The 5 Best Bets to Make the 2018-19 NBA Playoffs

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Los Angeles Lakers

Projected playoff probability: 85.6%
Odds to make the playoffs: -370

It's not often you see the betting markets undervalue a team as high-profile as the Los Angeles Lakers or a player as dominant as LeBron James, but here we are.

A team once built around Kobe Bryan, who carried the likes of Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake to the postseason, the Lakers haven't won even half their games in a season since 2012-13, and they have missed the playoffs in five straight.

The 2017-18 campaign did see them notch 35 wins, though (their most since they last made the playoffs), getting big contribution from young players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball.

They have kept much of their core from last season, bringing back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope but losing Julius Randle to free agency.

Of course, those young guys aren't why the Lakers are going to make the playoffs this year. It's all about the free agents, as they brought in both Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Oh, and LeBron James.

James has finished top-3 in the NBA in win shares in each of the last 3 seasons, and over the last 10 seasons he has more years ranking first in the NBA (4) than he has years outside the top-5 (2).

When LeBron re-joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2014-15 season, they saw their wins jump from 33 the previous season all the way to 52. Even at 33 years old, there are few players who can single-handedly lift a team's win total like LeBron.

This season presents a new challenge for him, though, as he'll be playing in the Western Conference for the first time.

Over the last three seasons, the average win total for the 8-seed in the West has been slightly higher than in the East, while the competition you need to beat for those wins also tends to be stiffer. The West has won at least 25 more games than the East in inter-conference play in four of the last five seasons, with an average edge of 55.0 games in that stretch. The East has not won more inter-conference matchups than the West since the 2008-2009 season.

This is likely what has the betting market a little hesitant to pencil in the Lakers' playoff spot before the season even kicks off, but our models think they're being far too bearish. We project the Lakers for the third-most wins in the West.