NBA Championship Futures At The Christmas Checkpoint

The NBA season hits its first early checkpoint as we get for their run of five nationally televised games on Christmas Day. Let’s take a look at how everything is shaking out, as defined by the NBA championship futures. The biggest story has clearly been the blazing start of the Indiana Pacers.

When the season started, the Pacers were priced at 14-1 odds to win the NBA title in June. Today, they are down 3-1. TheSportsNotebook is pleased to have recommended Indiana at the earlier price, along with suggesting a hedge with the Miami Heat at 2-1.

Such a strategy would have you sitting pretty, able to at least break even with Miami, or cash in bigger with Indiana. The shift in odds since the start of the season makes that impossible today. Of course the only reason it worked is that it was purely a hypothetical wager on my part. If I’d have actually put money down, you can be assured the Pacers would be playing .500 ball and LeBron James’ recent ankle tweak probably would have been a season-ending break.

The big four of the NBA championship futures include the last two Western Conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Here’s how the numbers look today…

Miami: 9-5
Indiana: 3-1
Oklahoma City: 5-1
San Antonio: 8-1

Given the nature of the NBA, the 2014 champion is almost certainly coming from this group, but there are four other dark horse candidates if you’re hungry to try for a longshot.

LA Clippers: 12-1
Portland: 15-1
Houston: 15-1
Golden State: 20-1

I can see the Clippers moving into the elite group as the season progresses. I’m much more skeptical of Portland in spite of their great start, one that has them running neck-and-neck with Oklahoma City and San Antonio at the top of the Western Conference.

I see the Blazers as a back-end playoff team by the time all is said and done. Houston and Golden State are good teams, but the Rockets don’t seem quite championship-ready yet and the Warriors’ own slow start–they would miss the playoffs if the season started today–suggest the same about them.

The Eastern Conference has been marked by failure. There is the colossal disappointment of the Brooklyn Nets , the shortcomings of the New York Knicks and the season-ending injury to Derrick Rose in Chicago. For those of who like the East’s also-rans (I pull for the Celtics) it opens up some fun chances to talk about making the second round of the playoffs, but as far as the big picture, the East is about waiting for Miami-Indiana this spring.


If you didn’t look at the NBA championship futures back in October, what would be a good betting strategy today? The first decision you have to make is regarding Miami. If you can shop around and still find them at a clean 2-1, you have to take that as a hedge. The favorite wins too often in the NBA not to take out this insurance. That gives you some freedom to take a shot with a dark horse. But for the sake of this article, we’re going to be bound by the numbers above.

The decision you have to make then is whether to go all-in on Miami, and make them your exclusive bet, or just go anti-Miami. Let’s assume it’s the latter, since that makes this exercise more fun.

You then have to decide whether you want to mess around with Indiana at a low price–as well as they’re playing, they haven’t won a playoff series against a truly championship-caliber team. Oklahoma City and San Antonio have. You could grab both Western Conference favorites, supplement them with the Clippers and essentially make it an “all-in-on-the West” proposition.

If you believe in any other Western teams, you could still grab two more and so long as equal amounts were bet on all four teams, you turn a profit regardless of who wins.

The Pacers just aren’t a good bet right now. The 3-1 price tag makes them more of a hedge than a real shot, and they haven’t accomplished enough when it matters to justify being used as a hedge. This is the team I picked to win the NBA title straight-up at the start of the season and I’m certainly staying with that. Now is just not the time to bet on them. I’m glad I grabbed them at 14-1. Hypothetically anyway.