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The NBA is back! The NBA has set a date for a 22 team, eight-game resumption of the regular season in order to determine seeding. There will be nine Eastern Conference teams and 13 Western Conference teams. The most exciting twist added to the season is the chance for the ninth seed (should they be four games or less back of the eighth seed) to battle the eight seed in what the NBA has termed a play-in. In the event of a play-in, the eighth seed will be required to win just one game to be awarded the eighth and final playoff seed, the ninth seed will need to win two games in a row. This scenario seems very likely for the Western Conference and should provide for some captivating television. Let’s take a look at the odds for Western Conference Champions at DraftKings. And find our consensus odds for Western Conference Winner here.
Western Conference Winner Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)
Los Angeles Lakers (+160)
The Los Angeles Lakers are the current favorites to come out of the Western Conference. They were the top team out West prior to the COVID-19 sparked suspension of the season, looking like the best team in the league at times. The Lakers have fewer road losses than any other team in the NBA this season, something that should aid them as the season resumes on neutral ground. The Vegas oddsmakers Western Conference winner odds suggest that the Lakers and the Clippers appear to be the only two teams with a realistic chance of making the NBA Finals, and we don’t disagree. Every team has a puncher’s chance in the NBA, especially in these uncertain times, but the odds listed above reflect the true gulf in talent between the two Los Angeles teams and the rest of the West. It would be a surprise if the Lakers did not make it to the Western Conference Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers (+180)
The Los Angeles Clippers are listed at +180 at DraftKings for good reason. While the Los Angeles Lakers were easily the more cohesive team during the pre-suspension regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers were built for playoff basketball and will be looking to kick it into high gear once training camp opens. The truncated season hurts the Clippers more than anyone as they needed more time to truly start to gel as a unit. They present the most real threat to the Lakers in the Western Conference and have the benefit of having the best two way player in the NBA to lead their team. A consistent Clippers team will be a tough out for any team, so all eyes will be on them in the eight games remaining before the playoffs begin.
Houston Rockets (+700)
The Houston Rockets remain one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference but do not appear to be built for playoff basketball. Trading Clint Capela was a questionable move for a team that will have to protect the rim against some of the NBA’s best, but perhaps they believe that a true commitment to small-ball is their only path to true playoff success. Houston has the talent to keep their playoff series’ interesting and could pull off a stunning upset if they get red-hot at the right time. While they are by no means a team you should push all of your chips in on, the odds are enticing enough to potentially lay a partial unit for a multi-unit return.
Denver Nuggets (+1200)
Despite sitting in third place in the Western Conference, Vegas has assigned the fourth-highest odds to the Denver Nuggets. +1200 equates to just a 7.7 percent probability of winning the conference. While I agree that the Nuggets will have a hard time if they have to go head to head with both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, there appears to be some value in this line at its current number. The Nuggets should have been given at least a 10 percent chance, which would equate to +900. Unless sharp money on Houston dramatically changed the lines, there is really no reason for the Nuggets’ odds to be +500 behind the Rockets. Denver is the better team, and even if they are not as built for playoff basketball, a +500 difference is simply too big.
Utah Jazz (+1400)
The Utah Jazz. Utah is an interesting case of a good regular season team that absolutely no one believes will make any serious noise in the NBA Playoffs. They are a one and done candidate from any seed, but are given a semblance of respect from the oddsmakers due to sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference. They have already qualified for the postseason but will be working hard to keep their place as the fourth seed, as anything lower than the fifth seed could lead to an extremely tough first-round date with the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, or the Denver Nuggets. A team that is safe to ignore unless you live in the state of Utah, every other team listed here is a better value.
Dallas Mavericks (+2000)
One of the most exciting teams in the league thanks to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas should be healthy and rearing to make some noise in the playoffs. They are next to a lock for the postseason but could use the seeding games to move from seventh seed to as high as the third seed in the West. Landing the fifth to third seed would give them a much more favorable matchup than their currently projected matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, as they would likely be going up against Utah, Dallas, Houston, or Oklahoma City. This would help to increase their probability of making the NBA Finals. With that being said, they are still a longshot at best and should be treated as such. Any path to the NBA Finals will have to go through the Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers, likely both. The Mavericks are firmly in flier territory, but are they the top value on the board?
Portland Trailblazers (+8000)
Despite the ninth highest odds, the Portland Trailblazers are among the most intriguing values on the board. A talented team that woefully underperformed for much of the season, Portland will get a major shot in the arm with Jusuf Nurkic back with the team. The +8000 appears to be a value at first glance, but when one takes into account that they are three games back, with New Orleans and Sacramento at four, it is no sure thing that Portland even makes the playoffs. At the current position in the standings, they would win the play-in opportunity since they are less than four games behind Memphis.
Memphis’ odds at +8000, and Portland being assigned the same number is indicative of how Vegas views the Blazers. However, there is a reason we have included Portland in this list and have left out seventh-place Oklahoma City, eighth place Memphis, as well as ninth-place New Orleans, and 10th place Sacramento. Portland is simply the better team with a proven track record in the postseason. Portland is arguably a more talented team than the Blazers squad that made it to the Western Conference finals just last season but will need to find that elusive chemistry to make it not only through the playoffs, but the seeding games. They are one of the most intriguing teams on the board but may be worth shopping odds for.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers remain the two top values on the board if for no other reason than that they are the only teams with a truly realistic chance of making it to the NBA Finals. As basketball fans and bettors we know enough to realize that anything can happen in the NBA, but with cashing in on our wagers being our priority, these are the two teams to target. The Lakers are the resident favorites at DraftKings, but the mere +20 difference between their odds and those assigned to the Clippers reflects the tiny chasm between these two teams in terms of talent. The Lakers at +160 imply a 38.5 percent probability of making the NBA Finals, while the Clippers at +180 imply a 35.7 percent chance. As alluded to above, the Los Angeles Lakers have been the better team this season, however, when both teams are playing at their peak forms, it is hard to argue that the Los Angeles Clippers are not the better team.