Bookmakers break down NBA, NHL Playoffs, big bets

Bookmakers break down NBA, NHL Playoffs, big bets

Updated May. 29, 2023 10:37 p.m. ET

With football season still months away, there’s nothing like a good Game 7 to keep the sports betting juices flowing. Thankfully — or perhaps we should say hopefully — the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are prepared to deliver just that on Monday night to cap Memorial Day weekend.

That’s not the only thing going on in the sports betting space, though. 

Half of the Stanley Cup Final field is set, with the upstart Florida Panthers waiting on the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the Western Conference. And even in late May, NFL betting remains part of the landscape.

So let’s serve up a smorgasbord of nuggets on the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as reveal details on how your ability to make NFL picks could get you a piece of $14 million this fall.


Boston Bounce Back

Last Monday night, the eighth-seeded Heat were sitting on a 3-0 series lead against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. A week later, Boston has the series tied at 3, and we’re getting a massive Game 7 on Monday night in Beantown.

The winner advances to meet the Denver Nuggets, making their first NBA Finals appearance. Boston is a 7.5-point home favorite against Miami (including at FOX Bet), but BetMGM Nevada’s Scott Shelton said action on the Strip is very much running toward the underdog Heat.

"Immediately, they pounced on the Heat here. We went from 8.5 to 7.5," Shelton said, noting sharp money landed on Miami when the line first went up Saturday night after Boston’s buzzer-beating Game 6 win to tie the series. "Ticket count is almost 6-1 on the Heat, and the money is almost 7-1 on the Heat."

The total also got popped right away.

"There was sharp play immediately on the Under," Shelton said Sunday night. "We opened at 206.5, and it got pounded down as soon as it opened Saturday night. We’re now at 203.5."

[RELATED: Heat-Celtics Game 7 odds]

Shelton said there aren’t any big bets on Game 7 yet, but he anticipates a high roller or two will weigh in before the 8:30 p.m. ET tipoff. Regardless, thanks to Eastern Conference championship futures betting, the Heat are a notable liability in Vegas.

"To win the East, we’re a mid-six-figure loser to the Heat," Shelton said, while noting there’s a flip side to that potential loss. "We’d kind of make up for it, though, if the Heat were to win it all against the Nuggets, as opposed to the Celtics winning it all."

Big picture, though, LeBron James & Co. being out of the picture is all BetMGM Nevada needed.

"Once the Lakers went out, it felt like we were on a free roll," Shelton said. "If the Lakers had won the championship, it would’ve been one of the biggest future-book losses in BetMGM Nevada history."

Is Nikola Jokić the best player in the world right now?

Former Nuggets star Alex English joins Colin Cowherd on The Herd to discuss the latest news in the NBA.

Forward Thinking

Rex Beyers has worked for some of the most respected sportsbooks in the industry, including The SuperBook and South Point in Vegas. Beyers is now the head of wagering at PlayUp USA, which operates in New Jersey and Colorado.

With the Nuggets already in the NBA Finals, Beyers discussed series odds for a potential Celtics-Nuggets matchup and Heat-Nuggets matchup.

"I rate the Nuggets higher than everybody else, and I have the whole time," Beyers said of his stance throughout the playoffs. "I do think Denver is the superior team."

However, Boston would have home-court advantage against Denver in the Finals, for what it’s worth. Beyers feels that advantage is almost negligible, though the Celts would likely open as the favorite.

"Home court doesn’t mean that much in today’s NBA, and I really think that Boston can’t be any kind of a real favorite. The Celtics are going to be a small series favorite, but they shouldn’t be -140 or higher, which I think they might be," Beyers said. "I think it should be much closer to a pick (-110). I’ll be the cheapest price on Boston. I’ll make sure my first bet taken is on Boston."

Beyers also pointed out that Denver is superb at home, going 34-7 in the regular season and 8-0 so far in the postseason.

"I think the Nuggets win all three at home. All Denver has to do in theory is win one on the road. And I think they can win two on the road," he said. "Nothing would surprise me, other than Boston winning. I can’t see the Celtics beating Denver four times, regardless of if the games are in Boston, Denver or on Mars."

Of course, the Heat will have something to say about the NBA Finals matchup. If Miami resumes its Cinderella playoff run by winning Game 7 at Boston, Beyers would make Denver a significant NBA Finals favorite.

"If it’s Heat-Nuggets, I’d say Denver -550/Miami +425," Beyers said. "Anything a little lower or a little higher wouldn’t surprise me, but I can’t see it much off from that."

