NBA Playoffs Pick them: Finals Betting Preview

Let’s make one thing clear before we begin: I don’t feel very comfortable making predictions about this series, for one very big, very Latvian reason. It’s not that Boston is worse without its primary big man (they’re 30-5 between the regular season and playoffs when he sits), it’s more about how he might factor into this matchup.

On offense, a limping Kristaps means that Daniel Gafford, Derek Lively and Derrick Jones Jr. will be free to go hard on screens to the rim. Even scarier for Boston, it would mean that Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, who are already incomparable interior finishers, would have nothing to stop them in the paint.

When Boston has the ball, Porzingis gives them an element inside and in the midrange that they have been lacking all these years. He creates interior pressure on his own, taking the pressure off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If he isn’t himself, I think we’ll see him spend a lot of time in the corner. That means Dallas can hide Luka over him, leaving Jones Jr., Gafford and Lively to wander around to mess things up for Boston in the paint.

I’m going to assume for the rest of this column that Porzingis will be healthy. I have Boston as my favorite at 7 (+320). It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, Luka Doncic is good enough to steal two games from anyone. Add in a third game where either Kyrie goes crazy or Boston’s outside shooting betrays them, and you have yourself a seven-game series. Boston’s Case (-220). Boston’s Case is historic. The Celtics, by nearly every measure, have been one of the best teams in NBA history this season. They are the seventh team to post a net rating better than 11, winning five of the last six titles. Their 76-20 combined record in the regular season and playoffs is a harbinger of another championship. 15 other teams have entered the Finals with 20 or fewer combined losses. Given all that, -220 seems a little low, honestly. But at +185, Dallas is a far more interesting bet.Dallas’ Case (+185)

Dallas’ case is simple: They have Luka Doncic, and Boston doesn’t. And their +185 odds would make them the third-biggest NBA Finals upset in history (behind Detroit’s +500 in 2004 and Toronto’s +230 in 2019). That’s why Dallas’ +185 is my “best bet.” They’ll undoubtedly have the best player in the series, and there’s a chance Kyrie Irving could be the second-best. Also, the third to possibly ninth spots are all Celtics, but if one of Dallas’ role players can perform well (looking at you, P.J. Washington), Dallas could be in business.

And until the Indiana series, they had lost at least one of the first two home games in four consecutive series. If Dallas steals one of those first two, Game 3 in Dallas is going to be nerve-wracking for a Boston team that is starting to develop a reputation of coming up short in big moments. Player Props First, the biggest thing: Jaylen Brown (+600) is my Finals MVP bet. He won the same award in the Eastern Conference Finals, and he has been better than the Jays in Boston in my opinion in the last three playoff runs.

With that in mind, I like Brown over 23.5, which is his line for Game 1. With Dallas’ best wing defender Derrick Jones Jr. busy with Tatum, Brown is likely to choose either Luka or P.J. Washington. It’s obvious they can beat Washington on the ball, but Doncic has played the best defense of his career this postseason. I don’t know if Brown can put his head down and beat Luka off the dribble, but Jaylen’s off-ball game has long been overlooked, and despite Luka’s play, he still falls asleep defending off the ball.

Is it crazy to say I like the over made threes of almost everyone? It sounds crazy, but it’s not. Jayson Tatum over 2.5? Sure. Al Horford over 1.5? Why not, he just stays in the corner. Derrick Jones Jr. over 0.5? Same idea. Kyrie Irving over 2.5? He gets 20 minutes a game as Dallas’ main offensive player.

More than anything, I’m confident Luka Doncic will be great everywhere in this series. Counting stats are usually irrelevant, but this is a sign of something important: Luka always has the ball. Right now, his combined points, rebounds and assists line is 49.5. If it drops to 48.5 or 47.5, I’ll raise the over. At 49.5, I’m less excited, but this player is well on his way to challenging for a spot in the all-time top 10. A 30-point triple double per game isn’t out of the question.

A few oddities: P.J. Washington is averaging 6.7 rebounds per game, so until that line moves up, move him up by 5.5 rebounds. Same thing with Kyrie Irving averaging more than 4.5 assists, he’s averaging almost a full assist more. I also like Kristaps Porzingis less than 15.5 points. I don’t trust big men with leg issues below the knee, and I don’t trust players who have taken nearly 40 days off to completely mess up the Dallas Mavericks’ defense.