When you’re on an NBA team that has LeBron James, there’s a certain level of cache that comes with it. So even if the Miami Heat don’t have the best record in the NBA as of today, the mere fact that sportsbooks still have them as favorites to win the NBA title is a telling reminder that the crown – and all those juicy long odds – still passes through the King and his men.
The NBA is currently in the dog days of winter; it’s a time when games start getting muddled together and the schedule turns into a pillaging jaunt from city to city just to play basketball in front of 12,000 fans. That’s always the case in the days and weeks leading up to the All-Star break and yes, judging by how the Philadelphia 76ers looked against the Los Angeles Clippers in a game that saw Lob City win by over 40 points, everybody’s just waiting for the break to recharge their batteries in preparation for the playoff push.
No more is rest needed than in Miami where the Heat are pushing to become the first team to go to the NBA Finals for four straight years since the Showtime Lakers and the Bird-led Celtics in the 80’s. It doesn’t happen a lot, although a case could be made that the first Bulls three-peat could’ve done it if Michael Jordan hadn’t retired. It’s tough to keep such sustained success going, because there are so many factors that can derail a title run, and as we’ve seen with the Heat this year, injury is as big a cause for concern as anything.
History suggests that Miami can’t make it to its fourth straight Finals appearance and with the way this team is built and the over reliance on LeBron, 2/1 odds on the defending champs to make it three-in-a-row doesn’t sound like a saucy bet.
What has become a saucy bet, though, is the team that currently has the best record in the league today: the Indiana Pacers.
At 5/2 odds, Indiana is on a mission to turn the tables on the Heat after losing to Miami in seven at the Conference Finals last season. The team has made no bones about what it wants to do this year – kick Miami’s ass in the postseason – and judging by the way the team has played, coupled with the superstar emergence of Paul George, this is the team that’s worth taking a long look at.
Just below the Heat and the Pacers is the team with the best odds to represent the Western Conference: the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team is battling injury issues of its own, no more important than Russell Westbrook’s knee problems. But whether it was out of necessity or just a case of carrying a team on his back, Kevin Durant has been nothing short of sensational this season. He’s been so good that he’s on pace to become the MVP of the league in a landslide. That’s how incredible this dude has been and he’s single-handedly responsible for the Thunder getting just 4/1 odds to win the title this year.
A team that just doesn’t go away and has sportsbooks sweating on an annual basis is the San Antonio Spurs. The defending Western Conference champions are currently 9/1 to win the NBA title, and that’s even when you point that they should’ve been the champions last year, not the Heat. But Ray Allen happened, so there’s no need to rehash the dramatic conclusion to Game 6 anymore. But still, 9/1 odds for a team that has proven to be a tough out in the postseason? Sounds pretty tasty to us.
Outside of these four teams, you can make a case for the Los Angeles Clippers to be in the mix at 12/1 odds, but other than that, there aren’t really any other teams that are worth consideration. The Portland Trailblazers are at 16/1, but you wonder how those guys can handle the pressure of the postseason being a young team and all. The Golden State Warriors, currently at 20/1, could be a tough out in the playoffs. But their front line needs to remain healthy, and that’s already proven to be a tough go for the team despite center Andrew Bogut being surprisingly sturdy this year.
The Houston Rockets were a darling team heading into this year and at 20/1 odds, they remain so even if the team seems to be allergic to playing defense.
From there, the odds drop significantly with the Brooklyn Nets, 33/1, the only other team in the league that’s getting lower than 40/1 odds. Everybody else is a longshot at best, including the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls (50/1), the Memphis Grizzlies (60/1), and the Dallas Mavericks (60/1).
As is always the case in the NBA, the word parity is a figment of our imaginations. At best, you can make a legitimate case for five or six teams to win the title. This year, it’s probably four-and-a-half, and that half is attributed to how healthy Chris Paul can be in the playoffs. If he’s at his best for the Clips, those 12/1 odds are pretty enticing. If he isn’t forget about it.
Halfway through the season with almost every team in the league going through the motions, you can already make out who the contenders are and who the pretenders are and from the looks of things, the road to the NBA title is down to five teams with LeBron James and the Miami Heat, injuries notwithstanding, still considered the favorites to win it all.