The 2019-20 NBA season was supposed to be wide open following the demise of the Warriors dynasty, but with just about one-third of the campaign remaining, three clear title favorites have emerged. A look at the current futures odds would indicate that either the Bucks (+260), Lakers (+260) or Clippers (+300) will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June, as the combined implied probability of their odds is just over 80%. Of course, there is extra juice baked into futures prices, so the goal is to get ahead of the market by extracting value on prices that are likely to shorten.
It’s also important to remember that there are an array of outright markets to bet into, including but not limited to championship futures, conference futures and playoff futures. With that in mind, let’s shine the spotlight on one of each that looks to have some value at the All-Star break.
Bucks to win the NBA title (+260)
As outlined above, the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers are all available at similar prices, which is to say the market is viewing them essentially as equals. But the reality is the market quite simply isn’t giving Milwaukee its due.
The Bucks are on an historic pace no matter how you slice it. They’re on track to notch just the third 70-win season in NBA history, they rank top two in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and their +12.1 point differential would check in at No. 4 all-time if the season ended today. For context, Golden State’s best point differential during their five-year reign was 11.6 in 2016-17. Add it all up and the Bucks should probably be more in the +150 range, while the Lakers and Clippers — only one of which can make the Finals — should be closer to +400.
Nuggets to win the West (+1200)
The Nuggets may not be the sexiest team and would have looked more formidable had they been able to acquire another scorer, but they have a few things going for them. First, they gained valuable experience in last year’s playoffs, climbing out of a 2-1 series deficit vs. the Spurs before dropping a hard-fought seven-game series to the Blazers in the second round. The NBA playoffs are grueling and unforgiving, which is why it’s no coincidence that every recent NBA champion has experienced playoff failure before getting over the hump.
Denver also boasts one of the strongest home-court advantages in the league, as only the Bucks (58-11) and 76ers (56-13) have been better than the Nuggets (55-14) at home since the beginning of last season. They currently project to have home court in each of their first two playoff series, making that +1200 price full of value given the potential to hedge down the position if they can advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Blazers to make the playoffs (+350)
The West playoff field is all but set save for the eight seed, which is currently occupied by Memphis. Portland sits in ninth at the All-Star break, four games back of the Grizzlies. Assuming Damian Lillard’s groin injury doesn’t sideline him for an extended period, the Blazers could finally be whole for the stretch run, as center Jusuf Nurkic is nearing a return from the broken leg that has kept him out of action all season. Portland has been one of the strongest second-half teams over the past four years, going a combined 71-32 after the break. That includes rallying from a 23-33 midseason record with an 18-8 finish and a run to the eight seed in 2016-17. If the Blazers can find a way to get healthy, bettors can count on another late push from Dame and Co.