Top Eight NBA 2019-20 Championship Contenders Ranked
For several weeks, it looked like the rest of the 2019-20 NBA season might be cancelled. But recent reports from key sources have indicated that the league is working on a plan to finish the season starting in July, possibly in Orlando, Florida.
While there are no concrete plans in place yet, the prospect of the league coming to some closure on the 2019-20 season is exciting. We should still have a 2019-2020 NBA championship team, even though the playoff format might look very different.
A couple of the top USA online betting firms are still offering odds on the outcome of this season. Here USAbetting gives our NBA preview with betting predictions and ultimate pick to win the Championship.
So which teams have the best chance at hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in this wacky season and what is the most appealing wager at this stage? I’ll share my top eight teams, in order, that look like the strongest contenders for the title.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been without the services of Kawhi Leonard for 13 games, Paul George for 22 games and Patrick Beverley for 16 games. I think it’s pretty impressive that the Clips still have a 44-20 record. If the NBA does indeed reconvene in July, all three will presumably be in tip-top shape.
The Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a slightly better superstar duo than the Clippers’ Leonard and George, but I trust the Clippers’ role players more. If James or Leonard is struggling, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson are all capable of taking the lead on offense for significant stretches.
I also like that the Clippers can play both smaller and bigger lineups that are effective due to the amount of depth they have. The Clips have the right combination of skill sets and personnel balance to go all the way this season. The standout best odds of +300 (3/1) with Bovada for Sports Betting makes big appeal.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
49-14, No. 1 in Western Conference; +210 BetOnline
I have the utmost respect for LeBron James, and I expect nothing less from him than a Western Conference Finals appearance this season. LeBron’s Lakers are certainly a formidable team, as they feature a great second superstar (Anthony Davis) and several quality defenders, rebounders and shooters as role players.
My biggest question with the Lakers has to do with their amount of perimeter creation. Who can create shots for the Lakers with LeBron on the bench or if he is tired? When defenses tighten up in the playoffs, it is important to have guys who can create and take those tough buckets in spite of good defense.
Also, while the Lakers have some catch-and-shoot guys, their best ones, like Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, are somewhat inconsistent. They also play other questionable shooters on the perimeter, like Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
53-12, No. 1 in Western Conference; +275 BetOnline
The Bucks have a ridiculous plus-11.2 point differential this season that easily leads the NBA. They also have the presumptive MVP favorite, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a whole bunch of depth and shooting. So why aren’t they No. 1 on this list?
For me, it’s tough to get last year’s postseason out of my mind. The Bucks won the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, but they lost the next four games. Toronto had smart, versatile defenders to wall off the paint from Giannis, and he didn’t have the jump shot to take advantage. Key teammates Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe also shrunk from the moment.
The Bucks are an amazing team and surely their dominant defense will keep them in the hunt for a title but is Antetokounmpo too one-dimensional on offense? Can Middleton and Bledsoe reclaim their momentum from their excellent regular season campaigns to give him better scoring help this time around?
4. Toronto Raptors
46-18, No. 2 in Eastern Conference; +2500 BetOnline
The top three teams form the top tier of contenders. The Raptors start the second tier, which, to me, extends all the way the eighth team on this list. These are the teams that have a chance to win the title, but doing so would require significant slip-ups from the Clippers, Lakers and Bucks.
I’m not trying to knock the defending champion Raptors, because they are a surprisingly fantastic team. Toronto has admirably adjusted to the losses of 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, putting itself on a 59-win pace without a true superstar. I love their defensive versatility and depth.
Indeed, the lack of a true superstar on offense is what causes me to be slightly skeptical of the Raptors’ chances at beating a team like the Clippers, Lakers or Bucks in the playoffs. Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are both All-Stars, but neither guy is a top-20 offensive player in the NBA. Toronto has the flexibility put together a lot of very good lineups, but I don’t know if its best lineup has the top-end talent consistently to win the crunch-time minutes against the teams above it.
