Local sports books could save money by passing on purchasing NBA League Pass this year, and instead only showing nationally televised games. The teams that will fill the vast majority of the major-network television schedule are the only ones that most of the casinos’ customers are betting anyway.
The NBA has historically been a top-heavy league, but it’s been taken to the extreme recently. At the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, only seven of the league’s 30 teams are listed at odds of less than 80-to-1 to win the NBA Championship. And unlike practically every other sport, not many gamblers are drawn to backing a long shot with the possibility of a high payout at the end of the season. “That’s how it’s been for the last few years for us in the futures market,” Superbook manager Jeff Sherman says. “Those other teams just don’t attract too much.”
If a team other than the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers wins the NBA title this year, it would be considered one of the most unlikely champions in sports history. So let’s focus on those seven to preview the season, which tips off Tuesday, October 16, with Philadelphia at Boston and Oklahoma City at Golden State. Here are the contenders’ future odds and a pick on each of their over/under win totals.
Golden State Warriors
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: minus-200 (risking $2 to win $1)
• Will the Warriors make the playoffs? Yes minus-20,000, no 50-to-1
• Over/under win total: 62.5
The Warriors have the talent to break their own record of 72 regular-season wins set from three years ago—if they care to. Golden State makes no secret of its intentions to merely survive the regular season and amp up in the playoffs. The Warriors will again be liberal with resting their stars—now including free agent acquisition DeMarcus Cousins—and holding them out for extra days, if not weeks, off of injuries. They’ll likely three-peat, and win their fourth title in five years, but that will be after a nondescript regular season. Pick: Under 62.5 wins.
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: 5-to-1
• Will the Celtics make the playoffs? Yes minus-10,000, no 20-to-1
• Over/under win total: 59.5
The preseason perception is that Boston is as far ahead in the Eastern Conference as Golden State is in the Western Conference. That might be true if Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford can stay healthy for the majority of the season while budding stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also take the next step in their developments. That's a lot of ifs. Irving and Hayward missed more than 100 combined games last year, and breakout seasons for young players tend to be tricky to predict. Pick: Under 59.5 wins.
• Odds to win the NBA Championship:7-to-1
• Will the Rockets make the playoffs? Yes minus-10,000, no 20-to-1
• Over/under win total: 56.5
It’s going to be difficult for Houston to repeat last season’s success, which saw it go an NBA-best 65-17 in the regular season. But that might be built into the line too much, as a 9- or 10-win decline is quite substantial. Houston was virtually unbeatable when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela played together, to the extent that the Rockets took Golden State to the brink in a seven-game Western Conference championship series. Pick: Over 56.5 wins.
Los Angeles Lakers
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: 12-to-1
• Will the Lakers make the playoffs? Yes minus-400, no 3-to-1
• Over/under win total: 48
Sherman described the Lakers’ preseason betting patterns as a push/pull between recreational and serious bettors. The amateurs are captivated by the addition of LeBron James, while the professionals are skeptical of the rest of the roster. It’s easy to see it both ways. James may be the greatest player in NBA history and has therefore always eclipsed expectations. But the complementary pieces around him for his first season in LA might be even worse than anticipated, barring a major breakout from Brandon Ingram and/or Lonzo Ball. Pick: Under 48 wins
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: 12-to-1
• Will the Raptors make the playoffs? Yes minus-5,000, no 15-to-1
• Over/under win total: 55.5
The Raptors have eclipsed 55 wins in two of the past three years, and that was without recent trade acquisition Kawhi Leonard. Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri controversially declared Leonard, who sat out all of last season with an injury, one of the three best players in the league when healthy, but it wasn't that big of a stretch. Few, if any, players in the league affect the action on both sides of the court as much as the former NBA Finals MVP. Pick: Over 55.5 wins
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: 14-to-1
• Will the 76ers make the playoffs? Yes minus-4,000, no 14-to-1
• Over/under win total: 53.5
The 76ers have a lot of factors pointing upward, not the least of which is that Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz are all 24 or younger. That core looks like a potential dynasty in the making. It could start ahead of schedule this year, but that would require everyone staying healthy and improving. It’s always wiser to be wary of teams that make significant one-year leaps, and it’s rare to find one bigger than Philadelphia going from 28 wins in 2016 to 52 wins last year. Pick: Under 53.5 wins
Oklahoma City Thunder
• Odds to win the NBA Championship: 25-to-1
• Will the Thunder make the playoffs?Yes minus-1000, No 13-to-2
• Over/under win total:48.5
The Thunder seemed like they finished at their floor last year with a 48-34 record. The second year of the Russell Westbrook-Paul George pairing should yield better results now that the superstars are more familiar with each other. Oklahoma City could also experience some addition by subtraction after getting rid of Carmelo Anthony, who largely weighed the team down last year despite his superstar status. Pick: Over 48.5 wins.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.