OK, LeBron. Whatcha got? Aside from that awesome resume, that gray-flecked beard, that elite sidekick in Anthony Davis and the blind loyalty of Laker Nation.
We ask this question because you are about to embark on a playoff journey that will be arduous from the get-go. It will be your Los Angeles Lakers going up against a Portland Trail Blazers team that has been fighting for survival for the past week, their latest success coming Saturday in a come-from-behind victory over a Memphis Grizzlies team that was just not quite ready for prime time.
It has not gone unnoticed that the Lakers were one of the most underachieving teams in the Orlando bubble when it comes to offensive efficiency, which is understandable to a degree because of the fact that the Lakers really had nothing to play for, what with them being locked into the No. 1 seed in the West.
But complacency breeds mediocrity, and in the 2020 NBA playoffs – especially in the Western Conference – complacency just ain’t going to cut it. Especially when Damian Lillard is pretty much the best player in the NBA these days, and Avery Bradley is not around to defend him.
And then we have the Milwaukee Bucks and the Greek Freak, who has never been to an NBA Finals but is widely expected to break that drought this summer because he plays for a machine of a team that led the league in point differential. Giannis has a supporting cast that includes Khris Middleton – who just missed being a 50-40-90 guy, Brook Lopez – who has become one of the most dangerous streak 3-point shooters anywhere, and Eric Bledsoe – who can defend the likes of Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and any other superstud the Bucks will come across.
But Giannis is prone to bouts of cranial flatulence when shooting free throws, and if you don’t think that will be exploited over the next several days and weeks, you are fooling yourself.
Clippers now the favorites to win title
So while the Lakers and Bucks are among the prohibitive favorites to win the 2020 NBA championship, keep in mind that bubbleball is a whole different animal. And the Clippers are now favored ahead of the Bucks and Lakers at several top sportsbooks after what went on in the conclusion of the regular season.
“We have the Clippers favored at 11-4, and the Lakers and Bucks have dropped to 3-1,” said Jeff Sherman of Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook. “At full strength, they have so many lockdown defenders. They are pretty much the polar opposite of Portland. And pretty much everybody in the non-sharp market is betting on the Blazers right now. We’ve dropped them down to 40-1 to win it all.”
“The Lakers, Clippers and Bucks are our biggest liabilities and have our biggest bet counts,” said Andrew Mannino of PointsBet. “Also, people have been betting Portland for a while, and now that they are officially in, the long odds have people pumped up.”
ABC, ESPN and Turner have been infusing their broadcasts with fake crowd noise, but these games being played in Lake Buena Vista are taking place in relative silence, and the cabin fever that has been turning players’ lives into bouts with boredom will only become worse as time drags on and on and on inside that Disney bubble.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
So with that truism in mind, let’s have a look at the 16 teams left standing, along with the wagering options that may or may not make a bunch of people rich as we move through the end of August and into September and October. And the cases for and against each team winning it all.
LA Lakers: You never want to bet against LeBron … unless he has J.R. Smith on his team. Yes, it is time for everyone’s 2018 reminder. But back in 2018, James did not have a player the caliber of Anthony Davis running alongside him, and although the Lakers will miss Bradley, Danny Green has locked down an opposing scorer once or twice in his career. Dwight Howard is somewhat of an x-factor, and Kyle Kuzma is going to have to be a consistent scorer if opponents double-team LeBron and Davis finds himself in foul trouble. Most intriguing wager: Lakers in 7, which seems quite plausible given how well the Blazers have been playing. It is +550 at FanDuel Sportsbook. Portland in 7 is +800.
LA Clippers: They now have shorter odds than the Lakers to win the championship, and Doc Rivers has been resting Paul George and Kawhi Leonard with regularity in the bubble. It means both will be fresh for the postseason. And there will be no more resting. Defensive specialist and trash-talker extraordinaire Patrick Beverley is recovering from a calf strain and may or may not be available for Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks. George and Leonard figure to give Luka Doncic fits, which will impact the triple-double props on the Slovenian. Most intriguing wager: Kawhi Leonard is +4300 and Paul George is +5000 at FanDuel to record a triple-double.