Florida Watches and Waits

Meanwhile, in the Stanley Cup playoffs, another No. 8 seed from the Sunshine State is already in the championship series. The Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals.

So the Panthers have been resting for five days already, and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final isn’t until Saturday. That means Florida will be plenty rested once the Golden Knights and Stars settle their business in the Western Conference finals. Regardless of who wins in the West, Vegas or Dallas will have home-ice advantage against Florida.

If it’s a Panthers-Knights Cup Final, then Beyers — who works out of Las Vegas — will have a very different need than most Sin City bookmakers.

"We’re in bad shape to Florida," Beyers said, alluding to the Stanley Cup futures market at PlayUp. "We’ve got money on Florida at 45-1, 35-1 and 30-1. I’m the only bookmaker in Vegas who’s gonna root for the Knights. We need the Knights for a pile. We’re a small winner to the Knights, and we lose more than we should to Florida."

Likewise, the book needs the Stars if they advance to face the Panthers.

"If it were anyone but Florida, we’d be rooting for that side," Beyers said.

What’s the Guarantee? 

For the past few weeks, Circa Sports has been teasing its annual NFL picks contests with commercials asking, "What’s the guarantee?"

The guarantee being how much Vegas casino owner and avid sports bettor Derek Stevens will put up in those two contests: Circa Millions, in which contestants make five NFL picks against the point spread each week of the regular season; and Circa Survivor, in which contestants make one pick a week, but can’t use the same team twice.

For the 2023-24 NFL season, that guarantee is $14 million — $8 million for Circa Survivor and $6 million for Circa Million. It costs $1,000 to enter each contest, but when you think of that as ostensibly a $1,000 bet that covers the entire season, a lot of people find that quite attractive.

"It certainly is some of the appeal when you think about it. It’s less than 60 bucks a week," Stevens said. "You get a massive amount of entertainment value. You can play from anywhere. That all plays into it. You get a tremendous amount of action for the cost. And the upside if you get hot is incredible."

Indeed, Circa Million guarantees $1 million to the winner — the contestant with the best against-the-spread record across the whole season — and the top 100 finishers cash. Further, there are quarterly payouts and even a $100,000 prize for the contestant who posts the worst record. And all entry-fee money goes back to the contestants. Circa Sports doesn’t make a dime.

Circa Survivor, as its name suggests, is a winner-take-all pool. Last season’s winner cleared $3 million. In both contests, as Stevens alluded to, you don’t have to live in Nevada to compete. You just have to make a trip to downtown Las Vegas before the NFL season starts in order to enter and have a Vegas-based proxy submit your picks each week.

Arguably the most interesting facet of both contests is that, while plenty of recreational bettors get involved, professionals engage, as well. Generally speaking, sharp bettors don’t like to have their money tied up for months at a time. But the perceived value in these types of contests makes it worthwhile. 

"Both of our contests play to both novice players and sharps," Stevens said. "The fact that we take out no rake (from entry fees) on either of our football contests allows for scenarios of positive expected value, which attracts the professionals. The simplicity makes it attractive to first-timers.

"It’s a really unique situation that makes them attractive to both, and it points toward the growing consumer base."

I Like Big Bets and I Cannot Lie

OK, I’ve only got one wager to mention in this space, and it’s not even a big one. But it was a really nice payout, and it speaks to the more common sports bettor.

DraftKings Sportsbook offered an NBA playoffs proposition bet on whether the Eastern Conference finals would have any game decided by a buzzer-beating game-winning basket. In Saturday’s Game 6, that’s exactly what happened.

With Boston trailing 103-102 and just three seconds remaining, Marcus Smart took an inbounds pass from Derrick White and chucked up a desperation 3-pointer. Smart’s shot missed, but White crashed the boards and tipped in the rebound as the clock expired.

So the Celtics won 104-103, and anybody who jumped on that prop — which paid +4000 (bet $10 to win $410 total) — cashed out nicely at DraftKings. The largest bet acknowledged by DK was just $100.

Still, a $4,000 win is a pretty nice return on a $100 investment. May we all see such ROI on any bet in our entire lives. 

Enjoy Heat-Celtics Game 7 and Knights-Stars Game 6, and remember: Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Keep it reasonable, people.

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He’s based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golfing in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.

Play FOX Super 6 every week for your chance to win thousands of dollars every week. Just download the Super 6 app and make your picks today!