Entering the season, the New York Knicks, per multiple reports, were Las Vegas’ most popular NBA title bet. The population size and the popularity of basketball in the Big Apple no doubt helped inflate these numbers, but the message early on was clear: People believed that the Knicks were back.
And could you really blame them?
Carmelo Anthony remains one of the best scorers on the planet. Kristaps Porzingis is a 7’3” monument who can block shots, stroke threes, score in the post, pass on the move and, at times, defend in space.
Team president Phil Jackson traded for Derrick Rose, the 2010-11 MVP who, despite recent struggles, immediately ranked as the Knicks’ best point guard in years. And Jackson rounded the squad out with the free-agent additions of Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah, giving New York what was, on paper, one of the most intriguing starting fives in the NBA.
It would be a bit of stretch to say this core has been a fantastic flop thus far, but it’s most definitely toed the line.
The Knicks are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, noticeably below .500, and are on pace to win just five more games than they did last season. They are 6-13 on the road and, on most nights, don’t play a lick of defense.
Forget about contending with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference’s throne, the Knicks, at this point, will be lucky to make the playoffs.
New York basketball fans are, by and large, smart enough to know this. And luckily, they can use this knowledge to their advantage at sportsbooks everywhere.
Because the Knicks are so bad on the defensive end, they instantly become great over plays. True, the offense isn’t spectacular, but the team plays fast. And when you play fast, you create additional scoring opportunities for both you and your opponent by generating more overall possessions.
As a rule of thumb: Fast-paced play styles + porous defensive stands equals great over wagers.
Looking at the Knicks’ potential from a spreads standpoint, you have to play the location. By point differential, the Knicks are roughly 11 times better at home than they are on the road. So while there is no exact science to picking and choosing your opportunities, it’s generally good to bet against their spreads when they play away from Madison Square Garden and more acceptable to bet in favor of them covering the spread when they’re on their home floor.
Whatever you do, though, it’s most important to remember that you shouldn’t be using these Knicks as championship plays. Barring a midseason turnaround of epic proportions, they are not built to beat the Cavaliers. They’re not even built to beat the No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors or No. 3 seed Boston Celtics.
But here’s the other thing: Most of the East’s playoff hopefuls are all lumped together in the same tier. There are the Cavaliers, and then there’s everyone else. The Raptors and Celtics might be a cut above the pack, but they’re not miles in front of everyone.
It’s not a bad idea, then, to invest a modest amount of money in the Knicks’ chances to reach—not win, but reach—the Eastern Conference Finals. Some sportsbooks will let you make the bet, and contrary to the team’s record it’s not a terrible wager.
All the Knicks have to do is avoid playing the Cavaliers in the first two playoff rounds to be legit Eastern Conference Final candidates. And if they snag the No. 6 or No. 7 seeds, that’s exactly what they’ll be able to do.
Postseason series against the Celtics or Raptors will still peg the Knicks as underdogs, but they have a much better chance of sneaking past any those two teams.