TST’s betting guide to second round of NBA playoffs

The Sporting Tribune's Danny Burke explains his betting process throughout the next stage of the NBA conference semifinals.

The NBA conference semifinals are officially underway. 

Before the start of NBA Round 1, I gave out my analysis and bets on several series props. Here is how we fared: 

Timberwolves to win the series (+116); Risk 2.00 units to win 2.32 Win

LAC/DAL series to end in 6 games (+200); Risk 1.00 unit to win 2.00 Win

LAC/DAL series to end in 7 games (+230); Risk 1.00 unit to win 2.30 Loss

Cavaliers -1.5 series spread (+130); Risk 1.00 unit to win 1.30 Loss

Overall we profited +2.32 units.

Below I’m sharing my handicapping strategy for each matchup in Round 2 – with the exception of Oklahoma City / Dallas. At the moment I don’t see much value and instead will approach that duel from a game-by-game standpoint. 

Aside from that, let’s get into my breakdowns of the other second-round battles. 

#2 New York Knicks vs #6 Indiana Pacers 

There will be basketball played at Madison Square Garden in the month of May. New York fans will be able to continue exuding that boisterous energy they not only paraded at home, but in the City of Brotherly Love when they overtook the Wells Fargo Center.

The Pacers are set to face a tougher challenge, having prevailed against the injury-plagued Bucks. Nonetheless, their six-game series victory deserves recognition.

Unsurprisingly, the Knicks are the favorite to advance past this series. What is a tad shocking, though, is just how big of a favorite they are. 

Most sportsbooks have New York listed around the price of -265, whereas Indiana can be found in the range of +200 to +225. 

I do believe the Knicks advance to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. With that being said – I will not be looking to place a wager on them.

Indiana is going to give them a run for their money. The Pacers present more depth and a much better offense than the 76ers featured. 

Coming into the playoffs, Indiana ranked second in both points per 100 possessions and effective field goal percentage, according to 

Defensively the Pacers are a liability. That will more than likely lead to their downfall, especially on the road. 

But because of their offensive success and available depth – they will be able to capture a couple of games. 

Indiana’s bench produced the best offensive rating throughout the NBA regular season. New York’s finished 24th. 

Players like T.J. McConnell and Obi Toppin played huge roles for the Pacers against the Bucks. In that series, McConnell averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 assists and Toppin provided 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. 

Conversely, their upcoming opponent puts the weight of the world on one man’s shoulders. That being Jalen Brunson. 

He’s an outstanding player and is clearly talented enough to win a series, but at some point that will lead to his team faltering. 

Against Philadelphia, toward the latter stages of the fourth quarter, New York relied excessively on Brunson, resulting in a pair of losses and unnecessarily close games.

They cannot afford to continue this trend, yet they will. Their roster lacks depth beyond the starting five, with few reliable scoring options apart from their left-handed sharpshooter.

I am seeking a bet on the Pacers to cover +2.5 games on the series spread. Indiana has to either win the series outright, or lose in 6 or 7 games in order for the bet to cash.

The issue is that the cheapest price I’ve seen on this wager is -190. That’s too steep to invest in right now. 

Instead, what I’m going to do is wait until after Game 1. The Knicks are six-point favorites in that first meeting, and I believe they will come out on top. 

If that scenario unfolds, with New York leading 1-0 in the series and another home game to follow, the odds on this play will likely change sufficiently to make the bet more affordable.

If the price dips to -150 or better, I will be making a play on it. I will tweet it out (@dannyburke5) officially once I have placed it. 

Pending Play: Pacers series spread +2.5 games 

#1 Boston Celtics vs #4 Cleveland Cavaliers 

You may have missed it, considering the game was slotted at 10 a.m. on Sunday afternoon, but the Cleveland Cavaliers did advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs after defeating the Orlando Magic 106-94 in Game 7. 

With Jarrett Allen absent yet again, and practically no one else around to help, the Cavs fought to live another day on the back of Donovan Mitchell. 

Mitchell averaged 29 points in the series altogether, but 39 throughout the last three games.

As stellar as he performed against the youthful and inexperienced Orlando group, it’s very unlikely to persist against a formidable unit in Boston. 

I mean, sure, Mitchell can average 30-plus points, but that’s not going to result in any wins. 

The Celtics overpower them in so many facets, even without Kristaps Porzingis available. 

Boston can get by without their big man for this specific matchup. Their upcoming opponent, however, needs all the help they can get; and, truthfully, they don’t have all that much. 

If we look at each team’s net rating via their bench we can see that the Celtics ranks 1st and Cleveland comes in at 15th. 

