The 3 Best NBA Championship Bets to Make Before the League Returns
After more than two months of hiatus, the NBA has a plan to return to action, one that features 22 teams playing out the rest of the season in a centralized location in Orlando.
The rest of the 2019-20 campaign will include an abridged regular season with each team playing eight games before the playoffs begin.
In the event that a conference's 9 seed is within four games of the 8 seed, a series will be played (in which the 8 seed needs to win once and the 9 seed needs to win twice consecutively). We may not see that happen based on simulations run by ESPN's Kevin Pelton.
There are more details than that, of course, and we don't have a finalized schedule, but we can find some value over on FanDuel Sportsbook.
To do so, we can dig into numberFire's nERD rating, which indicates expected win percentage over a full, 82-game season. By that measure, the Milwaukee Bucks (82.1) are easily the NBA's best squad, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers (71.8) and the Toronto Raptors (68.9).
I've also went back and calculated an opponent-adjusted point differential rating for the season (which has an r-squared value with nERD of 0.957 if you were curious).
The teams listed here are are sorted in order of their FanDuel Sportsbook championship odds.
|Los Angeles Lakers||71.8||7.51||+270|
|Los Angeles Clippers||65.2||6.46||+340|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||58.2||2.40||+10000|
|New Orleans Pelicans||47.3||0.63||+12000|
|Portland Trail Blazers||47.0||-2.24||+21000|
|San Antonio Spurs||46.6||-1.37||+21000|
This list is pretty well separated into contenders and pretenders, and while we should probably expect the season to be more volatile than normal due to the uncertainty of how each team returns to form, we should still be realistic. Winning the NBA Finals still means winning four long series against the NBA's best teams.
So, based on what we know (mostly centering on team strength and seeding), who stands out the most here?
Milwaukee Bucks (+240)
It's never fun to bet the favorites, but at +240, the Bucks aren't entirely priced out, and their edge over the rest of the Eastern Conference is pretty cavernous. The Bucks, before the hiatus, had a 56.5% chance to win the NBA Finals, based on our algorithm. That's pretty wild. The equivalent betting line for 56.5% odds is -130.
There's no real way of knowing which teams will come out of the break playing significantly different basketball than they did entering, but we can say for sure that the Bucks were roughly 6.0 points per game better than the next toughest teams in their conference.
If we assume the teams play relatively even to what they did entering the break, then the price is very intriguing for Milwaukee.
Toronto Raptors (+2400)
If you bet the Toronto Raptors, you're going directly against the Bucks, so you're betting that they beat the Bucks in a best-of-seven (unless the Bucks get upset before then, which is quite unlikely, or the Raptors blow their 3.0-game lead over the Boston Celtics over the final eight and play Milwaukee before the conference finals).
But our pre-hiatus projections gave Toronto a 7.8% chance to win the Finals, odds that equate to a betting line around +1182. They're +2400 on FanDuel Sportsbook.
The Raptors rate out a cut above the rest of the East (excluding the Bucks) and are actually third in the NBA in estimated net rating at 7.2 (behind the Bucks' 11.0 and the Lakers' 7.3).
They're a pretty dominant team whose odds are diminished because of the Bucks' elite efficiency. The underlying value on Toronto is really juicy, too, because they have to get through "only" the Bucks and the West's representative while the West fights off more juggernauts.
That's not to discount the Celtics but merely to reiterate that the path in the East is more of an open, flowing river that hits a brick wall dam (Milwaukee) than it is a game of Minesweeper full of potential threats like the West.
Dallas Mavericks (+3600)
It's really easy to like either Los Angeles team out of the West -- or really any team from that conference. In fact, if you like the Los Angeles Clippers, you can bet them to meet the Bucks at an odds-boosted line of +440, and you won't even have to worry about hitting the right winner in what could be a tight series.
Anyway, the Dallas Mavericks sit at +3600 as the 7 seed in the West. This is despite the fact that they rank fifth in nERD (and are just as good as the Clippers by that measure), sixth in adjusted point differential, and sixth in estimated net rating.
You can probably see where I'm going with this. Yes, they're the 7 seed, and that means a tough road ahead of them. To clarify, we know that they rate out as well as the Clippers in nERD, but due to differences in seeding, numberFire's algorithm gave the Clippers a 5.4% chance to win the NBA Finals and the Mavs a 2.4% chance before the break.
Regardless, Dallas is a borderline top-five team in the entire NBA.
With no clear expectation of how each team returns to action, there's some volatility value here in case some of the league's best teams start slowly. Dallas can hang, and their odds are quite long for a team that can be this good.