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NBA Playoff Futures: Conference and Championship Finals Betting Picks
Need evidence that the competitive balance has shifted across the association in 2019?
Get this, for the first time in almost a decade (2010) there will be an NBA Finals matchup played without LeBron James. Heck, the King won't even sniff the postseason now that the Lakers are officially eliminated from contention. Considering how many teams make the NBA Playoffs (eight per conference), that speaks to the level of parity across the NBA — and just how south things went in Hollywood.
Furthermore, former laughing-stock franchises like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Denver are legit contenders in 2019. And teams everyone expected to run away with the conference title — think Golden State, Houston, and Boston — have had up-and-down campaigns.
So word of caution for NBA futures betting —drop any preconceived notions because things have changed. A lot.
2019 Western Conference Winner
Let's begin by looking at the conference that has claimed 14 of the last 20 NBA titles, the wild, wild West. Here are the latest NBA playoff odds, with all lines courtesy of Bovada:
- Golden State Warriors (-375)
- Houston Rockets (+625)
- Denver Nuggets (+725)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (+2000)
- San Antonio Spurs (+2500)
No surprise, the Dubs remains conference favorites by a longshot. However, we'll just go ahead and say it right now, this isn't the same dominant Warriors team of old. Not even close.
It's most apparent defensively. The Warriors rank 11th league-wide with an efficiency rating of 106.6 points per 100 possessions. That's the lowest they've fared since Steve Kerr became head coach. In comparison, during the Dubs first two championship years with Kerr, they finished first and second in the same category.
The media has pinned the defensive woes on DeMarcus Cousins. Yes, Boogie deserves some of the blame, but the root cause is actually Draymond Green. His bang-bang style of play that earned him Defensive Player of the Year accolades before has now taken a toll on his body. That regression is seen most of his yearly averages in points (7.0) and rebounds (7.4).
Like Green, age has also caught up to key reserves such as Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Both are averaging career lows in points. No other bench player has been able to pick up the slack for Golden State, who have the second-fewest points in the NBA from reserve players.
We've just spent this whole time trying to convince you the Warriors are more vulnerable than ever — which they are — however, they're still the Western Conference pick to make. That's more based off a weakened Western Conference field than anything else.
Its biggest foe out West, the Rockets, have also fallen off year-to-year. The same defensive and bench issues we pointed about the Warriors also apply to Houston, and matter of fact, are even larger. As for Denver, we're not about to pick a team that's never been there over three-time NBA winners. Golden State's issues will catch up to them (more on that later), just not inside their own conference.
Pick: Golden State (-375)
2019 Eastern Conference Winner
Here's who Bovada is giving the best odds to win the East:
- Milwaukee Bucks (+190)
- Toronto Raptors (+220)
- Philadelphia 76ers (+255)
- Boston Celtics (+450)
Immediately, we're ruling out the Celtics and 76ers. The two have been plagued by chemistry issues all season, and that's not something you suddenly figure out once in the playoffs.
That leaves the Bucks and Raptors, who in all honesty, probably both deserve some betting action. Both are evenly matched across the board — led by a game-changing superstar, can dominate on both ends of the floor, and have a deep roster.
However, if you could only make one bet, we'd make it on Toronto. Malcolm Brogdon's injury has given us pause on Milwaukee, who haven't been the same without him in the lineup.
Moreover, the Raptor's roster is dotted with players who have played in big-time games. For all of the Toronto's lackluster postseason success in recent years, it's still plenty more than the Bucks, who haven't won a playoff series since 2001.
One player who wasn't part of those disappointing Raptor endings: Kawhi Leonard. A player of his caliber — a former NBA Finals MVP — is the difference-maker that will finally get this team over the proverbial hump.
Pick: Toronto (+220)
2019 NBA Championship Winner
Bovada is giving the Warriors -220 odds to three-peat, while the Raptors are +950 to pull off the upset. Going off what we said before, if there's one last NBA bias to drop this season it's that Golden State is unbeatable. This dynasty reminds us of the ones before it, and not for good reasons.
Aside from the Michael Jordan-led Bulls, all NBA dynasties flame out in spectacular fashion. We'll use the two most-recent ones — the 1999-2004 Lakers and 2011-2014 Heat — as an example.
The first tell-tale sign of a fading dynasty is an aged roster. Who remembers LA having a pair of Hall of Famers, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, on their last legs? Similarly, for the Heat, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen had clearly lost a step (or two) by then.
Warning sign two: a star player already eyeing his exit from the franchise at season's end. For LA, it was the disgruntled Kobe Bryant (but ended up being Shaquille O'Neal thanks to Bryant). In Miami, it was LeBron who had his Cleveland homecoming already in motion.
The third and final emergency warning: internal strife. Not only was Kobe beefing with Shaq, but he was also facing serious rape allegations off the court. Egos were also clashing in South Beach as Piley Riley and James stopped seeing eye to eye.
Welp, the Warriors check each one of those boxes. Age? Of course, as previously mentioned. Murky future of a star player? You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that believes Kevin Durant isn't headed to the Knicks. Locker room issues? And check, courtesy of Durant's earlier spat with Green.
Ironically, Leonard was the lynchpin of the last team to end a dynasty, the Heat's, while with San Antonio. He'll do it once again five years later with Toronto.
Pick: Toronto (+950)
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