With only one full month of NBA regular season action left, the spring is about to be dominated by the NBA Playoffs. In my opinion, of all the sports, the NBA Playoffs does the best job of picking its league champion.
To win the title, teams must win four best-of-seven game series. With so many games played, variance is reduced and the better team usually wins. Unlike the NCAA Tournament where a team is crowned national champion by winning six or seven games in a row against six or seven different teams.
Below, I explain how I simulated the NBA playoffs, and result of my simulation.
All NBA gameday odds and lines are current as of Monday, Feb. 27, at 10:30 a.m. ET.
NBA Playoffs Simulation 2023
|Team||Conference Winner||Conference Winner Breakeven Odds|
|New York Knicks||1.2%||8174|
Unlike last year, the betting markets are largely in line with my simulation. Despite the efficiency of the NBA futures markets, there still are some good bets to be found.
The Eastern Conference is won by the Celtics, Bucks, or 76ers in 82.9% of my simulations. The betting markets agree with this outlook as they have all three teams as the consensus Eastern Conference favorites.
The team worth watching in the East are the Cavaliers as my model gives them an 8.4% chance of making the NBA Finals, and a few sportsbooks are overlooking them.
In 68% of my simulations of remaining regular season games, the Cavs are a top-four seed in the playoffs. This means they have home-court advantage in the first round. They also are a top-three seed in 20% of my simulations.
If Cleveland gets hot at the right time and at least one of the top three teams in the East has an injury issue, they could make a deep playoff run.
|Team||Conference Winner||Conference Winner Breakeven Odds|
|Los Angeles Clippers||12.6%||691|
|Golden State Warriors||9.0%||1008|
|Los Angeles Lakers||5.3%||1791|
|New Orleans Pelicans||2.2%||4533|
|Portland Trail Blazers||0.4%||23776|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||0.2%||53900|
Unlike the East, the Western Conference is wide open. With 15 total teams, the conference was won by 13 of those teams in my 25,000 simulations. Nine Western Conference teams win the conference in at least 1% of my simulations.
When most of the conference has a better than 1% chance of making the NBA Finals, it is a wide-open field.
The Suns, Nuggets, and Clippers are the top-three favorites to win the West according to the betting markets and my model. Despite being the odds-on favorite to win the conference, Phoenix is the only top West team that is worth betting on currently.
|Team||Championship Winner||Championship Winner Breakeven Odds|
|Los Angeles Clippers||7.6%||1218|
|Golden State Warriors||5.4%||1746|
|Los Angeles Lakers||3.0%||3260|
|New Orleans Pelicans||1.4%||7232|
|New York Knicks||0.4%||25268|
|Portland Trail Blazers||0.2%||51251|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||0.1%||104326|
For the NBA championship, the Bucks, Celtics, Nuggets, and Suns have the best chance of winning it based on my simulations. Unsurprisingly, the betting markets have pegged those four teams as the NBA Finals favorites.
When you combine the market agreement with my model and the higher house advantage of the NBA championship markets compared to the conference championship markets, it is not shocking that the better value bets are for the conference winners rather than the title winners.
Despite this, there might be some value with either the Lakers or the Cavs.
Best NBA Playoffs Bets
Western Conference Team to Win NBA Finals (-105) | Caesars Sportsbook
The best bet by far for any NBA playoff future is for a Western Conference to team to win the NBA Finals. The Suns have the best chance, but they win the championship in only 17.8% of my simulations.
With the West winning the Finals in 57.1% of my simulations, taking this bet at near even money is a no-brainer.
Why pick between the Suns and Nuggets when both teams combine to win the Finals in 28.8% of the simulations? The Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors, and Mavericks also have a fighting chance to win the title. Even the Lakers and Pelicans have a plausible path to winning.
By betting on the entire Western Conference, you can delay the sweat until June when the Western Conference champion is likely to be favored in the Finals.
Cavaliers to Win Eastern Conference (+1400) | BetMGM Sportsbook
There is only one Eastern Conference team that I am betting on to win the conference and that is Cleveland.
The Celtics are the best team in the East this season, but sadly, the betting markets agree with me. The Bucks are at risk of having their best player Giannis Antetokounmpo miss time because of injury, and I have my doubts on the James Harden and Joel Embiid tandem in Philly.
That leaves us with a Cavs team that is likely to have home-court advantage in the first round where they should beat the Hawks, Nets, or Knicks. They could face the Heat in the first round, but I have the Cavaliers beating them by two points in a neutral-court game.
Considering the variance in the playoffs due to injuries, the Cavaliers could make a run toward the NBA Finals this spring.
Timberwolves to Win Western Conference (+25000) | BetRivers Sportsbook
As a big Ke$ha fan, it’s going down, and I’m yelling timber. The Phoenix Suns at +250 are a good bet to win the conference, but that’s assuming their team has chemistry with Kevin Durant.
Outside of the Nuggets and Grizzlies who are at the top of the West standings, and the Spurs and Rockets who are tanking, the rest of the West is wide open. Only four games separate the Suns in fourth place and the Thunder in 13th place.
The Timberwolves at 31-32 are intriguing because of the play-in tournament for 7-10 seeds that they are likely to play in (they are a 7-to-10 seed in 55% of my simulations). With a 40% chance of missing the playoffs, the Wolves are a risky bet, but at 250-1 you get what you pay for.
The big x-factor for Minnesota is star power forward Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played only 21 games this season. With the Wolves hoping to activate him for the final 10-to-15 games of the regular season, and with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards, the Wolves could win the conference if they get hot at the right time.
How the NBA Playoffs Simulation Works
Each team in the NBA Playoffs is assigned a power rating. I can then simulate a team’s chances of winning based on the ratings between the two teams in a given matchup.
How Does This NBA Playoff Simulator Work?
- By finding the difference between the two teams, you’ll get the number of points that one team should be favored by.
- To account for home-court advantage, I add four points to the home team. This is worth significantly more than it is during the regular season, where home-court advantage is worth only 2.5 points. I base this off the 2016-19 seasons where home-court advantage in the playoffs was worth 4.11 points according to Dr. Ed Feng from The Power Rank.
- For example, if one team has a power rating of 22 and their opponent sits at 25, they should be a three-point underdog in a neutral matchup. At home, that team will be favored by one point, but on the road, they will be seven-point underdogs.
How Do I Make These NBA Playoffs Power Ratings?
Just like my NCAA projections, I chose not to reinvent the wheel. The dirty secret in sports betting is that most sports bettors copy the work of other sports bettors or non-betting analysts.
For my NBA Playoffs model, I looked on predictiontracker.com to see which public handicappers have had the best track record this season against the spread and have given their power ratings more weight in my model.
Most importantly, I have given the betting markets the most weight in my power ratings, as they have been more accurate than any of the public handicappers this season.
Once I compiled my power ratings, I then have my own power ratings that I can use to simulate the playoffs.
After simulating the NBA Playoffs 25,000 times in Microsoft Excel, I tabulate how often each team won the NBA Finals as well as the number of simulations where each team won the Eastern and Western Conference championships.
I bet on a team to win the NBA Finals if their odds are greater than my breakeven odds.
- Breakeven odds are how often a bet needs to hit for you to break even. To be a profitable long-term bettor, you should be making bets where the payoff is better than the breakeven odds.
- For example, let’s say my model gives a team a 12.5% chance of winning the NBA Finals for a breakeven price of (+700). If a sportsbook offers (+800) on that bet, I take it. Otherwise, it’s not a good bet to take.
Essentially, this is all to help bettors figure out when to make a bet.