Analysis indicates Miami Heat winning long series in 7 games

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The NBA Finals begin Tuesday and although many expected Miami to reprise their Finals performance of a season ago, seeing Oklahoma City is a bit of a surprise.

Heading into the playoffs Miami was the second seeded team in the East, but when top seeded Chicago lost both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to injury the Heat became the team favored to emerge.

After getting by New York in the first round and then being tested by both Indiana and Boston, LeBron James and his Miami teammates are back in the finals. They did so with a pair of remarkable performance in winning the Eastern Conference Finals over the Celtics in the full seven games.

Miami, as a team, and James, individually, had the best performance of these playoffs and one of the best in postseason history in the 98-79 Game 6 domination of Boston while facing elimination, down 3-2 in the series.

The Heat followed up that effort two nights later at home winning Game 7, 101-88. Boston was in control for much of that contest, which was tied after three quarters at 73. Miami’s talented trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to score the Heat’s final 31 points, including all 28 in the decisive fourth quarter.

San Antonio entered the playoffs with the best record in the West, riding a 10 game winning streak to end the regular season. After sweeping both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Spurs entered their Conference Finals against second seeded Oklahoma City with an 18 game winning streak.

The Thunder had almost as easy a path as the Spurs in reaching the Western Finals, sweeping Dallas in the opening round and then getting past the Los Angeles Lakers in 5.

San Antonio was heavily favored to win the West Finals and that favoritism seemed justified after taking the first two games at home. But then the Thunder matched that feat by winning Games 3 and 4 on their home court. The Game 3 victory snapped what had been extended to a 20 game winning streak for the Spurs.

The critical matchup in the series was Game 5. The home team had won each of the first four games of the series until Oklahoma City broke through and won at San Antonio 108-103. That made it three straight wins for the Thunder over a team that won 20 in a row. 

OKC clinched the series back home in Game 6, overcoming a 15 point halftime deficit to win 107-99 and earn their first trip to the NBA Finals since moving from Seattle four seasons ago.

The Thunder earned home court advantage for this series by virtue of their 47-19 record being a game better than Miami’s 46-20. The teams split their two regular season meetings with each team winning at home in games played 10 days apart late in the season.

On March 25, Oklahoma City defeated Miami 103-87, covering as slight 1½ point favorites. In the rematch on April 4, Miami won 98-93, covering as 3 point home favorites.

Unlike the previous series in the playoffs, the NBA Finals uses a 2-3-2 format which means Oklahoma City will host Games 1 and 2 and a potential 6 and 7. Miami will host Games 3 and 4 and a potential 5.

This sequencing does give a different twist to home court advantage since, in the middle of the series, Miami actually has that edge in Game 5.

Preview

This has the makings of a long series that should go at least six and quite possibly seven games. Both teams are loaded with talent with Miami’s James, Wade and Bosh having little, if any, edge over the Thunder’s trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. 

Both trios averaged nearly an identical 68 points per game during the regular season and have matched those numbers during these playoffs.

Both teams have solid supporting talent but Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka may be the deciding player, providing a significant edge with his shot blocking ability. He’s averaging 3.3 blocks per game in the playoffs after averaging 3.7 per game during the regular season. No Miami player has averaged even half that number.

And the midseason signing of veteran Derek Fisher has also provided experience, leadership and payoff savvy from his many years with the Lakers.

Neither team is considered to have outstanding coaching but that’s because neither Miami’s Eric Spoelstra nor OKC’s Scott Brooks has won an NBA Title. It’s amazing how a coach can go from ordinary to brilliant upon capturing that championship trophy.

Still, you have to be impressed with the adjustments Brooks made in the Thunder’s series against San Antonio as his team won four straight games after falling down 0-2 in the series against a team that had won 20 in a row and had not lost more than two in a row all season.

Oklahoma City has opened as a -170 favorite over Miami to win the series. The Thunder is also favored by 5 to win Game 1 after opening at 4 to 4½. The total has been bet upwards from an opener of about 192 to as high as 195½ as of mid-morning Monday.

Playoff games tend to be lower scoring as a rule and thus the preference would be to look UNDER rather than OVER for the first few games of this series. At least as long as the total remains above 190 as it should for at least the first three games.

It would not surprise if the teams split the first two in Oklahoma City and then Games 3 and 4 in Miami. This would suggest looking to play the loser of Game 1 in 2, the loser of Game 2 in 3, etc., along the lines of the well-worn “zig zag” theory popularized by the Gold Sheet for many years.

The plays are even more attractive should the team off a loss be made the underdog in the next game.

For those of you able to take advantage of “in-game” wagering this series may provide many opportunities for profit. At books that offer in-game wagering, the line for the side and total are continuously adjusted during the game, usually during time outs. This form of wagering is similar to half time wagering but requires a different type of thinking.

Whereas halftime lines are based solely on what happens in the second half (and any overtime periods) in-game lines are set based on the final outcome of the game and not just from that point forward. It can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you are familiar with halftime wagers.

For example, if OKC is favored by 4 points for the game and is up by 7 points at the end of the first quarter, the in-game line might now have the Thunder favored by 6½. That means they would have to outscore their foes by 3 over the final three quarters in order for them to win the game by 7 – enough to cash the ticket on the adjusted -6½.

Looked at another way, the line of -6½ at the end of the first quarter is similar to a line of -2½ for quarters 2, 3 and 4 combined.

This is mentioned because both Miami and Oklahoma City have been able to overcome in-game deficits of double digits in several of their wins during these playoffs.

Despite the public’s fascination with Miami and that the Heat are the far better known team, the odds makers know what they are doing in making OKC better than a 3 to 2 favorite. Part of the reason for the Thunder being such large favorites is likely due to liability in the futures books in which OKC opened and remained at much higher odds than Miami throughout the season. 

By making the Thunder a solid favorite the books hope to limit or reduce their liability on them by seeking to attract money on Miami. These teams are closer in talent than those odds suggest and a “true” line might have OKC favored by perhaps just -120, largely based on the potential for playing both a Game 6 and 7 at home.

Because of the dynamics of the series it might be possible to create a situation in which you can play both teams at plus prices. At +150 Miami is attractively priced at the outset. Should the Heat take a lead in the series, especially by winning one or both games in OKC, the Heat might become adjusted series favorites, enabling you to take Oklahoma City at a plus price in mid series.

The forecast is for Miami to live up to all the hype and claim their first NBA title in the LeBron James era, winning the series in 7.

Miami could well head back to OKC holding a 3-2 lead for a pair of road games, losing Game 6 before winning the Title in Game 7.

Although there are many things to like about OKC as enumerated above, the wild card in the series may be Russell Westbrook who has a tendency to play out of control at times, often forcing shots rather than passing off to more open teammates. If Miami is able to force Westbrook into mistakes at key times, the Heat will take advantage.

We’ll revisit the Finals next week following the playing of Sunday’s Game 3.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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