing behind their top two guys. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown aren’t quite as good of a duo, but the Celtics are a more complete team. The fact that the Celtics have home court in a potential Game 7 could also be big: The Celtics were 28-13 at home this season.

2. Kyrie vs. Lucky

The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Irving committed what was considered a felony assault in Boston:

Of all the beefs in NBA history, this one has to be the stupidest.

I get why Celtics fans hate Irving. The team traded a beloved player in Isaiah Thomas for him, only for Irving to turn his back on the team two years later. If he had stayed and found a way to gel with Tatum and Brown, the Celtics would arguably be the title favorites.

But getting mad that he stepped on “Lucky’s” face? Makes no sense to me.

Lucky’s face is quite literally plastered in the middle of the court. If you wanted to make sure no one stepped on it, maybe put it somewhere where he’s not getting trampled hundreds of times a game. Kyrie’s footprint was a love tap compared to the beating Lucky takes during a regular contest.

It’s time to bury the hatchet. The Celtics are still a really good basketball team, so their fans don’t need this level of animosity. I say all the fans show up about an hour early for a good ole’ fashioned sage burning to cleanse the air:

3. Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets

Austin Rivers #25 of the Denver Nuggets
Image Credit: Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Warriors got off to a torrid start this season. They jumped out to an 18-2 record through their first 20 games. They were merely solid from that point on, going 35-27 over their final 62 contests.

However, we have barely scratched the surface of what the Warriors are capable of. Steph Curry missed 18 games this season. Draymond Green missed 36, and Klay Thompson missed 50. Overall, the Warriors’ “Big Three” has shared the court for just four total minutes.

Curry and Green have played a bit more together – they’ve logged 783 minutes – and the team has been a buzzsaw in that situation. They’ve averaged 115.3 points per 100 possessions on offense while allowing just 101.5 points per 100 possessions on defense. That’s good for a Net Rating of +13.8.

With that in mind, the Warriors seem like an excellent buy-low target. Curry, Green, and Thompson shouldn’t need much time to gel given their extensive history, and that trio figures to play a whole lot more during the postseason.

Speaking of Curry, he’s on track to suit up in Game 1 of this series after missing the final 12 games of the regular season. Head coach Steve Kerr said he would likely be limited to below 30 minutes, but that’s still a huge plus for this squad. Steph can do plenty of damage in less than 30 minutes, and he figures to be a full go by the end of the series.

On the other side, there was some hope that the Nuggets would have some reinforcements coming during the playoffs. Unfortunately, Michael Porter Jr. is “unlikely” to return during the postseason per Shams Charania, while Jamal Murray will miss at least the start of the Warriors series. Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly left the door open for Murray to join the team mid-series, but he would likely still be heavily limited in that scenario.

That’s unfortunate. Nikola Jokic has been arguably the best player in the league this season, and he’s kept the Nuggets afloat in most games. However, the team has been outscored by a whopping -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Jokic is off the floor. Unless Jokic is going to play 48 minutes a night vs. the Warriors, this team is going to lose the battle every time he sits.

Ultimately, the Warriors seem like a steal at -250 for the series with Curry available for Game 1.  My favorite wager is Warriors -1.5 at even money on FanDuel Sportsbook. We obviously have to lay significantly less juice with that figure, and we win this bet as long as the Warriors win in less than seven games.

4. Dunk of the Year

With the regular season in the books, it’s time to crown our “Dunk of the Year” champion. I’ve looked back and crunched the numbers, studied the footage, and consulted with my expert sources. This year’s champion: Russell Westbrook:

Westbrook had a dreadful season, and the front office is likely trying to figure out how to dump his salary at this very moment. However, Westbrook is still capable of doing things that make your jaw drop. Those moments are fewer and far between these days, but his athleticism is still evident.

Keep in mind that Westbrook checks in at 6’3”. That’s not super short by NBA player standards, but it’s definitely not tall. Still, Westbrook attacks the rim with a ferocity that is nearly unmatched by his peers. If he gets in the lane, he’s going to try to dunk on you no matter who you are.

That includes Rudy Gobert. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best rim protectors in basketball was helpless as Westbrook powered right through him.

That level of competition is ultimately what earned Westbrook the victory in my eyes. Well, that and the fact that Lakers fans need something to feel good about right now.

Overall, I’d give this season a solid B+ from a dunking perspective. There was solid depth, especially with rookie Jalen Green dropping a few highlight-reel dunks every time he suited up, but the number of truly mind-boggling dunks was limited. Some of the other top contenders for Dunk of the Year:

Like I said, very solid. For the record, DeAndre Jordan’s absolute piledriver on Brandon Knight remains the best in-game dunk from the past decade:

That’s a 10. If you include the stank face at the end, that’s closer to an 11. I put Westbrook’s dunk at a solid 9.75. Maybe someone can dethrone DeAndre next year.

5. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors

Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors
Image Credit: Mark Blinch/Getty Images

If not for Celtics-Nets, this would be the most exciting first-round series. In one corner you have the 76ers, who swung for the fences by acquiring James Harden before the trade deadline. However, it remains to be seen if that deal will pay dividends.

