The NBA season will finish and a champion will be crowned in 2020 if all goes according to the plan with the imminent restart at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
A doubleheader tips off the grand return of pro basketball's elite on Thursday night, first with a matchup between the Jazz and Pelicans, followed by a Lakers-Clippers tilt. Click here for the full official schedule.
After months of coronavirus quarantine, NBA hoops should provide a sense of normalcy for sports fans, hardwood diehards and betting enthusiasts to enjoy. Continue on for abe Insights' flagship betting preview, futures listings, odds analysis and outlook for everything wagering-related for the remainder of the NBA season.
The Association's official website provides an excellent FAQ guide on all things bubble-related. Rest assured, there are tons of safety protocols in place and all kinds of precautions taken.
Teams played a few intersquad scrimmages this past week to tune up for the real-deal schedule. Among the 30 NBA teams, 22 qualified for the bubble.
What's the rationale for this? Well, the 16 teams who would've already qualified for the postseason were, of course, part of the Orlando field. Anyone who was within six games of the eighth and final playoff seed in each conference was also included.
After eight games, the playoffs commence on August 17. If the ninth-seeded team in either conference is within four games of the No. 8 seed in the standings, a best-of-two tournament between those two clubs plays out. The lesser team must win once to advance to the postseason; the eighth seed needs to claim victory only once.
According to the latest NBA futures odds listings at abe, bettors can nab LeBron James' Lakers at +260 on FanDuel to win the 2020 Finals. Milwaukee (+280 on BetMGM) is the clear favorite in the East to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
But Los Angeles isn't big enough for the both of the Purple and Gold and the Clippers to represent the West in Finals. While the Lakers are +160 to win the conference, their intracity rivals Clips can be had at +180 (SugarHouse/BetRivers).
Now, there are key absences for both City of Angels sides. Avery Bradley was one key player to opt out of the Orlando Bubble due to COVID-19 concerns, and Rajon Rondo suffered a fractured thumb, per a July 13 team news release.
That puts James and Co. down two go-to veterans in the backcourt who play solid defense and have high basketball IQs. Meanwhile, though, the Clippers are going to miss Lou Williams for the first two games while he undergoes a 10-day quarantine. Starting point guard Patrick Beverley returned to the bubble Sunday, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
It's a big drop in championship futures after The Big Three. The Rockets (+1700 on FD), Celtics (FD +2000) and even the reigning champion Toronto Raptors (+2200 on BetMGM) are garnering far less respect. That's reflected in their conference odds, too, which are as follows: Boston +700 (SH/BR), Houston +800 (FoxBet), and Toronto +800 (BetMGM/Borgata).
The Celtics have a respected coach in Brad Stevens and one of the quickest-surging superstars in the sport in forward Jayson Tatum. Swapping out Kyrie Irving for Kemba Walker at point guard has served Boston well, too. Stevens can also deploy lockdown defenders Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown to mark their opponent's top scorers.
Boston may have the East's best starting five, yet Toronto can't be overlooked. The Raptors have thrived even after Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers. Pascal Siakam, similar in some regards to Tatum, is taking greater charge and unlocking new levels to his upside. The question: is Siakam ready to be the go-to guy on a title team?
As for Houston, the simple fact is James Harden plays a ton of iso ball and hasn't been efficient enough over the past four postseasons to justify such an exorbitant usage rate (31 percent on 10.6 average 3-point attempts per game and 41.2% shooting overall). The Beard has failed to launch the Rockets to a Finals appearance.
Expending so much energy on offense has made Harden a defensive liability, too. The addition of another ball-dominant, way more inefficient shooter in Russell Westbrook (25.4% from beyond the arc in 2019-20) hamstrung the team's cap space and limited the proficiency of coach Mike D'Antoni's system, which is heavily reliant on 3-pointers. This doesn't seem like a championship formula.
Rounding out the futures notables are the Philadelphia 76ers (+2500 BetMGM) and Denver Nuggets (+2700 FD). Let's focus on the latter. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is unique in today's game so dominated by backcourts. He dropped a ton of weight during the hiatus and may be as dangerous as ever. Jokic is a triple-double threat every night with elite passing ability (6.9 assists per game) for someone his size.
An already-loaded Denver roster has the bonus — and challenge — of integrating newer rotation players such as Michael Porter Jr. and big man Bol Bol, who's caused a stir with his highlight-reel plays during scrimmages. Few teams have the blend of size, depth and athleticism the Nuggets boast. All they really lack is collective experience.
It's unlikely Williamson (+1400 on DraftKings) can do enough to dethrone Memphis' Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year honors, but what an impression he's made. After missing a big chunk of the season, the Pelicans phenom roared onto the scene and got New Orleans in the playoff conversation, averaging 23.6 points in 19 contests.
Heck, the rules around this Orlando Bubble may have even been influenced by the No. 1 overall draft pick to potentially coax the Pels into the playoffs (they're a +265 prop to make it). Williamson is indeed as singular a sensation as the basketball world has seen of late: an apotheosis of amplified athletic ability, arrived already on an All-Star level.
In terms of betting, aside from that prayer-esque wager on ROY honors, perhaps Williamson can spark a hot finish for the Pelicans and reward a playoff wager. New Orleans would probably face the Lakers or Clippers. Imagine the ratings that series would draw.
Anything scoring-related when it comes to Zion and Co. is worth keeping an eye on as a bettor. Only the Bucks have a faster PACE rating than the Pelicans, and with fresh, young legs on their side, they have the elements to be all the buzz during the bubble's first week of game action. All largely thanks to Williamson, alone.
Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (-2500 on BetMGM) will, in all likelihood, be the league's Most Valuable Player for the second straight season. James is a distant second at +900.
More notable is how the Greek Freak is a prohibitive favorite (-500 on DraftKings) to win Defensive Player of the Year. Antetokounmpo, aged but 25, would be the third man in NBA history to accomplish this, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Talk about elite company.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder (-182 on BetMGM) seems destined for Sixth Man of the Year on the most overachieving team in recent memory. The only major award that seems up for grabs is Most Improved Player. For that, Williamson's teammate Brandon Ingram (+270) is a decent flier over Heat favorite Bam Adebayo (-143).
To bring everything full circle to the teams that really matter, consider these exact NBA Finals matchup props: Lakers-Bucks (DK +310), Bucks-Clippers (FD +370). Although the bubble and bizarre state of the world could bring about unforeseen surprises, there's a clear consensus on who's a cut above the rest.
Will Kawhi or LeBron hoist the trophy with a third different franchise? Is it Giannis' turn to break through? Or will another team shock everyone? We can't wait to find out.
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