Updated NBA Conference Odds: The Loaded West

The Warriors are still heavy favorites to win the West, but our models see betting value in two other Western Conference teams.

Between James Harden’s fourth-quarter heroics against LeBron James and the Lakers and Anthony Davis’ monster performance against the Thunder, this week had quite a few exciting games. We’re getting closer to the Christmas slate, so it’s a great time to take stock in the current contenders and examine their value in the betting markets.

Milwaukee is still at the top of our rankings, along with the Raptors and Celtics, with Boston winning 8 of their last 10 games to put themselves back amongst the top teams in the East.

The West is an entirely different story as the Warriors will always be heavy favorites under their current roster construction. The other favorites in the West include the underachieving Rockets, who aren’t even in the playoff picture at the moment, and the Lakers. Here are the top-five teams with the shortest odds to win Western Conference, per the FanDuel Sportsbook:

Team Odds
Golden State Warriors -330
Houston Rockets +950
Los Angeles Lakers +1100
Oklahoma City Thunder +2000
Denver Nuggets +2700

The last two teams on this list -- the Thunder and Nuggets -- are the top two teams in the West right now, according to our models. Both teams have relied on elite defenses to carry them to the top of the Western Conference standings and are worth a look to win the West based on current odds. Let's take a look.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have the best defensive rating of any team in the NBA, according to Basketball Reference, and their defensive success comes from forcing turnovers. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are two of the longest, most athletic defenders at their respective positions, and their aggressive style of play has yielded at least two steals per game for each. George is amongst the top-20 players in defensive real plus-minus (RPM), per ESPN, along with teammate Nerlens Noel, who has protected the rim well for Oklahoma City in limited minutes this year.

The other area the Thunder have really excelled at is rebounding, especially on the offensive end. They lead the league in offensive rebounding and rank second in second-chance points, behind only the Pelicans, according to Steven Adams averages 4.6 second-chance points per game and has helped Oklahoma City extend possessions by cleaning the glass on offense.

OKC has held opponents to an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 50.8%, which is eighth in the NBA. The Thunder are an athletic team and have the type of versatile defense that can give teams with elite perimeter scoring trouble come playoff time. They've come close to the Finals in recent years, albeit with Kevin Durant on their side, but they've reloaded, so to speak, with George and are good enough to make a run in the West.

Denver Nuggets

Although they’re not as prolific as the Thunder, the Nuggets have had success behind a great defense, as well, ranking fifth in defensive rating. However, they’re not reliant on turnovers as much as Oklahoma City is. Instead, the Nuggets' success comes from contested shots and rebounding.

Denver ranks second in contested threes on defense and have held opponents to an eFG% of 50.5%. The Nuggets have adaptable big men who can contest outside shots; both Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap rank in the top-20 players in defensive RPM. Together, Jokic and Millsap also pull down about 17 boards per game, and the Nuggets rank just behind the Thunder in second-chance points at third in the league, which is another area where Jokic has been particularly successful this season.

Denver’s guards really set their offense apart from many other teams because of their lack of turnovers. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combine for a shade more than five turnovers per game, which is part of the reason the Nuggets rank eighth in turnover percentage. Those two are not particularly efficient shooters -- neither has an eFG% of above 50% -- but they've been shooting well below each of their career averages from beyond the three-point line. Thus, they're both bound for positive regression, and bettors can expect the Nuggets to shoot more efficiently going forward.

In recent years, the teams that have given the Warriors a tough time in the playoffs have been great defensive teams. Bettors can add Denver to the list because of their frontcourt and should consider taking a flyer on the Nuggets.