Whether you look at the standings, the odds board, or seek a consensus from the experts, all view the chase for the 2020 NBA Championship as being a three-horse race.
In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) are far and away the favorites to get back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1973-74 season. In fact, that was so long ago the Bucks were members of the Western Conference. Milwaukee could make league history as the first team to represent both conferences in the NBA Finals.
If the Bucks live up to the hype, they figure to be facing L.A. in the NBA Finals. Ah yes, but which L.A.? That’s the question still to be answered.
At the start of the season, it was the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) who carried the tag as the team to beat in the Western Conference. As the NBA prepares to launch its post-COVID-19 return to play competition in Orlando, Fla., it’s the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) who are viewed around the league as the western frontrunners.
The bookmakers clearly agree that this is, in essence, a three-team tournament to see who gets to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Oh sure, 13 other teams get to participate in the NBA playoffs but when all is said and done, they’ll all be dispatched for home with lovely parting gifts.
The disparity in the betting lines in the NBA future book is stark. Taking a look at the latest lines at NBA betting sites, the Lakers are the +240 favorites. Interestingly, the Clippers are the second betting choice at +300. That could mean the Western Conference final might be the NBA Final for all intents and purposes.
If you like the Bucks, they’re just a tick behind the Clippers in this betting market at odds of +325. But then, to utilize a horse racing analogy, the rest of the field is distanced.
The ever-underachieving Houston Rockets can be had for odds of +1200. The Boston Celtics (+1400) are the second-best bet to come out of the east. The defending champion Toronto Raptors are offered at odds of +2000.
Up until a three-game losing streak prior to the COVID-19 shutdown of the season, Milwaukee hadn’t lost back-to-back games all season long. And in the last two of that three-game skid, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was sidelined by a mild sprain of his left knee.
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The Greek Freak is looking like another MVP Award will be adorning his trophy case after this season. And he’s turning in that second consecutive season while averaging 30.9 minutes per game. That’s tied for 63rd in the NBA.
Analytically speaking, the Bucks are breaking the bank. Their 112.3 offensive rating is tied for fifth in the league, while Milwaukee’s 101.6 defensive rating is first overall. As well, the 10.7 net rating posted by the Bucks is not only first in the league, it’s 3.6 points ahead of the second-place Lakers.
Last spring, Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs, Raptors) joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Bucks, Lakers) and LeBron James (Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers) as the only players to win the NBA Finals MVP with two different teams. Could he be the first to threepeat with this award?
Leonard’s offseason move to the Clippers, coupled with the acquisition of Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, turned L.A.’s other NBA club from a solid, building team into a legitimate championship contender.
When that duo’s been on the floor together, they’ve been dynamic. The Clippers are 24-8 in games where they’ve had both Leonard and George available. But that’s been the case in just 32 of 64 games.
Led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers also suit up the NBA’s deepest bench.
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It starts with the best player in the game. Just as the Bulls had Michael Jordan, the Lakers have LeBron. He’s won titles with Cleveland and Miami and King James definitely is invigorated to add another crown with the NBA’s most illustrious franchise.
Factor in a second superstar in Anthony Davis and the Lakers are deep in greatness. James might also be the game’s best leader and that could prove vital in keeping a team together while surviving in a bubble environment.
For the first time in his NBA career, Golden State Warriors all-star Draymond Green is a playoff outsider. So the three-time NBA champion stepped up to be an NBA Finals handicapper. During an appearance on the “Jalen and Jacoby” show on ESPN, Green broke down the 2020 title contenders.
“I think going into the season and all season long, the Clippers were the favorite,” Green said. “When you look at their team, I think they have someone that checks every box.”
He’s since changed his tune, though.
“I think going into this bubble, the Lakers got to be the favorite because they got LeBron and he can kind of adjust anything,” Green said. “And I think he’s probably the most disciplined player we’ve ever seen in the NBA.
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