The 2021 NBA playoffs are about to tip off on Saturday, and there are several series underdogs in the first round whose odds are worth taking a flier on.
To be clear, just because a team has a lower seeding doesn’t mean they’re underdogs. For instance, the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers are the seventh seed in the West and face the Phoenix Suns. However, the Lakers are going to be slight favorites.
Using DraftKings’ series odds, let’s take a look at three teams who are being counted out by oddsmakers as the NBA playoffs draw nearer, but are excellent value bets to take a flier on.
Dallas Mavericks (+300) vs. Los Angeles Clippers
A rematch of last year’s first-round series, the Dallas Mavericks and Luka Doncic are a year wiser with their core intact and a new veteran leader in J.J. Redick to help them. Dallas was plagued by injuries a season ago, as Kristaps Porzingis missed time in the prior postseason matchup and Doncic dealt with a brutal ankle sprain.
In spite of all this, the Mavs still pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to six games. It was more alarming in retrospect than it seemed at the time, because the Clippers infamously blew a 3-1 lead to Denver in the conference semifinals.
That whole “Clippers curse” thing is real. They have a new coach in Tyronn Lue, but the same inconsistency has followed LA throughout the 2020-21 campaign. Just because the NBA playoffs are here doesn’t mean the Clips can flip the switch. They tried that in 2020 and failed spectacularly.
Provided Porzingis can stay on the court and Doncic continues his ascent, they’re going to be a tough out for the fourth-seeded Clippers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will never hear the end of it until they win a championship if they’re KO’d early once again.
Miami Heat (+250) over Milwaukee Bucks
It seems like there hasn’t been so little pressure on a reigning NBA Finals participant entering the playoffs as there is on the Miami Heat.
After their surprise run in the Orlando bubble in which Miami was constantly counted out, there’s no reason to believe this team will go quietly in the first round.
Yes, drawing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks isn’t ideal, yet all the scrutiny will be fixed on the Deer. The Greek Freak and Khris Middleton have never made the NBA Finals, and despite the addition of Jrue Holiday for this season and Giannis’ supermax contract extension, the Bucks managed only the No. 3 seed.
A slow start out of the gates for the Heat is why they’re only the sixth seed. It was understandable after the run they had and the short turnaround. However, they’re back on track, and are as dangerous as any team in the conference. Don’t be surprised if Miami knocks out Milwaukee.
Denver Nuggets (+105) over Portland Trail Blazers
Nikola Jokic is likely going to win NBA MVP honors and did more than keep the Nuggets afloat once Murray went down. Michael Porter Jr. is also developing into a legitimate star, and Denver is far superior on the offensive glass and as an overall defensive team to Portland.
While it’s always going to be a little unsettling to bet against Damian Lillard alongside his longtime backcourt mate CJ McCollum, the Blazers don’t have much to offer outside of their dynamic duo. Jusuf Nurkic is inconsistent, and like anyone else in the league, struggles to check Jokic.
Norman Powell hasn’t quite been the caliber of No. 3 option Portland hoped it was getting from Toronto at the NBA trade deadline. Meanwhile, Aaron Gordon has proven to be the versatile difference-maker on defense Denver needed when it acquired him from the Orlando Magic.
Add all those factors in with the fact that the Nuggets have home-court advantage, and it still doesn’t add up that they’re slight underdogs. Bettors can feel comfortable hammering Denver to win the series.