NBA regular season musings, play-in tournament, value bets

NBA regular season musings, play-in tournament, value bets

With the final week of the regular season setting us up for the play-in tournament and playoffs, I have taken a look at a few interesting storylines that have shaped the climax to the 2021-22 season. Also, a primer on the newly conceived play-in tournament and some sneaky future bets for the NBA championship.

Los Angeles Lakers - what happened?

Following Tuesday’s 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns in addition to San Antonio Spurs 116-97 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers were officially eliminated from play-in contention and the NBA playoffs. As one of the pre-season favorites for the NBA championship, this is certainly a shock! If you have managed to catch any Lakers games this year especially since the turn of the year, as LA haven't managed to string two wins together since early January, then it most certainly isn’t a shock.

The Lakers have been poor - and injured - for much of this year. How much blame goes to team chemistry will be one of the important decisions for the front office this offseason. Will Frank Vogel keep his head coaching job? Can the Lakers find a trade partner for Westbrook and his substantial contract? Will LeBron James entering the final year of his deal sign a contract extension? A season full of disappointment and soon an offseason full of question marks for the Lakers.

Memphis Grizzlies - are they for real?

This team wasn’t meant to be this good, this soon. Ready or not though, here they are. The Grizzlies secured the second seed in an always competitive Western conference and have most definitely entered the contender conversation.

Memphis’ roster doesn't have a player older than 28 and are the league’s fourth-youngest team accounting for minutes played this season. Since 1980 only six teams have made the playoffs with an average age of under 25 (including this Grizzlies team in 2021), however only one made it past the first round of the playoffs, a generational OKC Thunder team that in 2011 featured James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Are these Grizzlies as good as the 2011 Thunder? It's going to be fun to find out. 

“We gonna let everybody know we here,” Ja Morant states as the spotlight begins to descend.

Brooklyn Nets - the team no one wants to face?

This has been a disappointing year for the Nets. The part-time Kyrie Irving COVID issues, injuries to Kevin Durant and the James Harden / Ben Simmons mid-season trade debacle have all contributed to Brooklyn sitting 8th in the Western conference playoff standings, looking at extra games as part of the play-in tournament.

Despite the ups and downs this is still a really dangerous team. Kevin Durant is healthy and is still, probably, one of the top players in the world that can take over any game. Just look at the Nets performances last year when ravaged by injuries deep into the playoffs. If this team can string a little bit of form from now until April 16, I wouldn’t like to be one of the top seeds facing the Nets. It will however make for a fascinating series to watch.

Play-in Tournament - what’s the deal?

The first year of the play-in tournament in the NBA will add an extra frisson of excitement before the 2022 Playoffs begin on Saturday 16 April.

The play-in tournament will be held April 12-15.

Here is how the play-in standings currently look and what we have to look forward to:

Eastern Conference

7. Cleveland Cavaliers 43-37 1 games ahead of 8th
8. Brooklyn Nets* 42-38 1 games back of 7th
9. Atlanta Hawks 42-38 1 games back of 7th
10. Charlotte Hornets 40-39 2 ½ games back of 7th


*The Nets are listed as the 8th seed over the Hawks because of their head-to-head tiebreaker record.

The four play-in teams in the East have been confirmed. All that now needs to be decided for the remaining two or so games is the seeding.

Key remaining games:

Friday April 8

Brooklyn Nets (8) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (7)

Miami Heat (1) vs Atlanta Hawks (9)

Chicago Bulls (6) vs Charlotte Hornets (10)

Sunday April 10

Houston Rockets vs Atlanta Hawks (9)

Cleveland Cavaliers (7) vs Milwaukee Bucks (3)

If the season ended today here is how the play-in games would look:

Game 1: Cleveland Cavaliers (7) vs Brooklyn Nets (8)

The number 7 team in the standings by winning percentage (and tiebreaker if needed) will host the number 8 team, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs proper. The losing team gets another chance in Game 3.

Game 2: Atlanta Hawks (9) vs Charlotte Hornets (10)

The number 9 team in the standings by winning percentage (and tiebreaker if needed) will host the number 10 team, with the winner moving onto Game 3. The loser is eliminated from the play-in tournament and enters the NBA draft lottery.

