The 2019 NBA playoffs arrive this weekend, with the Golden State Warriors aiming for a third consecutive title and everyone else hoping to stop them.
I shouldn’t say everyone, of course. Only a select few teams will even have a crack at the defending champions. Even fewer will have a realistic shot at landing a blow, much less actually knocking them down.
In the Western Conference specifically, it’s the Houston Rockets or bust. If they can’t stop the Dubs, Stephen Curry and company are probably back in the NBA Finals, and it’s entirely possible they win yet again.
The end result might end up being the same boring song, but the path there doesn’t have to be. In fact, I’m here to argue that there could be several interesting first-round upsets in this year’s NBA playoff tournament.
You can really only go as far as the top NBA sportsbooks will take you, though, so let’s take a gander at the NBA playoff series pricing and see which underdogs are worth our time this year.
Here are my top NBA playoff upset picks for round one.
Oklahoma City Thunder Over Portland Trail Blazers (-123)
This first one isn’t a true underdog play, but considering the 6-seed Thunder take on the 3-seed Portland Trail Blazers, it’s technically going to be viewed as an upset.
The reality is this is an awesome price for a team I think is a lock to win. It’s true that OKC has had difficulty escaping the first round of the playoffs ever since Kevin Durant left, but they have Paul George and are in a really good spot.
As good as the Blazers have been this year, they’re simply not at 100%. The Blazers will have the home court edge, but they are down big man Jusuf Nurkic and also have a banged-up guard in C.J. McCollum.
Steven Adams should nullify anything Portland does down low, PG-13 will take out one of Portland’s perimeter scorers, and Russell Westbrook should be a man possessed. If you needed any more reasons to take Oklahoma City here, look to the perfect 4-0 record against these Blazers during the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs Over Denver Nuggets (+200)
I prefer to have a much bigger moneyline than this +200 price tag, but the Spurs still have the feel of one of the more compelling first-round upset picks.
Unlike the Thunder, you’re getting true dog money here with a Spurs team that can burn you inside and in the intermediate game.
San Antonio isn’t as good defensively as they’ve been in the past, but they ranked #1 in three-point percentage during the regular season, and they can still dictate the pace of games with the fifth-most-efficient offense in all of basketball.
This series was competitive during the regular season, with the two sides splitting four games right down the middle and three of the four games being rather tight. Neither side is particularly good on the road, making the home court edge Denver has a pretty big deal.
That being said, the Nuggets just don’t have any playoff experience to rely on. Their point guard is young, their best player is a center who doesn’t defend that well, and this is their head coach’s first rodeo in postseason play as well.
Denver just feels fraudulent to me.
They have more talent and more depth, but the experience factor makes me think a massive upset could truly be coming. Even if you’re not with me there, consider betting on the Spurs in some of these games — largely when they’re playing in Texas.
Utah Jazz Over Houston Rockets (+285)
Houston is absolutely the second-best team in the Western Conference, but they didn’t close very well down the stretch and slid from the #3 seed to the #4 seed. The Rockets still have the home court edge and are the better team in this matchup, but could they have fallen into a tougher round-one matchup?
I’m not sure.
Donovan Mitchell gives Utah a legit star scorer to work with offensively, while Utah is quietly pretty darn efficient (11th) on offense. The Jazz also rank 10th in three-point percentage, and Rudy Gobert anchors the second-most-efficient defense in the NBA.
The Jazz lack the star power Houston has, but they are actually equipped to slow down Houston’s explosive offense. Utah won’t make things easy for the Rockets down low, while their perimeter defenders do a solid job on the outside.
Houston is still going to hit shots and have the leg up in this series, but Utah is not a good matchup at all. The Jazz also stole two wins in four meetings earlier this season and were very good (29-12) on their home floor.
If Utah can shock with a game-one upset and control home court, this really isn’t the craziest upset to chase down in round one.
Indiana Pacers Over Boston Celtics (+355)
One last first-round NBA upset to watch for could be the Pacers over the Celtics. Boston has gone from a preseason title favorite to barely being mentioned for a shot at reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
Part of that is because Kyrie Irving has been a huge distraction, while Gordon Hayward has struggled to regain his form. Boston looks more like a collection of isolation scorers than a cohesive unit this year, and it’s led to an up and down season.
The Celtics can still defend and have several ways to win individual matchups, but they’re going up against a very scrappy Indiana team. The Pacers lack star power with shooting guard Victor Oladipo lost for the season, but their no-name attack works well together, and they compete every single time out.
Boston’s entire season has been about failing to live up to expectations. With Irving having one foot out the door already, it’d be so classic for them to fold here and choke this series away. After all, with a round-two date with the Milwaukee Bucks awaiting them, it’s not like they’re great bets to advance much further.
Marcus Smart also won’t play for this entire first round, so Boston is a little short-handed on the defensive end. Indiana isn’t the better team in terms of talent, but they could match up well with the Celtics.
Given the way Boston has looked this year, those might be good enough reasons to pull the trigger here.
There is a pretty big difference between taking some flier bets and guaranteeing NBA upset picks. They really don’t happen all that often, so I’m definitely reluctant to say these series are for sure going the opposite way Vegas has priced them.
If there are going to be big upsets in round one of the 2019 NBA playoffs, though, they’re almost certainly coming from these aforementioned series.
NBA series betting can be easy money if you attack the right value at the right time. Of all the value bets in round one, the one that screams to me the most is OKC. That doesn’t get you a true underdog winner, but at -123, nobody should complain.
If you need to take a real stab at crazy value, why not roll the dice with the Spurs? They’re as experienced as anyone, and betting against Coach Pop is rarely a great idea.
Whatever you do, it’s going to be a wild ride in the 2019 NBA playoffs. And, although they’re not common, upsets do happen in the NBA playoffs.
Good luck, and enjoy the games!
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Underdog Bets to Target in Round One of the 2019 NBA PlayoffsApril 12, 2019