NBA Title Betting Odds & Picks: Debating the Clippers vs. the Lakers
Photo credit: Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
It seems like it's been forever since Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, thus highlighting the outbreak in the U.S. and effectively shutting down sports. But finally on Thursday, the NBA will return.
There are some new wrinkles to the return, including no home-court advantage, no fans and an abbreviated eight-game regular season. But the playoffs will remain the same: 16 teams — eight from each conference — battling in seven-game series for the title.
On that note, our staff is here to highlight their favorite title bets. They'll go through the odds, the weird circumstances of the restart and more in order to find value in the betting market.
Matt Moore: Los Angeles Lakers
|DraftKings||+250 [BET NOW]|
|FanDuel||+260 [BET NOW]|
|PointsBet||+250 [BET NOW]|
|BetMGM||+250 [BET NOW]|
|Parx||+250 [BET NOW]|
|BetRivers||+250 [BET NOW]|
I have tried and tried and tried and tried to get on board with the Clippers. I have broken down film and analytics and talked to league people, who have made a compelling case for the Clips to walk away as the best team.
But I don’t trust it. For one, the Clippers' continuity has been shaky due to absences from Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams, along with the late addition of Marcus Morris. But continuity isn’t as important as chemistry.
As recently as January, The Athletic reported on chemistry issues internally. Relations somewhat improved over subsequent weeks, but nonetheless the Clippers players have seemed like coworkers rather than teammates. Moreover, there isn’t a great sense that they’re close or on the same page.
The Raptors were an established squad with chemistry before Kawhi Leonard joined, and Marc Gasol also fit in with Toronto's team culture.
Notwithstanding Leonard, the Clippers have little in common with that Raptors team.
In more concrete terms, the Clippers struggle with diversifying their defensive sets, especially with their bigs. This hasn’t been the best defense in the league — or even a top-three defense. Los Angeles is just good. The Clippers are not spectacular on offense either. They’re just good.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have a high floor with their combination of defense, physicality and star players who draw defensive attention for their shooters.
Most Lakers backers are simply going in on LeBron James and Anthony Davis; that’s not my approach. Instead, I'm drawn to the Lakers because of the way the roster fits around its two stars. The supporting cast fills in the gaps as James and Davis cover for others' weaknesses.
I’m getting better than 5/2 odds with the Lakers while I don't buy the Clippers, and I remain concerned about Milwaukee once again getting bit before coming out of the East.
The playoffs, now more than ever, are about attrition. I trust the Lakers to avoid falling victim to the whims of fate. That’s been the history of the league, and I expect it to once again prove true in this weird environment.
Bryan Mears: Los Angeles Clippers
|DraftKings||+333 [BET NOW]|
|FanDuel||+320 [BET NOW]|
|PointsBet||+300 [BET NOW]|
|BetMGM||+325 [BET NOW]|
|Parx||+333 [BET NOW]|
|BetRivers||+333 [BET NOW]|
I hear you, Matt. But to oversimplify off the top: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
That big wing position is by far the most important in basketball, especially in the playoffs. There's a reason the last stretch of titles have gone to Leonard, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. It's a shallow position across the league and happens to have the biggest superstars.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the top-three title favorites are the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers.
I get that the Clippers are dealing with some stuff right now: Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell won't be playing to start the Orlando bubble, and Patrick Beverley is questionable. Landry Shamet is recovering from COVID-19.
But I'm expecting all of those guys to be just fine when it matters most, which is the playoffs a month or so from now. And, man, is this team sneaky deep.
Some may be concerned that the Clippers are too deep: that players like Lou Williams, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson try to take over too much. I don't share those concerns: This team belongs to Kawhi and PG when it matters, and they all know it.
I'm also skeptical regarding concerns about the Clippers defense. Ivica Zubac has proven to be a very underrated rim protector. Admittedly, Harrell and Lou are liabilities, but Los Angeles has schematically minimized their damage.
Simply put, when Leonard and George are in the playoffs and engaged, the Clippers wing duo cures many ailments.
And as my final rebuttal, sure there may be chemistry issues, but it's unclear whether those will persist following the layoff. Furthermore, it's not as if the Lakers boast markedly stronger chemistry after losing players in the bubble. And, lest we forget, it is still the first year of LeBron and AD playing together.
