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How even Las Vegas underestimated the Warriors

Stephen Curry and Golden State didn't even open as title favorites this season in Las Vegas. AP Photo/Ben Margot

The Golden State Warriors are giant favorites to beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night and, as a result, break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record for wins in a regular season.

The Warriors (72-9) opened as 17.5-point favorites over the Grizzlies, and the line is already up to 19 at many Las Vegas sportsbooks. Since 2005, teams favored by 17 or more are 49-1 straight-up. That one loss, though, came this March, when the Los Angeles Lakers upset Golden State as 17.5-point underdogs. Still, the Warriors are in prime position to finish off the greatest regular season in NBA history, something that caught even savvy Las Vegas bookmakers off guard.

Golden State didn't even begin the season as the favorite to win the title. Shortly after the Warriors dusted off Cleveland in last season's NBA finals, the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas made the Cavaliers the favorites for the 2016 title. The Cavs began the season at 2-1 to win the championship, with the Warriors next at 4-1.

Golden State started the season with 24 straight wins, though, and became the clear-cut favorite by December. The Warriors were involved in eight of the top 10 most-heavily bet games at William Hill's 105 Nevada sportsbooks, and by early February were even money to win it all at the SuperBook. More bets were placed on the Warriors-Spurs game on March 19 than any other regular-season NBA game this year.

According to sports analytics site BetLabs on SportsInsights, the point spread moved in favor of the Warriors in 59 percent of their games this season.

"They cost early on," said Jason Simbal of CG Technology.

The betting market caught up to the Warriors after All-Star break, though, as Golden State is just 13-15-1 ATS since the break. The Warriors were double-digit favorites in 16 of those 29 games.

And as of this week, more money had been bet on the Warriors to win the title than any other team at MGM's sportsbook, significantly more than Cavs, the second-most popular bet. But that doesn't mean the books will get crushed if Golden State repeats as NBA champs.

"Right now, they're a very small winner for us," MGM sportsbook manager Jeff Stoneback said. "All season, they were a liability for us, but in the last month we attracted some money on other teams. We've gotten some money on the Spurs, Clippers and Celtics, recently."

Golden State's season-win total was set at 59.5, the highest in the NBA, and a mark they eclipsed by mid-March. On Dec. 13, Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology posted a new season win total on the Warriors at 69.

"Even at that new number, we attracted a bunch of limit plays ($2,000) on the over," CG Technology vice president of race and sports Jason Simbal said.


The 73-win prop

Since late November, the SuperBook has offered a proposition on if Golden State would win 73 or more games. The "No" opened as a -700 favorite, with "Yes" paying back 5-1. The odds fluctuated wildly throughout the season.

On March 31, with the Warriors at 68-7, the "Yes" was a -900 favorite. At one point, a bettor laid -1,100 to bet the "Yes" for a limit bet (to win $1,000). The SuperBook also took limit bets on the "No," with bettors willing to lay as high as -370 odds.

Heading into Wednesday's finale, there were 36 more bets on the "Yes" than the "No," and the SuperBook was looking at a liability on the prop of close to five figures, according to assistant manager Ed Salmons.

For the season, Golden State is 72-9 straight-up, but only nine games over .500 against the spread. The Warriors' ATS record (44-35-2) is among the best in the NBA this season, but not close to some past teams that have exceeded expectations. The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, for example, finished the regular season 20 games above .500 against the spread.

Golden State's dominance is expected to continue in the postseason. The sportsbook at the South Point casino is offering a proposition on how many losses the Warriors will suffer during the playoffs. The over/under opened at 5.5.