Kevin Durant’s right calf strain has unsurprisingly caused a drastic shift in the NBA playoffs betting market and could produce a different championship favorite for the first time all season.
With Durant out for Game 6 Friday against the Rockets, the two-time defending champions are now consensus 7.5-point underdogs in Houston. That spread would be the largest Golden State has faced with Steph Curry in the lineup and Steve Kerr as head coach – a span of 440 games dating back to 2014, including the post-season.
Durant will be re-evaluated next week, according to a statement released by the Warriors on Thursday. However, the team stopped short of officially ruling him out a possible Game 7 in Oakland.
“I don’t think there’s going to be many people looking to bet the Warriors in this game so might as well tax it on the higher side of Houston,” Las Vegas SuperBook vice president of risk Jeff Sherman told ESPN. “I don’t expect Golden State to win this one.”
The Warriors are already short-handed, losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn quadriceps muscle in his left leg on April 24. Kerr has also tightened his rotation by starting sixth man Andre Iguodala this entire series. Consequently, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are each averaging more than seven additional minutes per game than they did during the regular season.
“It really wouldn’t surprise me if (the Warriors) have some gamesmanship and maybe consider just trying to stay in it and not really put in that full effort and just worry about getting back home and winning Game 7,” senior oddsmaker at Caesars Entertainment Alan Berg told ESPN.
By comparison, Houston was favored by 3.5 at home in Game 3 and Golden State was favored by 1 in Game 4 on the road. However, Durant’s injury only amplifies this specific handicapping situation, with the Rockets facing elimination.
“A lot of it is factored into this spot in Game 6 where obviously Houston’s backs are against the wall. Not just a game is a game,” Sherman said.
The Warriors are 26-1 in their last 27 games when Curry plays but Durant does not. That includes a 4-0 mark against Houston. However, in this particular series, Golden State has been outscored by 79 points without Durant on the floor. James Harden is shooting 36 percent when guarded by Durant and 47 percent when guarded by Curry or Thompson.
The futures market also has changed significantly. Golden State is a minus-260 favorite to advance past Houston, which is the exact same series price prior to winning Game 5 and losing Durant. Additionally, the Warriors are now +140 to win the title, compared to -110 prior to their Game 5 victory.
“It’s one of those things that until they actually lose, no one believes they’re actually going to lose,” Berg said.
All these odds are contingent on Durant returning at some point. If Durant is ruled out for the entire playoffs, Sherman said he would make the Milwaukee Bucks a +150 championship favorite and lower the Warriors to +200.
“I definitely think they’ve come back to the field a bit. To us, this seems like their last real run with the separation they’ve had. Now you take Durant out of the equation, it’s obviously really close to these other teams. If they end up winning the title this year, I think this will be the toughest run doing it,” Sherman said.