Arenas, Sportsbooks Come Alive As NBA Playoffs Begin

Written By Russ Mitchell on May 18, 2021 - Last Updated on June 10, 2021
nba playoffs odds

The Pistons misfired, the Timberwolves are howling and the Bulls are out to pasture, but bettors still have a pair of Midwest options as the NBA Playoffs begin.

And, it’s really a tale of two cities: The play-in Indiana Pacers have a pair of hurdles just to reach the weekend. The Milwaukee Bucks are safely in and have the sixth-best odds at Betfred Sportsbook to win the NBA Championship.

Teams will put “the bubble” behind them: A season ago, the NBA sequestered its playoff teams in Orlando to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. This year, teams are back in their home arenas  — with fans.

It’s a welcome development for Betfred’s product analyst, Jason Sylva:

“It just makes the game alive. Last year seemed kind of dull. It didn’t really feel like an NBA Playoffs. Fans are definitely a contribution factor both as sportsbooks set the lines — and the betting habits.”

Sylva said sportsbooks generally adjust odds by 2 to 2.5 points in favor of home teams.

Play-in games round out NBA Playoffs

The Pacers get a home game to stay alive as the NBA begins its playoffs. Here’s how the play-in tournament works:

Once the regular season ended, the NBA paired the seventh-place and eighth-place teams in conference standings. Winners jump ahead to the weekend as No. 7 seeds:

  • Eastern Conference — No. 8 Boston Celtics at No. 7 Washington Wizards (8 p.m. Tuesday on TNT)
  • Western Conference  — No. 8 Golden State Warriors at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (9 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN)

At the same time, the ninth-place and 10th-place teams in each conference face each other to stay alive for No. 8 seed. Losers of these games are done for the season:

  • Eastern Conference — No. 10 Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 Indiana Pacers (5:30 p.m. Tuesday on TNT)
  • Western Conference  — No. 10 San Antonio Spurs at No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (6:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN)

The last playoff spot in each conference is decided when the 7-8 game losers face the 9-10 winners. That means the Celtics-Wizards loser will play the Hornets-Pacers winner on Thursday for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Warriors-Lakers loser will face the Spurs-Grizzlies winner on Friday for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Sylva said:

“This is a concept that was created last year in the bubble. And they’ve actually taken it and morphed it into something that we’re doing here at 2021, post-bubble … It was exciting last year, and I think it will be even more exciting this year.”

NBA Playoffs pairings

The rest of the NBA Playoff pairings are set and the full playoffs begin Saturday:


  • No. 7 Celtics-Wizards play-in winner at No. 2 Brooklyn Nets (Game 1 Saturday)
  • No. 6 Miami Heat at No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks (Game 1 Saturday)
  • No. 8 Eastern Conference play-in winner at No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers (Game 1 Sunday)
  • No. 5 Atlanta Hawks at No. 4 New York Knicks (Game 1 Sunday)


  • No. 5 Dallas Mavericks at No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (Game 1 Saturday)
  • No. 6 Portland Trailblazers at No. 3 Denver Nuggets (Game 1 Saturday)
  • No. 7 Lakers-Warriors play-in winner at No. 2 Phoenix Suns (Game 1 Sunday)
  • No. 8 Western Conference play-in winner at No. 1 Utah Jazz (Game 1 Sunday)

Hornets at Pacers odds


Sylva likes the Pacers at home, but the NBA betting odds improved a bit for the Hornets on Tuesday.

Indiana learned guard Caris LeVert would miss the play-in game due to health and safety protocols. He averaged 24.8 points and 7.4 assists in his last 10 games for the Pacers. Sylva does consider the Hornets an exciting team but Charlotte also has limped into the playoffs with its own injuries:

“We’ve just seen the team kind of sputter a bit. They don’t look like the team that they were for the first couple months of the NBA season. Looking at specifically how they closed the season, they lost six out of the last seven and lost last five in a row — granted they were playing some solid opponents. Obviously it’s not the way you want to come into the playoffs. They’re young and talented team. But it seems to me that the wheels fell off a little bit.”

In the end, Sylva thinks the Pacers have too many scoring threats:

“They play too fast of a pace, and I don’t see the Hornets being able to defend for 48 minutes and get the win here.”

The winner of Charlotte-Indiana plays the loser of the 7-8 play-in loser of Boston-Washington, but Sylva said the Pacers “won’t be favored in either of those matchups.”

Heat at Bucks odds

Philadelphia’s drafting and roster-building “process” bore fruit and the Nets were aggressive in player acquisition. Sylva said those factors dropped Milwaukee down in the standings a bit, but a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo is always going to be in the mix.

“It’s crazy that they were on the pedestal of the East the past couple years and they weren’t able to get it done. And now, there’s competition in the East and the tides have risen. So now they’re looking at a three seed. Coming into the season, I would not have expected them to be behind Philly. As far as the Nets go, I’m not too shocked. I don’t think anybody is, considering the moves they made throughout the season.”

Sylva thinks Bucks will have their hands full in the opening round with Miami, but he likes the team’s odds vs. the Heat — and perhaps the Nets as well.

“The three times they met, the Bucks stole two of three and all three games are decided by 11 points. So you can bet your dollar that this is a series that should go six, seven games. When it comes to the Nets in the Bucks. It should be an absolute war.”

The NBA finals begin July 8.

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Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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