5. Houston Rockets
40-24, No. 6 in Western Conference; +2000 BetOnline
The Rockets are definitely my NBA Finals dark horse pick under the current circumstances. Before the season was suspended, they had lost four out of five games and were trending down with their approach of playing super small lineups and relying on defensive quickness and three-point shooting.
However, this period of extended rest could be just what the Rockets need. Houston’s offense is dependent on superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook having the energy to carry the load and score from both the inside and outside. In recent pictures on the internet, Harden has looked like he has trimmed down, which could be a positive sign for his durability in the event of a deep playoff run. Houston’s shorter rotations during games might not create a fatigue issue because of the time off the players received.
The Rockets’ approach of jacking up tons of threes and playing an aggressive style of defense is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. The chaos of the long layoff between games could be what Houston needs to catch its opponents off guard.
6. Boston Celtics
Boston arguably has the best platoon of perimeter-oriented players in the NBA. Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart provide a ton of offensive firepower. Tatum, Brown and Smart are all among the best defensive players at their positions too.
The burning question for the Celtics is whether their big man play is serviceable enough to contend with the other elite teams. Enes Kanter can rebound and score inside very well, but he can’t shoot or defend. Daniel Theis and Grant Williams are very solid defenders, but neither guy has very much offensive skill. Robert Williams is the wild card, but he has had some trouble staying on the court due to injuries, foul trouble and a lack of intangibles. Boston could really use a reliable two-way big man.
The other issue is if Tatum is ready to match up with the superstar wings of the top teams in the NBA. The young forward was on a tear before the season was suspended, but he hasn’t proven himself like Leonard and George (Clippers), James (Lakers), Antetokounmpo (Bucks) and Harden (Rockets) have over the years.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
39-26, No. 6 in Eastern Conference; +3300 BetOnline
The 76ers are one of the most confusing teams in the NBA. First of all, they have a 29-2 home road and an 10-24 road record, which is just nuts. It is natural to expect a slight boost from playing at home, but Philadelphia is a completely different team based on whether it is playing at Wells Fargo Center or not. The Sixers are also streaky. They have six winning streaks of at least four games (tied for most in the NBA) and four losing streaks of at least three games (most among teams above .500).
I think the Sixers will benefit from the time off, though, which should allow star players Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to get over some of their injury problems. With both of them back healthy and young guards Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz gaining confidence from excellent play right before the league was suspended, I think Philly will be very formidable in the East.
All that to say, I still don’t think Embiid and Simmons are very likely to win a championship together as co-stars. With both guys being so ball-dominant but also not good shooters, they don’t complement each other well on offense.
8. Denver Nuggets
43-22, No. 3 in Western Conference; +2500 BetOnline
The Nuggets are the last team that I think has a reasonable chance at winning the Finals this year. They have, in my opinion, the top center in the NBA in Nikola Jokic, and a deep group of role players surrounding him with a variety of talents. The team executes very well together as a unit on both ends of the floor.
On paper, Denver doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, but they do have several concerns that I think puts them behind the other teams on this list. A lack of accurate, high-volume outside shooters is one of them. The Nuggets take just 30.4 three-pointers per game (26th in the NBA), and their percentage of 35.8 ranks a mediocre 15th.
Also, Denver doesn’t have anything close to a star two-way wing that can legitimately match up with Western Conference studs like LeBron, Kawhi, Paul George and James Harden. Finally, the Nuggets’ offense is very reliant on the scoring and passing abilities of Jokic. There isn’t a high-quality second option who the Nuggets can rely on to pump in 25 to 30 points if Jokic isn’t at his best.
Our NBA Championship Preview’s Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
- The enforced break from basketball will have enabled the LA Clippers to put the injury problems with three of their top players behind them. So for our NBA Championship betting prediction: The Clips are perfectly positioned to win it all from here and that pick is available at biggest odds of +300 (3/1) with Bovada.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.