Harden got off to a great start with his new squad. However, his play declined noticeably down the stretch. He ultimately finished his 21 games with the 76ers shooting just 40.2% from the field and 32.6% from 3-point range. That’s pretty terrible from an efficiency standpoint. Overall, his effective field goal percentage of .483 with the 76ers would be his worst the worst full-season mark of his career.

Harden doesn’t have to be a No. 1 scorer for the 76ers – Joel Embiid has that department covered – but he does have to help ease his burden. I’m not sure if he can do that anymore.

In the other corner stands the Raptors. They were just 14-16 after their first 30 games this season, but they would go 34-18 over their final 52. They would finish the year 12th in Net Rating, and their mark of +2.2 checked in just behind the 76ers’ mark of +2.8.

However, it’s fair to wonder if this team has any room for growth during the playoffs. Nick Nurse pushed his players super hard down the stretch, playing guys like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes upwards of 40 minutes per night. Siakam and VanVleet finished the regular season in the top two spots in terms of minutes per game, while Barnes checked in at ninth. Even Tom Thibodeau is like “eh that might be a bit much.”

It seems unlikely that VanVleet and Siakam can play all that much more during the postseason. The minutes have already started to catch up to VanVleet, who missed time over the final two months with knee issues.

The big x-factor here is COVID-19. The Raptors get a very legitimate home-court advantage in Toronto, which does not allow unvaccinated players to suit up. That means the 76ers will be without Matisse Thybulle for all their road contests in this series.

That’s a big deal. Thybulle is a force on the defensive end, and he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The 76ers have allowed -3.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Thybulle on the floor this season, and their opponents have seen a -1.6% drop in effective field goal percentage.

I think the Raptors have a good chance to win this series, so I’ll roll the dice with them at +150. Scratch that, you can actually find the Raptors at +165 on BetMGM. Always shop for the best price!

Yes, I’m fading that chalky $62k wager on the Sixers, as noted above.

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6. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Chicago Bulls

Milwaukee Bucks guard Wesley Matthews
Image Credit: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m not going to waste a lot of ink on this series because it’s a massive mismatch. The Bulls were a nice story at the start of the year, but they’re about to face a serious step up in weight class.

The Bucks may be the No. 3 seed in the East, but they’re now the betting favorites to win the conference. As I’ve written previously, the Bucks are prime candidates to make a massive leap during the postseason. No team asks less of their stars during the year, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton all averaging between 32.4 and 32.9 minutes per game. All three of those guys should see significant boosts in playing time during the playoffs. This is obviously great for the team’s outlook.

The three-man combo of Giannis, Middleton, and Holiday outscored opponents by an average of +11.8 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. With those three players playing closer to 40 minutes per game, it’s going to take a lot to knock them off their throne. Someone might be able to do it, but it’s not going to be the Bulls.

From a betting perspective, I’m looking to the exact series scores for value. You can grab the Bucks to win in five games at +190 and the Bucks to sweep at +255. If you grab both outcomes, you’ll turn a profit in either result. That makes more sense than taking the Bucks -2.5 games at -170.

I’m looking at FanDuel Sportsbook for this wager.

7. Dallas Mavericks vs. Utah Jazz

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against Reggie Bullock #25
Image Credit: Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The Mavericks have home-court advantage in this series, but the Jazz is a pretty substantial favorite. DraftKings lists the Jazz at -300 to win the series while the  Mavs are available at +230.

Of course, the big question mark in this series involves Luka Doncic. The Mavs’ superstar suffered a calf strain late in the year, and he is not expected to play in Game 1.

Doncic got off to a slow start this year. Although he was arguably the MVP of the second half of the season. The Mavs went 36-11 over their final 47 games, and they outscored their opponents by an average of +5.6 points per 100 possessions in those contests. Doncic was obviously a huge part of their success, averaging 29.8 points, 9.7 boards, and 8.9 assists per game.

That said, calling the Mavericks a one-man show is simply not accurate. They are not the Nuggets, who seemingly can’t tie their shoes if Jokic doesn’t do it for them. In fact, the Mavericks’ Net Rating has actually increased with Doncic off the floor this season. They’re far less efficient on the offensive end with Doncic sitting, but they make up for it with superior defensive numbers. On-Off numbers can be a bit misleading, but that passes the eye test.

Still, the Mavericks were just 8-9 without their best player this season, and that number would’ve been worse if not for late-season wins over the Rockets and Kings. They’re merely 1-6 without Doncic against playoff opponents, including a four-point loss to the Jazz.

Meanwhile, the Jazz has quietly had another stellar season. They rank third in the league in Net Rating, trailing only the Suns and Celtics in that department. That makes their record a bit deceiving.

Overall, I’m a bit conflicted in this spot. I do think the Mavs are probably a bit undervalued given the uncertainty surrounding Doncic, who could be back as early as Game 2. However, I also think the Jazz are a bit undervalued.