The only reason the Cavs are even that high is because of their defensive abilities. They were a top-6 team in defensive eFG% heading into the playoffs and got solid effort from their bench players in that area, too. 

But, going against the top team in the East is a whole different story.

Boston finished the regular season ranked first in efficiency differential. They boast the top-ranked offense in terms of effective field goal percentage and defensively they are 2nd in that regard. 

The most points Cleveland racked up on Orlando was 106 – and that took them till the final game to accomplish that. It’s not appalling, though, considering they ranked 18th in points per 100 possessions this year. 

Not only do the Cavaliers fail to match up metrically, but also in terms of stability. 

This was evident during the season as well as the first round. Cleveland is as volatile of a bunch as they come. 

Against the Magic, in their four victorious meetings, they won by an average of 9.4 points. However, in their defeats they lost by an average of 22.7 ppg. 

It’s bound to be another roller coaster ride for them, but this time with fewer highs and plenty more lows.

I’m making a wager on the Celtics to cover the series spread of -2.5 games. This means they either have to sweep or win in five games. 

It’s not a cheap price to lay, but I have enough conviction on the favorite to make it worth it. 

Play: Boston -2.5 series spread (-170); 3.40 units to win 2.00

#2 Denver Nuggets vs #3 Minnesota Timberwolves

Obviously this series has already begun. Minnesota not only covered +4.5, but they secured the outright win (106-99). 

For the second meeting the consensus line appears to be -5.5 in favor of Denver. 

On my personal website I already dished out a play for this series:

DEN/MIN series to end in 6 games (+220); Risk 2.00 units to win 4.40

DEN/MIN series to end in 7 games (+250); Risk 2.00 units to win 5.00

But how should we assess this series going forward?

The Timberwolves winning the first game was great for any bets revolving around this series going long. The hope in making those types of wagers is for the underdog (Minnesota) to at least snag one game on the road. And the T’Wolves did exactly that in the Mile High City. 

Now the expectation is for the Nuggets to bounce back Monday night and I do believe that will come to fruition. Based on their nature of play this postseason, and the talent of their opponent, instead of laying the spread prior to tip-off, just wait until you get a better number on them in-game. That’s the approach I would suggest if you favor Denver.

Looking further down the road – the updated series prices feature the reigning champs anywhere from +100 to +110, and Minnesota is chartering between -125 to -135. 

I would completely understand anyone who says they are interested in betting the Nuggets, considering the price is plus money and they’re still considered the better team.

But, let’s be clear – Coach Finch’s crew is no joke. They have an emerging superstar in Anthony Edwards, who dropped 43 points in the first matchup, the support of Six Man of the Year Naz Reid and also Jaden McDaniels. 

I specifically brought up Reid and McDaniels because both of those players were not active during Minnesota’s playoff appearance last year. 

In 2023, the Timberwolves were eliminated in the opening round by none other than the Nuggets. 

Several players among Denver’s roster did admit that Minnesota was their toughest opponent during that championship run, though. 

This is a much improved squad from last season.

So while I don’t disagree that looking toward the Nuggets catching plus money is alluring – I believe it’s best to wait. 

Yes, I do believe they will win Game 2, but there’s a good chance that the Timberwolves win Game 3 back at home.

If that’s the case, then with Minnesota up 2-1, with another home game to follow, the plus price on Denver will be even juicier. 

If this is how it plays out and the price is worth it, I’ll be sure to tweet my updated assessment on it. 

In the meantime, an angle you could consider going forward revolves around a player prop. 

Rudy Gobert under his points. 

For Game 1, Gobert’s prop was listed around 13.5 points. He went 3-6 from the floor and ended with just 6 points.

Tonight, I see 12.5 widely available. I don’t think this is going to be as productive of a series on the offensive side like we witnessed in Round 1 with Gobert. 

His objective in this series is to limit Nikola Jokic as much as possible. Though this task is seemingly impossible as Jokic is averaging 33 ppg throughout his last five appearances against Gobert and the Wolves. 

Defensively for Jokic, his life just got easier. He went from having to guard the versatile Anthony Davis, who can stretch the floor offensively, to the restricted range of Gobert. More energy can be preserved knowing his assignment is limited. 

I’m not saying you should blindly bet his under for every single game, but if the prop is listed around 12.5 or higher, and it’s evident that Gobert’s offensive usage is dwindling – then consider that angle going forward. 

In the meantime, I’m sweating out my original bets on the series to finish in 6 or 7 games, and waiting until after Game 3 to make any further wagers. 

To hear more thoughts and picks on the NBA conference semifinals, check out the latest episode of my podcast “Burke’s Beat.” I am joined by SiriusXM NBA Radio Analyst Nick Whalen. 

Click below to listen on Spotify. Go here to listen on Apple.