The NBA season is quickly approaching and offseason transactions have mostly stopped. Teams are preparing to go to training camp and get a better idea how they will structure their rosters for the regular season.
One NBA futures bet that has surfaced somewhat recently is the Finals matchup for next spring. That event is nine months away, but it’s not too early to be thinking ahead to the league’s premier event of the season.
To be clear, I believe there are only seven teams with a somewhat legitimate chance at making the NBA Finals this year: the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. These teams all have good star power mixed in with experienced and skilled role players. The 23 other squads would need some major outlier situation to get them over the hump.
This preview will be ranking the top four of those teams in terms of how their potential to make the championship round stacks up, taking into account the odds with the betting outlets.
Teams to Target In Your Bets
Why are the Jazz being underestimated so much this offseason? This is a younger team that ended last year’s regular season 29-6, frequently winning in blowout fashion. They had an impressive first-round playoff victory over the Thunder before falling to the 65-win Rockets in five games. If it weren’t for some backcourt injuries, that series could’ve been much closer.
If Rudy Gobert stays healthy this year (admittedly a big “if”), Utah should have the best defense in the NBA. Donovan Mitchell looks like a future superstar after a great rookie campaign. He should continue to grow into his role as the offensive go-to guy. Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder and Dante Exum is a very nice combination of role players.
Something that distinguishes the Jazz from other Western Conference challengers to the Warriors is their ability to thrive at a very slow pace of play. Utah beat Golden State three separate times last season by margins of 40, 30 and 19 points. The Jazz are most definitely a potential Western Conference champion this year if something goes wrong with the Raptors.
Two names come to mind when I consider my optimism for the Raptors this year: Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
Obviously, Leonard provides a huge upgrade for the team as DeMar DeRozan’s replacement as the Raptors’ primary scorer. Leonard is a more efficient scorer, a better floor-spacer off the ball and defends way better than DeRozan ever did for Toronto.
James leaving the Eastern Conference means the Raptors’ main obstacle in the Eastern Conference playoffs over the last few years is gone. Since 2015-16, Toronto is 0-3 in playoff series against LeBron James’ teams and 4-0 in all other series.
The Raptors won 59 games a year ago and replaced their main offensive option with a much better player. Sure, they have a new head coach in Nick Nurse, but maybe he’ll bring some much-needed variety to the Raptors’ offensive sets.
There’s no need to overthink this: Toronto is going to be a fantastic team in 2018-19. The Raps have the scoring, shooting and defensive versatility to take down the Bostons and the Philadelphias of the Eastern Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City was supposed to be a title contender a year ago. It wasn’t.
The Thunder suffered through a slight decline from Russell Westbrook, a terrible season from Carmelo Anthony and a significant injury to wing defender Andre Roberson. As a result, they underachieved by seven or eight wins and bowed out meekly in the first round of the postseason to the Jazz.
Oklahoma City absolutely nailed the offseason, though. The team got rid of Anthony and his poor shot selection and defense. Jerami Grant and Alex Abrines should take his minutes, which will help the team. Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel are new additions that could help the bench reach a much higher level than last year.
Shooting is the only major concern for the Thunder. Do they have enough offensive firepower from the outside to beat the Warriors and Rockets? Maybe, maybe not, but their amazing defensive versatility and athleticism will give them a fighting chance. Russell Westbrook and Paul George can potentially supply enough offense for the team to get by.
Also, keep in mind that the Thunder finished with a 4-3 record combined against the Warriors and Rockets even in a disappointing regular season. OKC has the juice to win the West.
The Sixers are the third-best team in the East for me right now, but they most definitely could be the conference’s best squad this year if some things work out well for them.
First of all, young guard Markelle Fultz is a huge X-factor. The No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft had an injury-plagued rookie year and lost all confidence in his jump shot, which hindered his impact. He appears to be shooting well again and is healthy. In a best-case scenario, he could be an amazing complement to stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid this season with averages around 15 points and five assists per game. He also could get lost in the shuffle again if he gets off to a poor start and can’t lock down a consistent role.
A reliable Fultz gives the Sixers an elite six-man core: Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington. Having Fultz as a reliable creator would take so much pressure off of Simmons, who had to do a lot of facilitating and creating for himself last season.
Philadelphia has some injury risk attached to them due to the histories of Embiid, Simmons and Fultz. But considering the Sixers are way behind the Celtics in Finals odds, they are a decent bet.
NBA Finals Matchup Bets Recommendations
We have reviewed the various combinations of teams on both 5Dimes and MyBookie, two of the best USA sportsbooks, and here are several of your top options. The bets will be listed starting with the best investment and then going down to just pretty good investments:
- Raptors vs. Jazz (+28000 at MyBookie)
- Jazz vs. 76ers (+23000 at 5Dimes)
- Raptors vs. Thunder (+15000 at 5Dimes)
- Jazz vs. Celtics (+9400 at 5Dimes)
- 76ers vs. Thunder (+11300 at 5Dimes)
- Raptors vs. Warriors (+700 at MyBookie)
As you can see, this preview is not strongly recommending the Warriors as one of the teams included in the potential matchups. With the uncertainty around DeMarcus Cousins’ Achilles injury and temperamental personality and the potential complacency of the team, I don’t like them being as significant a favorite as most betting outlets seem to think.