With the inside track on the #1 seed in the West and three-time Finals MVP LeBron James playing like he’s still in his mid-20s, the Los Angeles Lakers have become short +200 favorites to win the NBA Championship.
The latest title odds only give two other teams a realistic shot of keeping the King from his fourth crown: the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks at +300 and Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers at +350.
The next-best odds belong to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, but they are a distant +1400 afterthought at most sportsbooks.
Which team represents the most credible threat to the Lakers at this point?
The Case for Milwaukee Bucks
The argument for the Milwaukee Bucks is easy to make. They have the best winning percentage in the league at .860, which is nearly 100 percentage-points better than the Lakers (.776). They have the best point differential in the league by a wide margin at +12.4, which is nearly five points better than the Lakers (+7.5). They were a 60-win team last season, and they have the reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to go back-to-back.
The case against Milwaukee is also pretty simple: they’ve never won a championship before. They’ve never even reached the finals. Until they do, they’ll have their skeptics. As discussed below, only a handful of active players have proven they can lead a team to an NBA title.
The Case for Los Angeles Clippers
The case for and against LAC is basically the opposite. With Kawhi Leonard leading the charge, they have a two-time NBA Finals MVP and proven championship-caliber star. He’s flanked by another superstar in Paul George, a player who’s won five playoff series in his 9-plus-year career.
On the flip side, they are 3.5 games behind the Lakers for top seed. Their +5.9 point differential is only third in the West and sixth in the league. And, on top of that, both Leonard and George have concerning injury histories, yet that’s not stopping being favored in their upcoming fixtures. The LA Clippers are (-280) favorites on average against Miami according to these real-time NBA odds, that updated daily with each upcoming game.
So, while optimists will point out that the Clippers’ record reflects a team that’s been without Leonard or George for a combined 33 games, pessimists will clap back that there is no guarantee those two are fully healthy come playoff time.
But the fact remains that the Clippers’ ceiling is extremely high thanks mostly to Leonard, who led the once playoff-futile Raptors to their first title just last season.
The Case Against Everyone Else
The modern NBA playoffs are a star-driven tournament. The last eight winners have all had one (or more) of the following players leading the charge:
- LeBron James (2012 Heat, 2013 Heat, 2016 Cavaliers)
- Steph Curry (2015, 2017, 2018 Warriors)
- Kevin Durant (2017, 2018 Warriors)
- Kawhi Leonard (2014 Spurs, 2019 Raptors)
With Curry and Durant basically non-factors this season due to injury (and Andre Iguodala sitting out), James and Leonard are the only two active players who have won a Finals MVP award.
Outside of the record-setting Bucks, who are led by the agreed-upon best player in the league, no other team is going to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making a deep playoff run.