Game 3: Game 1 Loser vs Game 2 Winner

The loser of game 1 will host the winner of game 2, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed in the playoffs proper. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.

As per usual, the 7th seed will play the 2nd, and the 8th seed will play the 1st from the Eastern Conference when the playoffs begin on April 16.

Western Conference

6. Denver Nuggets 47-33 2 games ahead of 7th
7. Minnesota Timberwolves 45-35 2 games back of 6th
8. LA Clippers 40-40 Clinched 8th seed
9. New Orleans Pelicans 35-44 1 game ahead of 10th
10. San Antonio Spurs 34-45 1 game behind 10th


The next Nuggets or Timberwolves loss will lock Minnesota into the 7th seed entering the play-in tournament. The other three play-in teams have been decided, the only wrinkle left to be decided is home court advantage between the Pelicans and Spurs for game 2 of the play-in tournament.

Key remaining games:

Thursday April 7

Minnesota Timberwolves (7) vs San Antonio Spurs (10)

Denver Nuggets (6) vs Memphis Grizzlies (2)

Saturday April 9

Memphis Grizzlies (2) vs New Orleans Pelicans (9)

San Antonio Spurs (10) vs Golden State Warriors (3)

Sunday April 10

Denver Nuggets (6) vs LA Lakers

Minnesota Timberwolves (7) vs Chicago Bulls (6)

If the season ended today here is how the play-in games would look:

Game 1: Minnesota Timberwolves (7) vs LA Clippers (8)

The number 7 team in the standings by winning percentage will host the number 8 team, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs proper. The losing team gets another chance in Game 3.

Game 2: New Orleans Pelicans (9) vs San Antonio Spurs (10)

The number 9 team in the standings by winning percentage (and tiebreaker if needed) will host the number 10 team, with the winner moving onto Game 3. The loser is eliminated from the play-in tournament and enters the NBA draft lottery.

Game 3: Game 1 Loser vs Game 2 Winner

The loser of game 1 will host the winner of game 2, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed in the playoffs proper. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.

As per usual, the 7th seed will play the 2nd, and the 8th seed will play the 1st from the Western Conference when the playoffs begin on April 16.

Value Bets for the NBA Championship

Finding value at this stage can be tricky, but there is potential.

The Phoenix Suns are the rightful favorites for the NBA championship and that is reflected in the betting odds. They have the NBA’s best regular season record, playoff experience and championship quality stars. With reduced odds for the Suns as the best out West, I like the look of a couple of challengers who could, if things bounce right, push them all the way:

The Memphis Grizzlies at +1600 is excellent value. It feels like they are being handicapped because of their youthfulness and inexperience. Yet they have been pretty consistently excellent all year, even when missing star guard Ja Morant through injury.

The Dallas Mavericks have since the turn of the year been one of the best teams in the NBA. Their defense has improved, the midseason additions and subtractions have improved their spacing and performances. And Luka Doncic is rounding into MVP-caliber form. With the Warriors and Jazz dealing with a loss of form, Nuggets dealing with injuries, there is an opportunity for Luka to lead his team deep in the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks at +2000 is superb value should the Phoenix Suns stumble at any point.

Out East things are both murky and competitive with a number of teams having a legitimate opportunity to make the NBA championship series.

Despite leading the standings Miami Heat sit behind Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia in most odds markets. They have been overlooked for much of the year and the recent altercation between star forward Jimmy Butler and head coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t contributed positively to their narrative. The Miami Heat at +1200 is excellent value considering this team made a deep playoff run in 2020 and have had an excellent regular season.

If you were lucky enough to jump on the Boston Celtics bandwagon around January this year, you would have picked up some excellent odds as the league and media adjusted to what  stats were telling us. That the Celtics are a very good team, with one of the league’s best defenses and a budding star in Jayson Tatum finally figuring things out. According to fivethirtyeight's ELO forecasts the Celtics have a 31% chance of winning the finals (although we should take into account center Robert Williams recent injury), so with odds at +800 for the Boston Celtics there is still value to be had.

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