The entire country (more or less, minus the dangly bit on the bottom-right) has chosen their team for the NBA Finals this year, and—congratulations, San Antonio!—they’ve picked the Spurs. It’s not hard to see why, given how immensely likeable the team is, especially contrasted with the Heat, who still enjoy pro wrestling “heel” status among most Americans. But all of that is mushy emotion, and mushy emotion is meaningless when discussing the actual ability of each team to win on the court (for proof, see last year’s Game Six).
The Heat, of course, earned rings last year by overcoming the Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals (and against the Oklahoma City Thunder the year before). They were the first of the two teams to clinch the berth in the championship series this year, and they have the sports’s marquee stars on their roster. So when it comes time to consider the potential outcomes free of mushy emotion, the Heat have to take the top spot, right?
That’s not what the people who make their livings predicting sports outcomes with a dispassionate eye think, though. According to the various ways you can bet on offshore gambling website Sportsbook.ag, the odds are good on a Spurs triumph.
There are a number of creative potential bets that indicate which way the bookies are leaning in the series, and by most of them, the Spurs are the favorite. The most obvious, of course, is a simple bet on who is going to take the championship, and the odds there are -130 for the Spurs, or +120 for the Heat. That translates to: a gambler would have to bet $130 to make back $100 on a bet with a minus sign in front of it, while a $100 bet on the Heat would earn $120.
That’s a not insubstantial swing, but the numbers get even more revealing when you look at the more complex bets available: When considering the four potential outcomes for the series after three games, the odds dramatically tilt Spurs-wise. Bookies think the odds that the Heat would go up 3-0 in the series are extremely long, at 12-to-1; the Spurs taking such an advantage, though, seems much more likely to the oddsmakers, who have them at 5.5-to-1. (The difference between the odds of either team taking a 2-1 lead are less stark: +180 for the Heat, and +120 for the Spurs.)
After four games, meanwhile, Sportsbook predicts that a Spurs lead is more likely than either a Heat lead or a tie, with a 3-1 Spurs lead fetching you a mere $160 on a $100 bet, while a tie would net you $180, and a Heat lead worth a whopping $220. The event of a four-game sweep of the series by the Spurs is, of course, unlikely—a $100 bet there would fetch you $1,300—but not as unlikely as the Heat achieving the same outcome, which clocks in at 25-to-1. In fact, according to Sportsbook, the odds are better for the Spurs to sweep the series than for the Heat to win it in five games.
All of that is reassuring, if you’re a Spurs fan looking for another reason to wear your hat jauntily askew as you stroll down the streets of San Antonio in the coming days (or if you’re a gambler who believes deeply in the Heat and wants to make some money, we suppose). But the only place the Spurs don’t triumph is when considering the potential series MVP, a player that—with but one exception in 1969, when Jerry West took the award despite his Lakers losing the series to the Celtics—always comes from the winning team.
The oddsmakers believe that the most likely MVP for the series is LeBron James, who comes in at +125 to win his third consecutive award. That probably is more of a reflection of James’ celebrity than the likelihood that the Heat will win, given the odds everywhere else on the board, but it’s something for Heat fans to cling to.
Of course, the next four names on the list of potential MVPs are all Spurs, with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker each coming in at +280. A $100 bet on Manu Ginolbili or Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, would net you a cool $1,000. The next most-likely Heat player to win the MVP is Dwayne Wade, whose odds are a dismal 15-to-1.
All of that, of course, also reflects the thing that America loves so much about the Spurs (besides, of course, the fact that they’re not the Heat): The two best players on San Antonio’s roster are humble stars who are equally likely to earn MVP honors, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Ginolbili or even Leonard might get the award, because of the way that the Spurs play the game. In Miami, meanwhile, if the Heat are going to triumph, it’s going to be through the on-court heroics of LeBron, if it’s going to be because of anybody. Wade, Chris Bosh, and other Heat stars are all fine players, of course, but the gambling odds reveal something that Spurs fans take to heart these days: Always bet on teamwork. That’s not a mushy emotional appeal—it’s just good business.(image via Flickr)