NBA futures bettors have to be more excited for the 2019-20 NBA season than they have been for any other season in recent memory. How refreshing is it not to see the Golden State Warriors at the top of the Western Conference and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top of the Eastern Conference for the conference championship futures? Obviously Cleveland was not at the top last year after LeBron James left for the bright lights of Hollywood, but the Warriors assumed their regular position in the West odds.
This season, we’ve got some big changes in both conferences. The Bucks and 76ers are still up near the top in the East, but the Celtics have taken a big tumble, despite the signing of Kemba Walker. The bigger story is in the West, where the Clippers leapfrogged LeBron’s Lakers after winning the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes. Amazingly, the Warriors aren’t even listed third or fourth. They are listed fifth!
This introduction isn’t meant to downplay or diminish what the Cavs and Warriors accomplished, as the two teams played in the NBA Finals four straight times from 2015-18. It is simply to say that some new blood is a good thing in the NBA.
New blood also means opportunity. The Bucks were a good team before LeBron left the East, but now they stand out with the conference’s best player and MVP hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Sixers have an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid. The Celtics could very well have one in Walker.
The Clippers were a good team before Kawhi Leonard got on the scene. They’re now the Western Conference favorites. James Harden and Russell Westbrook now play together, but NBA rules still mandate only one ball in play at all times. How will that affect Rockets? Will Anthony Davis be enough of a Robin to LeBron’s Batman for the Lakers to get over the Western Conference hump? Do all-around solid teams like Portland, Utah, and Denver have a realistic chance without the same level of star power?
The upcoming NBA season has a lot more intrigue than recent seasons. That also creates additional intrigue in the odds for the NBA Conference Champions.
We’ll start with the Eastern Conference, where the Bucks and 76ers are the clear frontrunners. The Celtics are the only other hopeful with single-digit odds, while the Nets, Raptors, and Pacers appear to be the only other teams with a good chance of getting to the Finals.
Having Giannis is a big help, as the Eastern Conference team with the best player has made the NBA Finals every year since 2011. Of course, from 2011-18, that was LeBron James, who was there with the Heat and then the Cavs. Last season, Kawhi took the Raptors to the Finals and also brought home a title for the North.
The Bucks are a very deserving favorite, but there is a big difference between taking them to win the NBA Championship at +650 and taking them to win the Eastern Conference at +150 at DraftKings. You might be able to freeroll the Eastern Conference Finals by taking Milwaukee’s opponent at plus money, but that doesn’t leave you much for tying up your funds.
Instead, the better course of action is to look at some longer prices and hope to either get lucky or get that team deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs. A team like the Indiana Pacers makes a lot of sense at +1800. It would be disingenuous to call the Pacers a lock to make the playoffs, but they have a high likelihood of making it. They’d be making it with a fresh Victor Oladipo, who isn’t expected to return until midseason. The Pacers won 48 games last season and were a .500 bunch without Oladipo, so that should help moving forward.
Options in the East are fairly few and far between if you don’t want a short price on the Bucks or Sixers. About the only other team worthy of consideration to win the East is the Miami Heat at +2700 at DraftKings. The Nets look like a mess of egos already and the Raptors lost so much with Leonard leaving for LA. They still have Kyle Lowry, who rewrote some playoff narratives last season, but they lack second and third scoring options.
That leaves it to the Heat, who added Jimmy Butler over the summer and also still have a quality scorer in Goran Dragic. Erik Spoelstra has some experience with egos, so maybe he can harness Butler better than others have. The Southeast Division looks weak again this season, so the stage is set for the Heat to get in with a division title and maybe take advantage of their strength of schedule to avoid the Bucks and Sixers in the first round.
Over in the Western Conference, the Clippers and Lakers are the shortest prices, followed by the Rockets. All of the remaining teams can be had at 10/1 or better at DraftKings. Be sure to shop around for the best odds with the New Jersey sportsbooks, especially with the luxury to do that from home thanks to mobile betting.
In looking over the odds, have too many people written off the Golden State Warriors at +1000? Golden State retained Klay Thompson and also added DeAngelo Russell, Alec Burks, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant are obviously noteworthy losses, but few teams are as well-coached as the Warriors and Steph Curry and Draymond Green are still there. The Warriors do have to navigate a rough-and-tumble Pacific Division, but +1000 is a pretty good price for a proven commodity.
If long shots are your thing, you won’t find them in the Western Conference. In fact, as we head into the season, the Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Warriors, and Nuggets make up six playoff spots barring a complete catastrophe. The Trail Blazers should occupy another spot. Those are seven likely playoff teams with odds of +2200 or lower.
The Nuggets are underappreciated in a national sense, but the +1200 price just doesn’t carry enough value.