Denver Nuggets: Skinny Nikola Jokic had to carry much of the load in the bubble because Denver was missing several of its guards due to injuries, which gave everyone who watched a greater appreciation for just how special of a player this point center is. But he will be defended by Rudy Gobert, who is not quite as strong as Jokic but has exceptional shot blocking skills if Jokic plays down low in the block. If Jokic is on the perimeter, it will open up the paint for someone else to accumulate huge rebounding numbers, which can be bet over/under on many sites. These teams went double OT in the bubble, and if history repeats itself, that leads us to … Most intriguing wager: Game 1 going to overtime is +1200 at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Houston Rockets: The No. 4 seed in the West has a couple of Thunder alumni, so do not discount the revenge factor when contemplating what James Harden might do in this series. The same would go for Russell Westbrook if he was not dealing with a quad injury that will sideline him for the first couple of games. Harden made First Team All-Bubble and led the league in scoring yet again, and the guy is somewhat inspired by the fact that he never quite gets the NBA MVP consideration he believes he deserves. His usage rate will be off the charts with Westbrook out, and we should probably expect the Rockets to attempt a bunch of 3-pointers (ya think?). The over/unders in this series will be exceptionally high, and wagering on Harden will be the most fun. Most intriguing wager: Correct score after 3 games at FanDuel – Rockets up 3-0 is +710.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Billy Donovan has his work cut out for him trying to find a way to outscore the second highest-scoring team in the NBA, and his best defenders, Luguentz Dort and Andre Roberson, have to avoid being baited into fouls against Harden, who is a master at pump-faking players off their feet and going to the line for three shots. Because the Rockets play super small ball, the Thunder will need to dominate the glass, which means Steven Adams is going to be a huge factor in order for OKC to have a chance. The big man from Australia averages 9.3 boards, but he could surpass that number by halftime in each game given Houston’s lack of size. Most intriguing wager: Total points over 250.5 is an enticing +1200 at FanDuel.
Utah Jazz: They are a different team without Bojan Bogdanovic being a second 3-point weapon alongside Joe Ingles, so the 3-point marksmanship of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell will be crucial. Folks who run sportsbooks will tell you that almost nobody outside of the state of Utah wagers on these guys to win it all, which is one of the reasons why their odds to win the title range from +4900 at FanDuel to +5000 at DraftKings SportsBook and PointsBet. The Jazz went 0-3 against the Nuggets during the regular season, which means they will probably not sweep the series. But if they do … Most intriguing wager: Utah in a sweep is +2100 at DraftKings.
Dallas Mavericks: How come nobody ever says they have two unicorns? Just asking. Because Luka Doncic has a little unicorn thing going for him, too. None of the sportsbooks have put a number on how many times Mark Cuban will be fined, but give them time. We already know that Doncic is the league leader in triple-doubles, and one of the main questions in this series is whether he will be able to get even one while being defended by Leonard and George. Rick Carlisle has his work cut out for him going up against Doc Rivers, while trying to find someone who can stop Leonard. And someone who can stop George. Porzingis is going to have to be as otherworldly as Doncic, or this one will compete with Milwaukee-Orlando for “Most likely to end in a sweep.” Most enticing wager: Tim Hardaway Jr. scores the first basket of the game, and Dallas wins is +2800 at FanDuel.
Portland Trail Blazers: Not too long ago, this writer touted the Blazers as a nifty flyer bet to win the title at odds of +30000, which was being offered at PointsBet. Those odds have now dropped to +6000, which is a testament to how well Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have been playing. If Hassan Whiteside can come up with some semblance of the player he was during the regular season while Nurkic was injured, the Blazers’ size advantage is going to give the Lakers all kinds of fits. (Whiteside was a minus-13 in 14 ineffective minutes against Memphis on Saturday.) Again, these guys have been playing for their playoff lives for nearly a week, and Lillard has been a one-man wrecking crew while scoring 51, 41, 62 and 31 in his last four games. Dismiss them at your own risk. Most enticing bet: Blazers win series 4-2 is +1200 at FanDuel.
Milwaukee Bucks: Prior to the shutdown of the season, they had lost three in a row. In the bubble, even though they had little to play for, they went 3-5. So that means they have lost 8 of their last 11 games, which does not exactly equate to heading into the postseason with a head of steam. As good as Middleton is, he does not exactly have a postseason body of work that strikes fear into opponents. Last season, he averaged 16.9 points, a dropoff of 7.8 points from his output in the previous postseason. They are going to coast against the Orlando Magic, because they are too damn good to do anything else. But something to keep an eye on as the postseason progresses: The Greek Freak shoots 63.3% at the foul line, by far the worst average of his career. Opposing coaches are going to send him to the line, and one of the more crafty sportsbooks will put an over/under on the time of game because of all the free throws that will be shot. Most enticing bet: Total points over 249.5 is +1120 at FanDuel.
Toronto Raptors: Let’s not forget that these guys are the defending champions, and a bunch of guys are having their best statistical seasons ever because Kawhi Leonard is no longer taking a bulk of the shots. The backcourt combo of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet is probably the best in the East, and VanVleet is playing for a contract (Knicks fans will be clamoring for him by the time this is all said and done.) Even Serge Ibaka is having a career season in terms of points scored, and they are going up against a Brooklyn Nets team that is missing just about everyone they started the season with, including their former coach – Kenny Atkinson – who got a raw deal. That being said, the Nets played above expectations in Orlando, and they literally have nothing to lose since they are all about next season, not this season. But all signs point to a walkover. Most enticing wager: Raptors to win 4-3 is +2300 at FanDuel.
