2023 NBA Playoffs: Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings series preview

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Opening Price (via DraftKings): Golden State Warriors (-290) Sacramento Kings (+225)

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For the first time in 16 years the Sacramento Kings will be participating in a playoff series. It’s a monumental achievement for a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for nearly two decades, but the reward for ending such a drought is a series with the reigning champions who many believe can “flip the switch” after a capricious regular season which resulted in 30 losses on the road. 

The betting market cares not for narratives, but it does seem to buy into the concept that Golden State is going to be just fine, as the Warriors opened up as -290 favorites (74.4% implied probability) to win this series. It’s honestly shocking to see so many wipe away Golden State’s struggles on the road this season with nary a thought. A team that went 11-30 SU/13-28 ATS away from home this season has a 74.4% chance of winning a series in which they must win at least one road game? 

That probability is too high given the situation, especially when you dive into why Golden State was losing on the road this season. 

In its 41 road games this season Golden State allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, according to Cleaning The Glass. That is a road defensive rating better than just San Antonio and Houston. In halfcourt settings they allowed 102.9 points per 100 plays on the road. It was not just bright lights and loud crowds that led to the Warriors losses away from home this season, it was poor defensive play that could continue to plague them in a series against Sacramento which led the league in non-garbage time offensive efficiency (119.7). 

Still, the Warriors are the better defensive team in this series, and they have the personnel to match up with the Kings.

In their regular season meetings Golden State hid Stephen Curry mostly on Keegan Murray or other catch-and-shoot threats who will rarely try to beat their defender off the dribble. Draymond Green would frequently guard De’Aaron Fox with Kevon Looney handling Domantas Sabonis and Klay Thompson taking either Kevin Huerter or Harrison Barnes. Andrew Wiggins – who we will discuss shortly – would take the responsibility of the other wing player, and those two along with Green would frequently switch their matchups when necessary. It’s a scheme that works with the personnel Golden State boasts, especially if everyone is available and defending at a high level.

However, we do not know if everyone is available. There are some reports which state that Wiggins will be ready for Game 1 on Saturday, but even if he is available to start the series there is no telling how effective he will be or if there will be any sort of restriction on his time. Wiggins is the missing piece for Golden State which unlocks a lineup that is +22.1 per 100 possessions this season, but it would be unwise to assume he is operating at full capacity right away.

There should also be questions as to how effective some of the individual defenders are playing this season. 

For example, Klay Thompson improved the Warriors’ defensive rating by only 1.5 points per 100 possessions on the floor, his least impactful season in that category since 2014-2015. In the games against the Kings, especially in the loss at Sacramento, Thompson was at the center of quite a few defensive lapses. He was frequently beat off the dribble by Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, setting up free throw opportunities or open buckets due to the Kings drawing a help defender. Thompson can still play above average defense, but he isn’t the same on-ball defender he once was, and that will be tested in this series.

Golden State’s bench unit also lacks real impact defenders. In fact, when Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Curry shared the floor against Sacramento, Steve Kerr regularly used a zone defense to counter the lack of on-ball defenders on the floor for the Warriors. That is something that bettors will likely see once more when these two teams meet.

Again, Golden State is the better defensive team in this series without question, but it is a flawed defensive team and those flaws led to a poor road record which should cut into its probability of winning this series.

Defense is also why the market is so low on Sacramento.

The Kings come into the postseason as the worst defensive team in the field, even if you include the play-in teams. Sacramento allowed 117.3 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time this season, and their halfcourt defensive rating of 102.0 is the worst in postseason field as well. 

Their best on-ball defender is Davion Mitchell who only plays 18.1 minutes per game. Barnes is not a great defender at the point of action, and his lack of awareness off the ball led quite a few open looks for Golden State in the regular season series. That lack of defense allowed Curry to dominate the series with an average of 33.0 points on 58.4% shooting from the floor. Sacramento tried everything throughout the regular season series on defense. They played drop coverage on pick-and-rolls, had bigs meet screens at the level and even doubled at times to no avail. 

That mismatch is going nowhere.

Betting Analysis

The betting market is too high on Golden State’s probability of winning this series. The Warriors deserve to be favored in this series given the Kings’ clear weakness on defense, but Golden State’s own inconsistencies should work against them as well. There is value in playing Sacramento to win the series, but as with other series, there are quite a few ways to attack that incorrectly priced number.

The total for the series is set at 5.5 games with a -165 price on the over, and that is how I will choose to attack this series. Sacramento has a strong enough homecourt, as well as an offense that can have success in certain matchups against Golden State. The market is underpricing the potential of the Kings here, and the probability of this series needing six or more games is higher than that price would indicate.

Bet Recommendation: Total Games Over 5.5 (-165)