The top-seven guys in the Clippers rotation are simply better than any other team's top rotation. While I don't like being too reductive, the Clippers' combination of talent and depth matters a ton in the NBA playoffs, where there are seven games and less volatility than, say, the NCAA's single-elimination format during March Madness.
The best teams and best players often win. The Clippers are priced as the third-best team, yet there's little indication that they aren't the best in a playoff setting. I'm fine grabbing the +333 odds, although there's probably some merit to waiting to see if those odds balloon higher given their rotation issues to start the bubble.
WorldWideWob: Philadelphia 76ers
|DraftKings||+2000 [BET NOW]|
|FanDuel||+2000 [BET NOW]|
|PointsBet||+2000 [BET NOW]|
|BetMGM||+2500 [BET NOW]|
|Parx||+2000 [BET NOW]|
|BetRivers||+2000 [BET NOW]|
Editor's note: Wob's preferred bet is on the 76ers at +750 to win the Eastern Conference, not the title.
For the first time all season, the 76ers are back at full strength.
Say what you want about Philadelphia's home road/splits; they mean nothing to me now. From the beginning of the season through the suspension — whether it was Joel Embiid’s hand/knee, Ben Simmons’ back, Josh Richardson’s groin, or Tobias Harris' contract — the 76ers always had someone ailing or absent to prevent them from being great.
Now they can move on to more pressing issues, like getting Al Horford out of the starting lineup.
It just doesn’t work. Embiid is too good to have someone else down there clogging up his space. When Embiid runs with Horford, Embiid retreats to the 3-point line, where he has proven he can make a couple of shots, but that is not where you want the sequel to Shaquille O’Neal playing.
Get this man the ball on the block for the love of God.
Here's the good news: The 76ers finally noticed this! In multiple press conferences during bubble training camp, Brett Brown has reported he is experimenting with moving Ben Simmons to the 4 and inserting the floor-stretching Shake Milton into the starting lineup at point guard.
I am skeptical regarding Simmons’ productivity without the ball in his hands in transition. But by far the more pressing issue was figuring how Embiid can go back to dominating, and the 76ers have checked all of the right boxes.
This is the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference and can match up with anybody. Yes, even that guy. The 76ers have a forest of swingmen to handle Antetokounmpo in a seven-game series. Sit back and witness the firepower of Philadelphia's fully-armed and fully-operational battle station.
Brandon Anderson: Dallas Mavericks
|DraftKings||+5000 [BET NOW]|
|FanDuel||+3800 [BET NOW]|
|PointsBet||+4000 [BET NOW]|
|BetMGM||+3000 [BET NOW]|
|Parx||+5000 [BET NOW]|
|BetRivers||+5000 [BET NOW]|
Dallas is the one sleeper I find myself persistently attracted to as things start up again. The Mavericks are probably at least a year too early, but hear me out.
First of all, I’m fading the three favorites … for now. None of them have high motivation to try hard in these seeding games. If they look rusty or ineffective early-on, they should offer better odds in a couple weeks.
Second, I’m looking for an underdog. Everything about this coronavirus bubble screams, "weird, funky outcome." Favorites typically win in the NBA playoffs, but injuries are always a threat, and now COVID-19 could remove any player at any time. There’s never been a bigger opportunity for a sleeper.
Before the season suspension, the Mavericks had the No. 1 offense in the NBA. Not just this year — ever. And they did that despite Luka Doncic missing 13 games and Kristaps Porzingis missing 16.
Remember the huge leap Doncic made from rookie to sophomore year? He just had another entire offseason, so who knows what other leap is waiting?
Doncic is good enough right now to be the best player in any game, and Porzingis caught fire over the final 15 games before the hiatus and finally looks healthy. Those are two superstar upsides that could explode at any time, and Dallas already boasted underlying metrics that rival any squad outside the big three teams.
It will be a bear of a road. They may have to go through both LA teams and the Bucks in the Finals. If that's the path, then realistically even a great run likely ends in the Conference Finals. But pull one upset, get a little luck to avoid another top opponent, and suddenly those longshot odds are looking awfully juicy.