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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 1:28 PM

The NBA Western Conference Finals begin on Sunday (3:30 PM ET, ABC) when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Golden State Warriors. This is a matchup that’s been highly anticipated for several months, with these teams considered the two best in basketball.

Some of the gloss has come off the anticipation in light of the events of the past several weeks. It started on March 29 when the Warriors went into San Antonio and won 110-98—in spite of playing in Houston the previous night and in spite of spotting the Spurs the game’s first 15 points. It was a statement win if there ever was one and in the aftermath, it was difficult to see how the Spurs were going to beat the Warriors four times in two weeks if they couldn’t win in that highly favorable spot.

The first two rounds of the playoffs have further strengthened market regard for Golden State. The Warriors swept Portland and Utah. The Spurs faced tougher opponents in Memphis and Houston, but while the six-game series wins were nice, there was nothing that suggested they were back on a par with Golden State.

Then there’s the injuries Tony Parker is out. Kawhi Leonard is coming off an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the most serious injury problem Golden State has surrounds head coach Steve Kerr.

All of this serves to explain why Golden State is a decisive (-1000) series favorite—higher in some outlets—and you can get a healthy (+600) if you believe San Antonio has an upset in them. On the level of individual games, that’s translated into the Warriors giving (-10.5) in Sunday’s Game 1.

I have to reserve my final judgment on all of those prices for clients, but here are a few of the factors those of us in handicapping have to be considering…

*How big is Golden State’s home court advantage? Oracle Arena has a deserved reputation as being a difficult place to play, but bookmakers appear to have a good handle on it—the Warriors failed to cover in their home games against Utah in spite of both games being comfortable outright wins. When Golden State went on the road, they were able to cash in.

*Can the Spurs do damage with their defense and rebounding edges? San Antonio was the BA’s best in defensive efficiency and they were consistently better on the boards than Golden State. It’s noteworthy here that Utah had those same advantages—it didn’t do the Jazz any good for winning games, but did help them win a couple bets, as noted above.

*Which version of LaMarcus Aldridge is going to show up? The Spurs’ forward is averaging 17/8 during the playoffs, but has had games where he’s completely disappeared.

*Who will handle the ball for the Spurs? With Parker gone, San Antonio started Danny Green and Patty Mills in the backcourt. Both are better playing off the ball. It didn’t hurt the Spurs against the Rockets, but Golden State’s defensive pressure in the backcourt is considerably better. Watch how quickly the Spurs are able to get into their offensive sets.

The mainstream media isn’t giving San Antonio a chance. Whether you believe that’s true or not, there’s still money to be had in these Western Conference Finals and lot of intense handicapping has to be done to find the right number.  

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