The NBA season opens up on Tuesday night. TheSportsNotebook’s preseason NBA commentary has previewed all six divisions and measured each team against their Over/Under win totals. In this post, we’ll focus on the betting odds to win the championship and see what numbers might make sense.
Given that the nature of this league is that favorites win, I’m only including 11 teams in this discussion of NBA championship betting odds. Anything beyond that might make for interesting theoretical talk, but has no chance of happening in the real world. One of these 11 teams will be crowned champion in June, and here’s how they break down on the Las Vegas board.
Comment: If you believe Miami won’t miss a beat, jump in early. This is the opposite betting dynamic of what happens in baseball, where a preseason favorite will go off at 3-1 or 4-1, and can still be on that same number when the playoffs begin. In baseball, it makes sense to wait and see how things unfold. Because favorites own the NBA playoffs, the teams that spurt out to the top of their conferences are going to see a sharp drop in their odds.
For example, Miami was getting negative odds by the time the 2013 NBA playoffs began. If you grab them now, at a number that equates to 2.5-1, you have enough room to also take a longer shot and still make a small profit if the Heat win a third straight title.
Oklahoma City: 7-1
LA Clippers: 8-1
San Antonio: 10-1
Comment: I’m a little surprised the Clippers are this high. That’s a lot of respect for Doc Rivers. As a Celtics fan, I think he’s worthy, but let’s remember that this is still a team that lost in the first round last year, has never advanced past the second round, plays in the toughest conference and has seen Chris Paul start to show some signs of wear and tear. I consider them a legit contender, but higher than anyone outside the LeBron/Durant universe? The betting markets are also feeling good about the health of Derrick Rose.
THE DARK HORSES
Comment: I don’t understand why Indiana is this low. This is a team that has had Miami on the ropes for two straight years. In the 2012 postseason, the Pacers won two of the first three games before getting away from the inside game, chucking up threes and losing three straight. Last season, Indiana stayed focused on their game plan, saw Roy Hibbert emerge as a playoff star and push the Heat to seven games. If the nature of the NBA is that young teams take their lumps, wait their turn and then get the ring, doesn’t mean that Indiana’s time is coming?
Golden State: 25-1
New York: 35-1
Comment: Why is Memphis this low? The Grizzlies play tough defense, they hit the boards and Mike Conley is emerging as a complete offensive threat. They also reached the conference finals last year, meaning they meet the criteria of a team that’s waited their turn. I’m not quite as high on Memphis as I am on Indiana, due to their conference strength, but 35-1 is a really good price.
One variable to consider in this year’s playoffs is the Stern Factor, or more accurately the lack thereof. David Stern steps down as commissioner in February and won’t be around for the postseason. I’ve made my share of jokes over the years about Stern hotwiring the playoffs for a marquee star or a big market, but those are jokes that have a good amount of reality as their foundation.
This is a league that has magically seen things just work out for them, at least when it comes to getting the most attractive matchups. Prior to Stern’s arrival, we saw consecutive Seattle-Washington matchups in the NBA Finals (1978 and 1979). Stern got that nonsense cleared out and fed the nation a steady diet of elite stars. Will the NBA now end up with something like a Memphis-Indiana Finals?
When it comes to betting these numbers, I think you have to open by taking Miami. I write that one who’s not particularly sold on their chances for a three-peat, but the nature of this league means that the chance to grab the favorite at a number that still allows you to pair them up with another team can’t be passed up. And as noted above, it’s not an opportunity that will be out there for very long. The team I would shoot the works with would be Indiana.