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NBA Finals betting guide provides preview, predictions

The stage is set for an entertaining showdown in the NBA Finals. The Sporting Tribune’s Danny Burke previews the matchup from the betting angles.

Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown versus Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving: Who’s your NBA Finals pick?

Several sportsbooks opened the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics as a -210 favorite, with the Western Conference titleist Dallas Mavericks listed at +180.

Let’s take a look at how these organizations reached this point, their previous encounters and playoff history.

How they got here

The Celtics entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed, defeating the Miami Heat in five games, the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games and sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. 

The Mavericks, seeded No. 5, took down the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games each and overcame the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games during the Western Conference finals. 

Prior meetings

During the regular season, these teams clashed twice:

Jan. 22: Boston triumphed at Dallas, 119-110. Jayson Tatum led both teams with 39 points and 11 rebounds while Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 33. 

March 1: The Celtics inflicted further damage at home, securing a 138-110 victory. Tatum led the Celtics with 32 points while Doncic was the top scorer with 37 points.

Recent playoff experience

This will be Boston’s second trip to the Finals in three years, having lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games in 2021-2022.

Dallas returns to the championship stage after 13 years. Their last trip resulted in a 4-2 victory over the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. 

The matchup

The NBA playoffs bring a different intensity compared to the regular season. The competitive fire, the officiating and the enthusiasm within the crowd is night and day. 

Understanding the differences in a team’s playing style is crucial. Here are the biggest deviations both teams have displayed between the two seasons:

While the Celtics have maintained consistency offensively, the Mavericks have taken 3% more shot attempts from mid-range and 4% less from three-point, according to cleaningtheglass.com. 

Defensively, Boston has allowed opponents to make 70.6% of their shots at the rim during the playoffs in comparison to 63.6% during season play. Plus, their opponents are taking almost 4% more of their shots from mid-range and making almost 3% more from that territory. 

Dallas has improved on the defensive front throughout this postseason. Their opponent effective field-goal percentage has decreased from 55% to 51.4% and they are now limiting makes at the rim to 59.4% as opposed to over 67% during the regular season. 

This is important to note when wagering on player props. Guys like Irving and Doncic are expected to score and are taking a majority of their looks from mid-range, but often there is a lack of value in their betting markets. 

Rather, there is some intrigue in big-men Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively. Cleaningtheglass.com reveals that the Celtics have allowed their opposition to make over 70.6% of their attempts at the rim and 3% more (45%) from mid-range.

Lively is shooting 91% of his shots at the rim and 9% from mid. Gafford releases 82% near the bucket and 18% from the mid-range region. There are players worth monitoring on a game-to-game basis. 

For Game 1, taking a wager on Gafford over 8.5 points (+102) appears viable.

He’s averaging 9.2 points this postseason and has eclipsed this prop mark in 10/17 games. 

In the Celtics’ past three series, opposing players who took the most shots at the rim on their respective teams averaged double-digit scoring:

(MIA) Jamie Jaquez Jr. – 12.8 ppg

(CLE) Evan Mobley – 21.4 ppg 

(IND) Obi Toppin – 10.5 ppg 

Gafford will be able to create quality scoring opportunities in this given matchup.

Who are some guys that may cause some trepidation in terms of betting their points props to the over on the side of Boston?

Considering that the Mavs have thrived at protecting the rim during the playoffs, one could ponder fading Al Horford. A majority of his looks do come beyond the perimeter — where he’s taking 60%, and the next highest range occurs at the rim where 25% of his shots are released.

Dallas has limited opponents to shooting 36% from three-point land, a 1.5% decrease from the regular season. There is reason to believe the veteran center could struggle. 

Also, let’s not neglect Kristaps Porzingis. His availability is still unknown and coach Joe Mazzulla has given no indication as to whether he’ll be ready or not for Game 1. 

Porzingis takes 32% of his attempts near the rim and 34% from 3-point range. Plus, if he does return — it will more than likely be an uphill battle — he will have an adjustment period, which will prohibit his typical offensive tendencies. 

The series bet

The expectation is that this will be a back and forth battle. In that case, the best wager to make is a bet on the series to go over 5.5 total games played. 

Originally the cheapest odds were listed at -145, which was offered toward the end of last week. Currently the best price is -150. A play on this wager is recommended up until the price reaches -160.

The home court advantage will bode well for the Celtics in the long run. However, the Mavericks have fared well on the road this postseason, going 7-3. And both of Boston’s losses during their playoff run have occurred on their home floor. 

It should be no surprise if a split happens at both the TD Garden and the American Airlines Center. 

If that happens, then our bet cashes. 

The Mavs have improved throughout tournament play and will match up well with their upcoming opponent. And that upcoming group has shown signs of vulnerabilities — which Doncic and company can easily expose in a pair of games. 

Finally, for those eyeing the plus money on Dallas to win the series, waiting until after Game 1 might be the more lucrative route. 

The consensus price is around +180 and they are currently catching around +6.5 points in Game 1. If they are going to fall victim in one of the first two spots, more likely than not it will be in that first meeting. 

If that’s the case, then you’ll get a much better price on the underdog afterwards and you can still feel conviction in their ability to compete despite dropping the opener for the reasons previously stated.

Plays:

Celtics / Mavericks series total games over 5.5 (-150); risk 3.00 units to win 2.00

Daniel Gafford over 8.5 points (+102); risk 1.00 unit to win 1.02