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The NBA regular season is less than 30 days away, and if you’re like me and miss betting on hoops regularly, you’ve probably already made your NBA Finals matchup bets. If you haven’t, you’ve come to the right place, especially if you’re looking for darkhorse matchups.
FanDuel Sportsbook sets the favorite matchups to be the Bucks versus Lakers (+300), as expected, with the Bucks versus Clippers (+370) right behind. These two matchups have been the betting and media favorites all season long, but with COVID-19 disrupting league play, anything can happen.
Let’s take a look at three potential NBA Finals matchups using a different pair of teams for each bet.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets
+1100 odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Kicking things off with the best team in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks have the most accessible road to the NBA Finals, and that’s not up for debate. The Bucks will likely sweep the Magic or Nets in the first round, and the semifinals matchup would probably be versus Indiana, Miami, or Philadelphia, teams Milwaukee has a 5-4 record versus.
The Bucks lost both their meetings to Miami this season but have a .500 or winning record versus every other Eastern Conference opponent. Milwaukee swept Toronto this season and split with Boston 1-1 on their way to an NBA-best 53-12 record.
The Bucks will rely heavily on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s chasing his second-straight MVP and first-ever Defensive Player of the Year Award. Last season it was a two-man race for MVP between Antetokounmpo and Harden, but this season Giannis should be close to a unanimous selection.
The Rockets have struggled to find their identity after committing to their small-ball lineup. Houston traded Capela to the Hawks and started P.J. Tucker at the center position and Robert Covington at power forward. Houston is 8-6 since the trade and endured a season-long four-game losing streak that was their second of the season.
The addition of Russell Westbrook hasn’t taken away from James Harden’s production as he still leads the league in points per game (34.4) and second behind Antetokounmpo in Player Efficiency Rating (28.39). Westbrook has totaled his average numbers of 21 double-doubles and eight triple-doubles alongside Harden, and they’ve even staggered Westbrook’s back-to-backs to preserve him for the playoffs.
The Rockets have made the Western Conference Finals in two of the past five seasons, being sent home by the Warriors in three of those years. With the trade for Westbrook, Houston set themselves up for its best run yet and a chance at the title without Golden State in the fold.
The Rockets guard duo has the third-highest rated PER pair of teammates in the league this season and could carry this high-powered offense to its first NBA Finals since 1994-95. The Bucks came the closest to their chance last season before Kawhi Leonard, and the Raptors sent them packing.
Milwaukee hasn’t made an NBA Finals since 1974, but with no LeBron James or Leonard in the East, they were almost a shoo-in for a championship appearance before COVID-19.
Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
+1900 odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
LeBron James missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2004-05, so this summer chase for his fourth NBA Title has a little more determination behind it. The Lakers need only two wins to lock up the best record in the West, currently sitting at 49-14 with the best road record in the league of 26-6.
Los Angeles has been dominant in the West, recording a 33-7 record as the only team in the conference to reach 30 wins. The arrival of Anthony Davis positively impacted this franchise and skyrocketed them to new heights that James envisioned when he signed with L.A., not the 37-45 record in 2018-19.
Davis (3rd) and James (9th) have the best-paired PER among teammates this season, and both are in contention for major awards. James, as always, is in contention for MVP, most likely the runner-up to Giannis, while Davis is hopeful of winning DPOY but most likely finish in the top three in voting.
The Lakers are a two-man show, and if anyone can stop Davis or James (good luck), they’ll likely be in the Western Conference Finals or NBA Finals. L.A.’s main competition for a Finals appearance will run through the Clippers, with the Rockets as the dark horse to come out of the West.
Outside of Milwaukee, my favorite to sneak into the Finals is the Boston Celtics. Boston is the only team in the league to have three players average 20 points per game, and defensively, they’re just as good as either L.A. team, Milwaukee, and Toronto.
Boston currently ranks top-five in points per game allowed (106.8), defensive net rating (106.2), opponent field goal percentage (44.2%), opponent three-point percentage (34.2%), and offensive net rating (112.3). All-around, the Celtics are a phenomenal team that’s been plagued by injuries throughout the season.
The addition of Kemba Walker and the emergence of the Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combination took Boston to new heights. With Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier last season, Boston was arguably a much better roster, but this unit has played more as a team this year, and it’s shown.
Boston would matchup up defensively with the Lakers, and the key to stopping the Lake Show is stopping one of their two 25-point scorers. Only Davis and James averages more than 12.5 points per game, while five Celtics average 13.5 or more. Boston is an underrated pick to come out of the East, and at +700 odds to be the Eastern Conference champions, it’s worth the gamble.
Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Clippers
+2600 odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
Wouldn’t this be an exciting matchup? Kawhi Leonard versus the Toronto Raptors, a season after winning Finals MVP and claiming Toronto’s first-ever NBA Championship in his lone season. The Clippers nabbed Leonard and Paul George during the last offseason and went from being an eight seed in 2018-19, to a two seed this year.
Defensively, this would be quite the chess match, and the Raptors have the upper-hand. Both teams rank in the top three in opponent field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Toronto allows the least amount of points per game at 106.5 and the least made field goals per game (37.9).
Besides Milwaukee, Toronto has the best defense in the paint, allowing 38.8 points per game and a defensive net rating of 104.9. The Raptors offense has centered around the three-point game, ranking top seven in three-pointers made (13.8), attempted (37.0), and percentage (37.1%). The Raptors are fully healthy, and reports are Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, to name a few players, are in great shape as two of the team’s veterans.
In 15 games before the season paused due to COVID, the Clippers were first in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating with players missing, including George and Leonard. George missed 22 games this season and Leonard 13 total. The Clippers are fifth in defensive net rating (106.6) while third in offensive net rating (112.9) with six key players missing more than 10 games.
Los Angeles is finally healthy, and the three-month hiatus has effected each team differently but certainly helped out George, Leonard, and the Clippers the most. The Clippers are just as good of a bet as taking the Bucks or Lakers, but the question remains, who’s in the best shape and what factors outside fo COVID will we see impact teams? Only time will tell, but for now, get your exact NBA Finals matchups in before its too late.