Should be a tight series

Yes, the World Series of Poker starts today, but sports fans are really loving life this week as the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are in the thick of things and the NBA Finals begin on Thursday. So while it is not poker related, let’s talk about a different form of gambling and look at what the bookmakers think about the upcoming NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.

The series begins Thursday night in San Francisco; Golden State has homecourt advantage in the best-of-seven battle because they had a better record than did Boston in the regular season. Caesars Sportsbook has the Warriors as the favorites to win the title at -160 odds, while the Celtics are at +140. DraftKings has it as Warriors -150, Celtics +130.

Home court advantage probably won’t matter all that much, as the team’s split the season series, each winning on the other’s court.

Could it go the distance?

The edge given to Golden State by the sportsbooks probably has a lot to do with how they have looked compared to Boston during the playoffs. Aside from a bizarre 39-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals, they have generally had an easy time so far, winning their three series 4-1, 4-2, and 4-1. The Celtics cruised past the Brooklyn Nets 4-0, but took seven games to beat the Milwaukee Bucks – who were without All-Star Khris Middleton – in what was a brutally physical series, and took another seven games to defeat the Miami Heat.

Boston has also been dealing with injuries to key players, though nobody has had an extended absence. Golden State has some injuries, but their core players are all healthy.

According to DraftKings, the most likely outcome is Golden State in seven games (+310), followed by Celtics in six (+370). The latter implies (though different combinations are entirely possible) that the Celtics will win their home games and steal one on the road, which is exactly what Milwaukee did last year in beating the Phoenix Suns (lost the first two games in Phoenix, then won the next two in Milwaukee, one in Phoenix, and the clincher in Milwaukee).

FiveThirtyEight begs to differ

Interestingly, FiveThirtyEight, which uses statistical analysis to make predictions, has the Celtics as a heavy favorite to win the finals, at 80%. The site says it employs a player-based “RAPTOR” forecast which is based completely on FiveThirtyEight’s player projections.

At full strength, the site believes Boston is the best team in the league, with a 1,791 rating. It has them at full strength right now (as mentioned, despite being banged up, there aren’t any significant long-term injuries). Golden State’s full-strength rating is 1,622 and its current rating is actually better, 1,663. The Bucks had the second-bet full-strength rating at 1,711, but as mentioned, they were far from full strength against the Celtics.

The Golden State Warriors are just the fourth team to reach six NBA Finals in eight years. The Boston Celtics were just 50-1 to win the championship before the season started and would be the longest shot to win, based on preseason odds, in three and a half decades.

Image credit: Eric Kilby via Flickr.com

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