The theme-park surrounds of the NBA bubble are a most appropriate venue for what has certainly been a roller-coaster ride of a postseason. The conference semifinals have so far seen one of the title favourites – Milwaukee – bundled out unceremoniously, while the Los Angeles teams – the Clippers and the Lakers – are close to moving through.
Yes, there has been no shortage of drama in the NBA bubble, even without the crowd support and the home-court advantages conferred to higher-seeded teams. Arguably, the games have been more dramatic precisely for those reasons. The first round of the playoffs was highlighted by buzzer beaters, phenomenal individual scoring and a temporary halt to protest yet another police shooting in America.
Lebron James, the game’s best-known player, has rediscovered his imperious form, while the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo may have to console himself with the MVP award (for which he’s heavily favored to win), now that he’s been relegated to the sidelines.
With the Eastern and Western Conference finals beckoning, it’s appropriate for us at Cloudbet to take stock of the big market moves over the past week.
Miami heats up
Title odds: 4.88/+388 (from 8/+700 on 4 September)
The Heat are the hot team at the moment after sweeping Indiana in the first round and rolling over the Bucks in five games. Miami cornerstone Jimmy Butler is playing close to his All-Star best, backed by strong performances Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, among others.
This is a line-up that outgunned Indiana and Milwaukee by an average margin of 8 points per match, and includes Duncan Robinson, who is fifth in the league for made 3-pointers this season. They’re now heading to their first Eastern Conference finals since 2014, but Butler is focused on bigger things:
Making the conference finals “means a lot, but that’s not my goal,” the All-Star swingman told reporters after closing out the Bucks series. “We want to win it. We want a championship and I think that’s what we’re focused on.”
Butler, who is currently in the deepest playoff run of his eight-year career, indicated that the Heat haven’t played their best basketball yet: “I don’t think we’ve played a full 48-minute game yet and that’s what’s promising. If we do lock in from start to finish and play the way that we’re capable and the way that we’re supposed to, the game will be a lot easier. But it’s yet to happen and we’ve got to have it happen in the next round.”
An ominous signal for their next opponent, the winner of the Toronto-Boston semifinal.
We the West
Los Angeles Clippers title odds: 2.76/+176 (from 3.14/214)
Los Angeles Lakers title odds:2.96/+196 (from 3.54/254)
While not a massive improvement in their lines, it’s worth just talking about the two LAs because of their star-studded line-ups, and because they’re inching closer to facing each other in the Western Conference finals. Both units are leading all current playoff teams in points per game and field-goal percentage.
The Clippers were efficient in dispatching Dallas in the first round, even through injury and Covid-related personnel issues, and now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead over Denver. Kawhi Leonard is the joint second-highest scorer of all players left in the playoffs (with the Lakers’ Anthony Davis), and the Clippers have averaged more points than any other unit in the postseason.
They’ve been boosted by the return of guard Patrick Beverley from a calf injury, and some solid scoring efforts from their other superstar Paul George. Markets favor the Clippers to end the Nuggets series in Game 5 (1.25/-405).
Meanwhile, after early bubble yips, the Lakers have rediscovered their offense in the playoffs, averaging 114 points per game. That’s a big improvement over the 106 they had in their eight regular season contests in the bubble.
GOAT contender Lebron James has lifted his game, as he has done frequently in his career: He’s currently the playoffs’ assists leader, with 9 dimes per game, and the league’s fourth-highest scorer this month. The Lakers have been boosted by Rajon Rondo, who has taken some of the playmaking burden off James’ shoulders.
The Lakers are 3-1 up against a Houston Rockets team that can also score by the truckload, but are coming off a seven-game series against Oklahoma City. Rocket guard Russell Westbrook has shown some flashes of brilliance, but has been struggling with form and a thigh injury.
The Lakers’ latest victory over the Rockets is James’ 163rd playoff win – the most by any player in NBA history.
“It doesn’t happen without the supporting cast,” James said of his playoff record, after winning Game 3 against Houston. The same is certainly true of winning a championship this year, and based on their recent form, the Lakers are looking good on that front.
We the… North?
Boston title odds: 8.03/+703 (from 7.09/+609)
Toronto title odds: 9.95/+895 (from 13/+1200)
The Celtics replace Milwaukee as favorites to take the Eastern Conference title after sweeping Philadelphia in the first round and winning the first two games over the Toronto Raptors. Since then, Boston’s line has drifted as they dropped three of the last four games to a Raptor unit that continues to defy expectations.
Jayson Tatum has been a stud for the Celtics in the playoffs, leading his team with 27 points per game, with support from Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. The Raps, however, found a way to contain Walker in Game 6, a double-overtime thriller destined for the pantheon of classic NBA match-ups.
Defending champions Toronto, meanwhile, refuse to go quietly into the night, thanks to gutsy performances from guards Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet. This is a team that had the second-most regular season wins in the league this year, even without Kawhi Leonard, who left for the Clippers after last year’s title run.
The Raps have now leveled the series with the much more talented and fancied Celtics – and are looking to go one step further.
“Winning is all that matters right now,” a determined Lowry said after scoring 33 points in Game 6. “Just go and win, it don’t matter how you get it done, don’t matter who gets to do it.”
Truer words rarely spoken.
Results and odds are current as of 8am UTC on Friday 11 September.