There is a growing sentiment around the basketball world that the upcoming second-round series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks is the "real" NBA Finals. I don't necessarily subscribe to that theory. Even if you assume the Los Angeles Lakers won't be healthy enough to win it all and the Philadelphia 76ers prove too offensively challenged to compete with the Bucks or Nets, neither would be close to a guaranteed victor over the winner of what is slowly beginning to look like the "real" Western Conference finals: the second-round clash between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, assuming the latter finishes off the Dallas Mavericks.
But if you do subscribe to this theory, you should at least have a game plan for profiting off it. Right now, the Nets are plus-190 to win the title. The Bucks are plus-550. Bet on the two of them right now at the right volume and you're guaranteed to turn a profit if one of them wins. Assuming you value both equally (which Vegas certainly doesn't), you'd want to bet a bit more than three times as much on Brooklyn as you would on Milwaukee to guarantee yourself the same payout on either winning the title.
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As an example: Let's say you put $100 on the Nets at plus-190. That would pay out $190, obviously. Then, a bet of $29.23 on the Bucks at plus-550 would pay out $190 as well. Functionally, you would be betting $129.23 on either Brooklyn or Milwaukee to win the title for the chance to win that same $190. More simply, you have essentially bet on either the Bucks or the Nets to win the title at plus-147 odds. Fiddle with the amounts as you please, but remember that you want the Bucks bet to be 29.23 percent of the Nets bet if you want the payout for either to be even (though, if the odds change, you'll have to do the math yourselves). Of course, if the winner of that second-round bloodbath loses before in the third or fourth round, you're out both bets.
I don't recommend this tactic in this particular case, but it's something I do regularly on futures in which I'm comfortable with one of two outcomes. A recent successful example of this was the 2019 Eastern Conference. Both the Bucks and Toronto Raptors were at roughly plus-200 to win the East, and I felt almost certain that one of them was going to win. So I bet on both sides and collected when the Raptors won, but more importantly, I didn't have to sweat out one second of the Eastern Conference finals. I was set either way once they both made it. The key to this approach is timing. The earlier you do it, the higher your upside is going to be, and that matters a good deal when you're essentially pre-hedging a bet. I've done this in college football preseason for Alabama and Clemson (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). You're simultaneously increasing risk by betting twice and decreasing it by giving yourself two possible positive outcomes. If you feel confident enough in a set of outcomes, go for it. But now, let's look at Tuesday's games.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics
The Game 1 total was only 197 points. Since then, these games have averaged 249.7 points in total. Boston has absolutely no way of shutting down this unstoppable Brooklyn offense, and the Nets can score so easily that they frankly haven't put forth championship-caliber defensive effort. The Nets just allowed 126 points and still won by 15. Their overs are going to be fairly safe until they run into a top defense (which they will next round). The pick: Over 231.5
In the Nuggets' two wins, they've attempted 57 free throws. They got a completely unsustainable 21 points out of Austin Rivers in the Game 3 victory. Given their lost depth on the perimeter, they need things like that just to keep up. Portland just won Game 4 by 20 despite shooting only 36.4 percent on 3s. Outliers are always a possibility, especially in a series as dominated by offense as this one, but in a standard game, it appears as if Portland, at full strength, is slightly better than this compromised version of the Nuggets. The pick: Blazers +1.5
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
LeBron James has scored 25 or fewer points in all four games thus far in this series, but think about the burden he's about to carry. Anthony Davis scored 31 percent of the Lakers' points in Games 2 and 3, and he's most likely sitting out Tuesday night. They may be missing another starter if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sits. Montrezl Harrell got some run in Game 4, but Chris Paul hunted him relentlessly in pick-and-roll, so he probably isn't going to play too much in Game 5. Where are the Lakers points coming from? This is a situation in which James basically has to shoot. He might not get points efficiently, but he's going to get them, because if he doesn't, who else will? The pick: LeBron James Over 26.5 points