The first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs tips off Saturday, and there are plenty of intriguing matchups within both conferences. In the East, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Jayson Tatum highlight a star-studded series between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, while James Harden makes his playoff debut with the Philadelphia 76ers against Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors.
In the West, the Phoenix Suns ran away with the top seed, but plenty of other teams could play spoiler in a wide-open race to reach the NBA Finals. The second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies led by Ja Morant, and the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic are also in the mix.
But which teams offer the best value to win the title, which long shot is worth playing, and which first-round series should you get in on?
Betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Doug Kezirian, Andre Snellings and Eric Moody answer all of those questions in this roundtable.
Odds are provided by Caesars Sportsbook
Which favorite to win the NBA title has the odds worth playing?
Fortenbaugh: Memphis Grizzlies (14-1)
Memphis isn't getting the respect it deserves because the Grizzlies are an unknown in the eyes of many. In other words, we haven't seen them do it in the past, so why should we believe in them now? That's the same thing people said about the Phoenix Suns last season and the Golden State Warriors in the spring of 2015. Memphis ranks top six in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency and third in road wins. Think of it like this: Would you rather have 14-1 with the résumé I just laid out, complete with the 2-seed, or would you rather take 14-1 with a dysfunctional Philadelphia squad seeded fourth in the East?
This has been a unique season, in which as many as five teams with a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship have odds of 9-1 or worse entering the postseason. The Heat are attractive at +1000. They are a veteran team with main rotation players that are all championship tested and built for playoff basketball. They play excellent defense with Bam Adebayo and P.J. Tucker, who are frontline defenders capable of making life difficult for the several MVP-caliber players in the East. Their offense is also diverse and effective, with Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and Jimmy Butler capable of generating both team and isolation offense in the half court. The day off between games lends itself to their veteran players staying fresher in the postseason, and Miami played well enough in the regular season to earn the top seed. Lastly, the Heat and the Bucks have the best first-round matchups, which gives them a leg up on other contenders facing more difficult challenges in each round to reach the Finals.
The 76ers at 14-1 also catch my eye. When James Harden joined the squad, there was a groundswell that they should be considered the favorites to win it all. So far, Philadelphia hasn't performed to expectations. Harden in particular has looked a step below his typical level, but he's still a threat. With Joel Embiid being arguably the best player on the court in every game, a small uptick from Harden would give them the type of an unguardable 1-2 punch that will be extremely effective in the postseason. The Sixers have a tough path but arguably the highest upside of any team if they play to full capacity.
Moody: Miami Heat (10-1)
It's difficult to overlook the Heat as a great value at +1000. The team has a great coach in Erik Spoelstra, who has a ton of experience and instills a winning attitude. Butler and Adebayo are elite, and Herro is the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. The Heat rank 11th in points scored per 100 possessions and excel on defense. With a fairly easy path to the Eastern Conference finals, Miami is an underrated bet.
Kezirian: Golden State Warriors (9-1)
The Warriors are tied for the fourth-shortest odds, so I would take them at +900. The rationale is that this team is going to be the best version of itself once the playoffs arrive. Klay Thompson is finally showing signs of peak form, scoring 33-plus points over his past three games -- including at least six 3-pointers made in each. Stephen Curry is expected to return for the playoff opener but will be on a minutes restriction. If this team can just avoid major injury, they're going to be a tough out. The issue is that Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green have played a total of only 11 minutes together this entire season. Additionally, the Western Conference has fewer legitimate contenders than the East, so that's why I like choosing a top team from the West.
Which long shot to win the NBA title is worth putting money on?
The last time a team seeded outside of the top three went on to win the NBA championship was 1995 when the Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic. Additionally, a team seeded first or second has won the NBA title in 12 of the past 14 seasons. So given the recent history, I'm not in a hurry to light my money on fire backing a long shot like Denver (25-1) or Toronto (60-1). Dallas at 40-1 is intriguing if Luka Doncic comes back quickly, but there are too many unknowns in that equation.
Moody: Utah Jazz (22-1)
With Doncic out for possibly the first two games of the series, the Jazz might have a leg up on the Mavericks. The Western Conference is extremely competitive. Nonetheless, the Jazz are a solid team on both offense and defense. Utah ranks at the top in the Association in points scored per 100 possessions, they get a lot of offensive rebounds and have the second-best effective field goal percentage. They rank ninth in points allowed per 100 possessions and excel at limiting their opponents' offensive rebounding and field goal percentage. Bet on the Jazz at +2200.
Kezirian: LA Clippers (70-1)
It's a reach, but the Clippers at 70-1 have my attention. They have to win Friday night to even reach the playoffs, but they're at home and I think will handle their business. Due to injuries, the Clips are not a typical 8-seed. Paul George just returned from injury and has looked outstanding. They have defensive capabilities, thanks to George, Nicolas Batum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington to go along with plenty of shooting. Head coach Ty Lue has done a wonderful job this season and can push the right buttons against Phoenix in the first round. Plus, there's a chance Kawhi Leonard returns from injury at some point, although no one truly knows what to expect. Again, it's 70-1, which translates to 1.6% likelihood, and this team has tons of talent.
Which first-round series has the best betting value?
Minnesota was a wonderful story during the regular season, and I'll always hold a special place in my heart for this squad after they made it so damn easy to cash my over 34 regular-season wins ticket. But this is where that run comes to an end. The Grizzlies are one of the most balanced teams in the league and have had a plethora of success away from home. They rank third in the NBA in road wins as well as top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency when playing away from FedEx Forum. Conversely, the Timberwolves rank 25th in defensive efficiency when playing on the road and surrendered an average of 118.2 points per game (last in the NBA). It's no surprise the Wolves went 20-21 away from Target Center, something that will burn them in this series.
In my opinion, it's the Celtics and Nets. Boston is the No. 2 seed in the East. The Celtics rank first in the defensive rating while ranking 10th in points scored per 100 possessions. The Nets are not your typical No. 7 seed. This is going to be an exciting series.
I'm expecting the Celtics to defeat the Nets handily, so even as slight favorites (-145) they still represent value to me. Boston has been the best team in the East for the second half of the season. The Celtics enter the postseason with the highest BPI in the entire NBA by a convincing margin. The Celtics aren't at full strength without the Time Lord, but even with Robert Williams III out, they still have too much firepower at both ends of the court for the Nets to overcome. All eyes will be on the marquee matchup between the two superstar duos of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving vs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but it's the other Celtics, such as Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Derrick White, and their role players in Coach Ime Udoka's system that should help propel them to the next round.
Bucks -2.5 games (-190) is my top play. The Bulls are incredibly overmatched, and Milwaukee seems to be peaking at the right time. Brook Lopez didn't return from injury until recently, and this starting unit looks fantastic. Chicago has not beaten a Milwaukee team with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup since 2017, including all four regular-season meetings this year.