The Milwaukee Bucks keep steamrolling opponents, with their most recent victory coming by 19 points over a pretty good Indiana Pacers team.
The Los Angeles Lakers get them next in a very good ESPN game, and the team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis has won nine of its last 10 as the shock of Kobe Bryant’s death appears to be wearing off.
The Los Angeles Clippers get their up-close look at the Lakers this Sunday on ABC, and they are rolling too, having won five in a row with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George starting to play alongside each other with more regularity.
All three are powerhouses, which is reflected in what we are seeing in the betting market.
The Bucks are +230 at both FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook, the shortest odds of any NBA team. Their closest Eastern Conference rival is the Boston Celtics (+2000 at FD and +1700 at DK).
Heck, when you are threatening to become only the third team in NBA history to win 70 games, and you are leading the NBA in point differential at 12.4, this is a natural response in the market.
“In the gambling business, we have what is known as a ‘hold percentage,’ which reflects Bookmaking 101 on futures books. So, with Milwaukee, you have to wager $40 to win $100. With Toronto, you have to wager $5 to win $100, and you have to keep the hold percentage at 20 percent to be fair to the general public,” said Johnny Avello of DraftKings Sportsbook. “That means you have to have other teams higher, and there are some really good prices out there, like Oklahoma City, for example.”
“The Bucks, Lakers and Clippers are so good that you have to keep them much lower than everyone else, and we are not getting money on other teams we price to attract wagers. A team that a gambler might take a shot at is Memphis at +25000 or New Orleans at +20000 because they can win a series, and after that, who knows?”
Something to keep in mind about the Bucks: They are 0-2 against the Miami Heat, including a 16-point loss Monday in which Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a season-low 13 points. They still have two games remaining against Boston, which is 1-1 against them and has watched Jayson Tatum put together a string of five straight games of 30-plus points.
Milwaukee also has a back-to-back remaining against Toronto, which knocked Milwaukee out of the playoffs last season, along with one game against Philadelphia, which is having its share of problems but will remain a formidable foe if they can ever get to full strength.
The Raptors are currently sitting at +2000 at DK and +2400 at FD; the Sixers are +2700 at DK and +2300 at FD, and Miami is +2000 at DK and +2700 at FD. The outliers among Eastern Conference playoff teams include the Indiana Pacers (+10000), the Brooklyn Nets (+21000) and the Orlando Magic (+25000) at FD. At DK, the Pacers are +7000, the Nets are +20000 and the Magic are +20000.
Over in the Western Conference, the odds on the “outliers” are not quite as long … in most cases. Houston, with its hyper small-ball lineup and with coach Mike D’Antoni coming off a Coach of the Month award in February, is +1200 at DK and the same price at FD. Utah, 3-0 on its current Eastern swing, is +2200 at DK and +2400 at FD. Denver, sitting just one game behind the Clippers, is +2200 at DK and +2400 at FD.
“With Utah, we’re begging for money and nobody is touching them,” said Jeff Sherman of the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. “We’re highly exposed to the Lakers, and the people from California will make the drive to Nevada to put those wagers in, whereas the people from Utah will not.
“Sort of the same thing with Denver. They don’t traditionally get support whereby they attract money, so people are not looking to bet them unless they get higher odds.”
It’s a three-team race … until it isn’t
Remember, one key injury can wipe out a team’s hopes, especially if it is a team leader. Just remember what happened with Kevin Durant in last year’s playoffs if you need your memory refreshed.
Yes, the Bucks look invincible, and Giannis is clearly on his way to having an MVP season unless the Bucks’ fortunes turn against their stiffer competition in March and April and LeBron’s Lakers finish atop the West with The King leading the league in assists, which he is currently doing. That kind of thing carries a lot of weight with MVP voters.
The point here is that while it appears to be a three-team race (according to the sportsbooks), a lot is going to happen between now and June, and not all of it will involve Spike Lee, James Dolan, Leon Rose, Charles Oakley and the New York Knicks. (Yes, they cannot seem to keep themselves out of the news for all the wrong reasons.)
Anything can happen in a seven-game series, especially if the road team wins one of the first two games. Teams play an 82-game season in order to try to ensure things like a home-court advantage, and it can be blown in just one game.
So, expect much more movement in the championship futures market as the dog days of the NBA season play out. It may look like a three-team race now, but we are a long way from mid-June.