NBA Conference Finals Preview: Who to Bet to Make the NBA Finals

NBA Conference Finals Preview: Who to Bet to Make the NBA Finals
© USA Today

After the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games, and the Boston Celtics rallied to survive a seven-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA Conference finals are set. 

The Denver Nuggets host the Lakers on Tuesday for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and the Celtics welcome the Miami Heat in the East finals on Wednesday. 

Here are how NBA betting sites have for each matchup and what bets you should target. 

Denver Nuggets (-165) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (+140)

Betting Pick: Nuggets to win the Series at FanDuel Sportsbook

The Nuggets are seeking their first conference title and NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. Denver’s last three conference final appearances also came against the Lakers with the Nuggest falling in 1985, 2009 and 2020. The Nuggets did make one ABA Finals when it was a member of the league. 

This year’s matchup may be decided by Anthony Davis’ ability to limit Denver’s two-time MVP, Nikola Jokic, who is averaging a near triple-double this postseason with 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game. In their limited action against each other in the regular season, Jokic held the advantage. 

During 22 matchup minutes, Jokic recorded 37 points, six assists and had three turnovers while making 16 of 25 shot attempts, including 15 of 18 from inside the arc. During Monday's media session, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said that Davis would start games on Jokic before Los Angeles experiments with different looks on him from there. 

One reason Los Angeles’ defense was so effective against Golden State was the Warriors' inability to hit shots from the perimeter, especially in road games. Golden State made just 30% of 3s on the road during the postseason and was just 34% overall for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Denver has the second-best 3-point postseason percentage (38%) and has five players shooting 39% or higher this postseason. 

Fatigue must also be a concern for the Lakers. James admitted as much after Los Angeles eliminated Golden State. 

“I may have looked like I was conserving my energy but I was dead tired after every one of them games. Same with tonight,” James said. “You know, you really don’t have the opportunity to conserve your energy versus a Golden State team because they always keep you on your heels.”

The combination of Jokic’s dominance, Denver’s hot shooting and the potential for a tired James has me leaning toward the Nuggets series moneyline

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Boston Celtics (-525) vs. Miami Heat (+400)

Pick: Celtics Series Spread -1.5 (-195) at DraftKings Sportsbook

After stumbling throughout the postseason, the Celtics finally looked like the title-betting favorite in a 112-88 win over the 76ers. Jayson Tatum backed up his assertion that he was one of the top players in the league by setting an NBA record for the most points scored in a Game 7, finishing with 51 while making 17 of 28 shot attempts. 

This series can be simplified by whether or not the Celtics can make shots from 3-point range. Boston had the second-most made 3s during the regular season and tallied the sixth-best team 3-point percentage (38%) on the second-most attempts (42.6). The Celtics are 36-2 this season when making at least 40% of their 3s and just 29-28 when they convert less than 40% from beyond the arc. Boston currently leads all postseason teams with a 40% make rate from 3. 

The four regular-season games between the two teams were because of Boston’s ability to shoot from 3. In the two Celtics wins, Boston made 42.4% and 49% from 3, while in the two losses, it was held to 33% and 31%. 

Given the Celtics’ latest improvement from beyond the arc, making 43% in the Game 6 win over the 76ers and 46% in Game 7, I’ll look to back the Celtics and take the series spread against a Miami team that ranked in the lower half in 3-point defense during the regular season (36.2%).