Boston Celtics: We have been waiting for Danny Ainge to put together a true championship contender for a half-decade now, and maybe he has done it this time. He is certainly catching a break due to the injury absence of Ben Simmons, who dislocated his kneecap. Boston has three 20-point scorers, and Gordon Hayward at 17.5 points per game is not too shabby either. But let’s face it: Boston bettors want a Tacko Fall line, and we have not yet seen one of those as of Sunday. Most enticing wager: Kemba Walker to get a double-double is +1400 at PointsBet. He had just two of them in the regular season, but the assists figure to come a little more easily in the postseason. Most enticing wager: Celtics to sweep the discombobulated Sixers is +500 at FanDuel.
Indiana Pacers: Will there be a fight between T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler, who do not exactly like each other? You will have to bet that one at the water cooler unless one of the books decides to post it and thereby lose brownie points with the NBA. But do not discount a tussle happening, which would have a major impact on the outcome of this series. The Heat are only going to go as far as Butler can take them, and Nate McMillan has been around the league long enough to know that if you take out the opposing team’s best player, your chances of success increase exponentially. And since he has Victor Oladipo to lean on offensively, keep an eye of for a designated thug to set his sights on Butler. The Pacers have seven players who average double figures, and Myles Turner can be a huge difference maker on both ends of the court. Most enticing wager: Indiana leading by 7 at the end of the first quarter in Game 1 is +2300 at FanDuel.
Miami Heat: What can we say about this series that was not said in the previous paragraph? Well, there is no over/under on the number of Michelob Ultra commercials featuring Butler that will be broadcast during the playoffs, and quite frankly, shouldn’t Butler being endorsing a beer that does not taste like lightly flavored water? Anyway, there is no team that plays system basketball better than Erik Spoelstra’s Heat, and from Kelly Olynyk to Goran Dragic to Bam Adebayo to Duncan Robinson to Tyler Herro – there are so many players than can bring it on any given night. There is an argument to be made that this may be the most non-competitive 4 vs. 5 series we will ever see. And given the way the Pacers have crumbled in recent postseasons, Heat Nation can feel justified in believing that this thing will be over in short order. Along those lines … Most enticing wager: If you expect Game 1 to be a low-scoring affair, you can get the over/under at lower than 190.5 total points at +1300 at FanDuel.
Philadelphia 76ers: With Simmons out and Joel Embiid more in love with the 3-point shot than he rightfully ought to be, the chances of the Sixers going down in four games – leading to the dismissals of Brett Brown and Elton Brand — is a leading contender for the most talked about thing on Philadelphia sports radio 10 days from now. Alas, that is not on the wagering board, either. But one thing to watch closely is the revenge factor for Al Horford against his former team. He is back in the starting five after briefly losing that role when Simmons was moved to power forward, and he has a size advantage over Jayson Tatum that Philly will try to exploit. His point total over/under for Game 1 is a mere 11.5 at DraftKings, and that just seems exceedingly low. Most enticing wager: Philadelphia to win by 10 or more is +510 at PointsBet.
Brooklyn Nets: The best thing they have going for them is Caris LaVert …. and time. Next season, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan will be back, and they will likely enter the season as co-favorites along with the Milwaukee Bucks to win the Eastern Conference. This postseason? Well, they overachieved in Lake Buena Vista, which is a testament to the job done by interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who may be in the business of earning himself a full-time job. They also have Joe Harris, who has been a marksman from 3-point range in the bubble, making 21 of 37 attempts. Jarrett Allen has been terrific, too, but it would be a huge accomplishment for them to win two games against the defending champs. Most enticing wager: Nets in 7 is +6500 at FanDuel.
Orlando Magic: They will be the first team to try out the Hack-a Freak system, so keep a close eye out for any book that figures out it’ll be a fun prop bet to post an over/under on the amount of times Giannis goes to the line. Nikola Vucevic is going to be drawn away from the basket on defense in order to defend Brook Lopez, which is going to open up the middle for Giannis, which means an over/under dunk total should be on the board after Game 1 or Game 2. The playoff experience will be good for the growth of Markelle Fultz, and Evan Fournier will reach double digits in career playoff games. But they are sorely going to miss Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, and just keeping a couple of the games close should be considered a victory in itself. Most enticing wager: If you think the Magic can steal two games, Milwaukee in 6 is +560 at FanDuel.