By Doug Upstone of Doc’s Sports
For as long as any of us can remember, there were at most four teams in any given year that could win the Larry O’Brien championship trophy in professional basketball. They hovered above the masses and their superiority, at least going into the NBA Playoffs was evident.
This year, we had a shortened season, virus issues impacting who played and continuity, and even more injuries to the top teams in each conference, which made the landscape different. This all pertains to picking an overall winner against the betting odds, let alone making NBA picks who reach the Finals and picking each series.
Any general discussion among betting experts or those in a bar talking hoops will typically go like this: “I like (fill in the team name), but what concerns me is….” This talking point applies to every contender.
Plus, we should not overlook what happened to the four conference finalists who played into the fall of 2020, as all were hamstrung by fatigue and injury this season. Coincidence? We think not.
Here are the latest odds compiled from various sportsbooks to win the NBA title.
Brooklyn Nets +200 - Los Angeles Lakers +375 - Los Angeles Clippers +600 - Utah Jazz +700
Philadelphia 76ers +800 - Milwaukee Bucks +950 - Phoenix Suns +1800
Denver Nuggets +3300 - Miami Heat +3500
All other teams are +4000 or higher and we don’t need to explain why if you read the next section.
History Picks the Winner
In the entire history of the NBA, only two teams that were lower than a three-seed have won a championship, which dates back to 1950. Those two teams were the 1995-96 Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Robert Horry. That club suffered injuries after winning the crown the year prior, but got healthy late in the season as a 6-seed and went back-to-back.
The other was the No. 4 Boston Celtics, who were on their way to winning an 11th title in 13 years with Bill Russell, coach Red Auerbach and host of Hall of Famers.
The NBA is the last professional sport where the best team does win and that’s why just having five players on each team playing each other in a series impacts the outcome.
No question, if LeBron James and Anthony Davis come back full strength, the Lakers would have a shot at being the third team to break the mold, but not with our money.
Brooklyn Nets – When Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are on the floor playing together, this is the best team in the East. Big question, can this trio stay together for a complete series, let alone two months to win the NBA title?
Philadelphia 76ers – Philadelphia earned the top seed and they are easily the best defensive team in the East. What will determine their possible championship fate is what kind of offensive production the 76ers receive once they meet the Nets or Bucks and who they could face out of the Western Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks – With Milwaukee 29th in three-point field goal percentage defense and dead last in the number of three-point shots made (14.8 per game), chances are another earlier than expected dismissal for the Bucks against the NBA odds.
Miami Heat – The Heat made The Finals last season, but that seemed like a magic carpet ride. Obviously, the potential is there for Miami and the confidence of last year’s success will help, however, the top of the East is stronger this season and they will be eliminated.
Utah Jazz – Legitimate NBA champion if they can control the tempo. Utah led the NBA in three-point buckets with 16 and also allowed just 10, the fewest in the league. On a game-by-game basis, even against better competition, that is an 11-13 point differential alone. To win, Donovan Mitchell has to be healthy and the bench a strong contributor.
Phoenix Suns – One cannot ignore the regular season and young talent the Suns have and what Chris Paul and Jae Crowder meant. However, the West is loaded and opening with the Lakers is a major test with their lack of postseason experience. Better days ahead for Phoenix and this year’s experience will help.
Denver Nuggets – If Jamal Murray had not torn his ACL, with the trade of Aaron Gordon, Denver was a legit club to reach the Finals. What you have to wonder is when playing a series, is the lack of strong guard scoring going to hold the Nuggets back? We say “yes”.
Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers possess all the title ingredients: the star duo, the veteran depth, good coaching and championship experience. Can the Clips stay focused, healthy and further develop the chemistry that will be needed in the tough times? The other L.A. could go either way.
Los Angeles Lakers – The defending champs enter the NBA Playoff fray as the best 7-seed of all time, at least arguably. The talent and defense are there for the Lakers and if they could reach the West Finals and have LeBron and A.D. keep getting healthier, watch out. Since this team has not played together as a unit for almost two months, that’s the issue.
Doug Upstone is a writer, handicapper and produces daily free pick videos at docsports.com