In a superstar-driven league, the Pacers are easy to overlook.
When the networks are airing a Lakers game, they can advertise it as “LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers!” If Brooklyn is playing, it’s “Harden, KD, Kyrie, and the Nets!” The 76ers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The unfortunate truth is that “Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and the Pacers!” just doesn’t have that same ratings-grabbing zing.
But here are the Pacers, through 18 games — exactly one-quarter of this COVID-shortened 72-game season — sitting at 11-7, in third place in the Eastern Conference, tied for the seventh best record in the NBA, and just a half-game back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the lead in the Central Division.
Their results to this point in the season scream “contender.”
But their betting odds at the legal sportsbooks in Indiana scream something else.
And that means there’s a lot of value to be had for bettors who believe this team of sturdy role players who fit nicely together — and aren’t even at full strength, health-wise — can possibly win its division or make some noise in the postseason.
As high as 25/1 to win the East
Looking at the futures odds at the top four mobile sportsbooks in Indiana as of the most recent revenue report, we see that the Pacers are viewed as much more of a longshot than several of the teams they currently lead in the standings.
DraftKings has them at the shortest odds to win the Eastern Conference, +1600 (bet $100, win $1,600). That might seem like a measure of respect for the Pacers, but there are five teams ahead of them, and all five are comfortably ahead of them. The Nets, Bucks, Sixers, Celtics, and Heat are each +700 or under.
PointsBet’s pricing is similar, with the Pacers at +1800 to win the conference, trailing the same five teams, still a long way behind the Heat at +1000.
FanDuel and BetMGM, meanwhile, both have the Toronto Raptors, currently sporting a 7-11 record, priced ahead of Indiana’s team. FanDuel is giving bettors the Pacers at a tempting +2200, just behind the Raps at +2000. The best price of all on the Pacers is at BetMGM, where they’re +2500 to win the East, slightly behind Toronto’s +2200.
Taking it a step further and looking at NBA championship odds, DraftKings and PointsBet both have the Pacers at 40/1, BetMGM offers 50/1, and FanDuel gives the best bang for your buck at 55/1.
Central Division odds are also interesting and show a lack of fear from the sportsbooks about the Pacers finishing the regular season with the best record among those five teams. Though they currently have the same number of wins as the Bucks and trail them by just one in the loss column, the Pacers are as high as +700 to win the division at DraftKings (and +600 elsewhere), while the Bucks range from -900 (FanDuel) to a prohibitive -2000 (DraftKings).
Sabonis, Brogdon, Turner — and maybe Levert?
One huge question mark for the Pacers is whether and when Caris Levert will join their lineup. The 26-year-old shooting guard was averaging 18.5 points and and 6 assists for the Nets this season before heading to Indiana as a component of the multi-way James Harden trade that saw the Pacers send Victor Oladipo to Houston. Levert hasn’t suited up yet for the Pacers after a team physical revealed a small mass on his kidney. He had surgery on Monday and a full recovery is expected, but there’s no timetable for his return to the court.
If Levert is able to contribute, that should make the Pacers an even more serious threat to those favored Eastern Conference teams like Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philly, and Boston.
But even without him, they’re proving to be a tough out. Fifth-year power forward Sabonis is making a leap, with odds ranging from +4000 at BetMGM to +5500 at FanDuel to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He became just the fifth player since the 1976-77 NBA/ABA merger to record a double-double in each of the first 16 games of a season. Though that streak ended due to injury in Game 17, he returned in the team’s 18th game on Wednesday to put up his first triple double of the year with a 22-11-10 line.
Center Myles Turner is leading the league in blocks per game, and it isn’t close — he’s at 4.2, and Rudy Gobert is in second place with 2.8. Naturally, Turner is a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. DraftKings has him at +250, behind only Gobert (+200), while the other books offer slightly longer odds: BetMGM has Turner at +300 behind Anthony Davis and tied with Gobert; FanDuel has him at +350 behind both Davis and Gobert; and PointsBet offers serious value at +500, well behind the other two contenders.
Meanwhile, the Pacers are led offensively by point guard Brogdon, who’s averaging 22.8 points and 7.1 assists, while getting contributions from Doug McDermott, Holiday brothers Justin and Aaron, and T.J. McConnell. It’s a team with depth that other contenders shouldn’t take lightly — especially when T.J. Warren returns from a stress fracture in his left foot and if Levert is added to the mix.
By the way, first-year coach Nate Bjorkren’s strong work is being recognized by PointsBet, which has him tied for the third lowest odds for Coach of the Year at +1000.
Favored Friday, probably underdogs Sunday
Fresh off Wednesday’s 116-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets that saw McDermott lead the Pacers with 28 points, Indiana meets them again at 7 p.m. on Friday. The visiting Pacers are favored by 3.5 points at all major sportsbooks, although the vig varies, with PointsBet standing out by offering its unique -105 juice on both sides. On the moneyline, DraftKings has the Pacers the cheapest at -155.
Interestingly, every book has a different points total to bet over or under. DK set it at 220, FanDuel has 221, BetMGM nudges it higher at 221.5, and PointsBet has a line of 222. There isn’t enough wiggle room there to recommend attempting to “middle” it with bets on both sides, but certainly Indiana sports bettors would be wise to choose the lowest line if they want to go over and the highest line if they want to bet under.
And just around the corner is a big test for the Pacers, Sunday at 7 p.m. at home against the East-leading 76ers. There are no lines posted yet for the game, but Pacers fans will be heartened to know that the team has won its last three regular season games against Philly, dating back to December 2019, all of them at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Given the way Philadelphia is regarded, with Joel Embiid emerging as an MVP frontrunner, there’s a good chance that Pacers backers will be able to get plus-money on them to run their home win streak against the Sixers to four.
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