- The Atlanta Hawks are the surprise team of the NBA Playoffs and are through to the Eastern Conference Finals.
- The Hawks will face the Milwaukee Bucks to determine who will represent the East in the NBA Finals.
- Southern Nevada sportsbooks have a big financial liability on the Hawks.
It was evident that the Atlanta Hawks were better this year–all you needed to do was look at their regular season record to see that. Atlanta finished 41-31 this season after going 20-47 last year, 29-53 in 2018-2019 and 24-58 in 2017-2018. Even so, no one expected them to be where they are now–4 wins away from reaching the NBA Finals.
While the Hawks winning the NBA Championship might seem like the underdog ‘feel good story of the year’ you can’t blame sportsbooks for rooting against them. Based on reports out of Southern Nevada, bookmakers are facing the potential of a huge financial liability should the Hawks do the unthinkable and win the NBA title.
This is a team that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals for only the second time in the past fifty years. In 2015, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers only to be summarily dismissed in a four game sweep. They hadn’t gotten that far since the 1969-1970 season when they lost what was then known as the divisional finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. They haven’t reached the NBA Finals since 1961 when they were located in St. Louis–the St. Louis Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics that year.
Much of the credit for the Hawks newfound success has to go to interim head coach Nate McMillan. McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce on March 1 when the team was 14-20 on the year. They won their first two games under McMillan which left them 16-20 at the All Star Break. They went 25-11 the rest of the way and are now only the third team since 1984 to reach the Conference Finals despite having a losing record at the All Star Break. McMillan is now the 7th coach in NBA history to reach the conference finals after taking over a team midseason.
Bookmakers are not amused. Heading into the weekend they had two teams that presented big financial liabilities with the Brooklyn Nets and the Hawks. The Nets were eliminated but the Hawks are still alive and look more and more capable of pulling the massive upset. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported today that the city’s sportsbooks have a number of outstanding bets on the Hawks in the high six figures and at least one that would pay out $1.5 million. The Westgate took two bets for $7500 to win $900,000 in April and May. The Hawks have now become the book’s top NBA liability. BetMGM took a $10,000 wager on the Hawks at 150-1 which would pay out a tidy $1.5 million. William Hill has outstanding bets on the Hawks as well: $5,000 to win $500,000 at 100 -1 and $5,000 to win $300,000 at 60-1.
The Hawks still have an uproad battle ahead, starting with their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are a sizable favorite of -500 at the Westgate and -450 at BetOnline.ag. Westgate Sportsbook VP of risk Jeff Sherman thinks that Milwaukee will get it done but still gives Atlanta a fighting chance:
“I expect the Bucks to win, but I’m not fully confident. We don’t have a dominant team left out there. All four of the teams remaining could win and it wouldn’t be a big surprise.”
At BetOnline.ag, the Bucks are now favored to win the NBA Championship at +110 just ahead of the Phoenix Suns at +130. The LA Clippers are priced at +850 with the Hawks at +1100.