I think my favorite wager in this series is Mavericks +2.5 games at -158. That’s some significant juice, but we win our wager as long as the Mavericks don’t lose in less than six games. The current odds imply that the Mavs have just a 61.2 percent chance of making that happen, but I think the odds are much greater.

Looking to tail this bet? You can find this line (and other NBA betting series props) at Caesars Sportsbook.

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8. Chris Paul Is Better Than You Think

CP3 will go down as one of the greatest point guards in basketball history, but he still might be underrated. He doesn’t have a ring – at least not yet – but he simply makes every team he plays for better. Of the 30 squads currently in the league, four have posted their most wins ever with Paul on the roster:

That’s unbelievable. Yes, Paul has played for a lot of teams, but that is still such a testament to his greatness. He can fit in any situation and instantly take a team to a new level.

Devin Booker has gotten most of the credit for the Suns this season, which is fair since Paul missed a chunk of games. However, I have no doubts that Paul is still their most important player. The team increases their Net Rating by +5.8 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the court, which trails only Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mikal Bridges. While Booker is their best offensive player – they average +9.1 additional points per 100 possessions with Booker on the floor – he’s still a liability defensively. Even at 36 years old, Paul is still a force on both ends.

The fact that some will downplay his greatness if he doesn’t win a ring is a travesty. Magic Johnson is the only point guard definitively above CP3 in the NBA’s hierarchy, and he was much more blessed athletically.

Fortunately, Paul has a chance to silence all the critics once and for all. The Suns are pretty sizable favorites to represent the West in the Finals, and they will be favored over whoever comes out of the East. Paul has had some horrendous injury luck during the postseason, but if he stays healthy, this feels like the year he finally gets the praise he deserves.

9. Memphis Grizzlies vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against Karl-Anthony Towns #32
Image Credit: Justin Ford/Getty Images

This matchup features a battle between two up-and-coming young squads who should hopefully be around for years to come. The Grizzlies massively exceeded expectations this season, finishing with 56 wins despite a preseason over/under of 41.5. The Timberwolves also beat their preseason win total of 35.5 by double digits.

However, the expectations for these teams are completely different in the playoffs. The Grizzlies are expected to contend for the conference championship – their +475 odds to win the West trail only the Suns and Warriors – while the Timberwolves just seem happy to have made it.

Ja Morant has gotten most of the credit for the Grizzlies’ turnaround, and he’s had a phenomenal season. He was voted in as an All-Star starter in just his third season, and he averaged 27.4 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. Morant was also far more efficient from the field this season, posting a career-best .530 effective field goal percentage.

However, the Grizzlies’ supporting cast hasn’t gotten nearly enough love. The team went 20-5 in games without Morant, and they have some marquee wins in that situation. They beat the Warriors, Suns, and Bucks with Morant sidelined, so they’re far from a one-man show.

The Timberwolves got off to a much slower start than the Grizzlies. Although they played well over the second half of the year. It wasn’t enough to earn a guaranteed playoff spot, but they ranked fourth in Net Rating following the All-Star break.

They have a solid roster featuring a core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell. I’m not sure if that trio is quite ready for primetime, but their play-in win vs. the Clippers was a clear positive. Towns fouled out and had a dismal performance, but Edwards and Russell proved capable of picking up the slack. That duo combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter, which was enough to erase a six-point deficit heading into the final frame.

I was hoping that the Timberwolves would have longer odds in this series, but I think they can hang with the Grizzlies. I’m cool with grabbing Minnesota at +1.5 games for anything better than even money, so +106 on FanDuel Sportsbook looks appealing.

10. Leave Patrick Beverley Alone

If you missed the Timberwolves’ win over the Clippers, it was quite emotional for Beverley. They traded him to the Grizzlies for Eric Bledsoe, and the Grizzlies immediately flipped him for Jarrett Culver and Juan Hernangomez.

Beverley plays with a massive chip on his shoulder. That’s how he was able to earn his spot in the NBA, and that’s why he’s been able to stay relevant for a decade. Some folks may not like his style, but it’s what he’s had to do to survive.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he played like a man possessed in the team’s win over the Clippers. His impact didn’t necessarily show up on the box score, but his effort and intensity undoubtedly had an impact.

After the game, Beverley was emotional about beating the team that gave up on him:

Apparently, the folks at TNT felt this was too much for merely winning a play-in game:

I love the Inside the NBA crew. They’re not the most insightful basketball minds, but they are undoubtedly entertaining. However, this was a big miss.

This was one of the biggest wins in the history of the franchise. They’ve made the playoffs just one previous time since 2003-04. They’ve won one playoff series in franchise history. It’s hard to act like you’ve been there before if you’ve quite literally never been there.

So let them enjoy it, fellas! They deserve to celebrate, as do the fans of this historically downtrodden organization. Not everything has to be about rings. Fans have become so desensitized to the “Championship or Bust” mentality that little things like the Timberwolves getting over the hump get marginalized. We shouldn’t take that success for granted. As a Knicks fan, I know the good times can end just when you think they’re beginning.