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NBA Finals Futures Odds: Does LeBron James' Injury Make the Lakers a Value Bet?

After the first three weeks of the 2021 NBA season, NBA expert Ryan Kirksey breaks down the latest NBA Finals Futures and rankings. He updates us on the latest here.
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NBA Finals Futures Odds: Does LeBron James' Injury Make the Lakers a Value Bet?

As strange as it may seem, the NBA season is about 15% over for many teams already. Many teams have used these first few weeks to position themselves well for the playoff run in the spring, while others have dug massive holes from which they will have to climb out.

Looking at the NBA standings, only three teams (Rockets, Pelicans, and Pistons) seem to be completely out of the race already. Even upstart teams like the Magic and Thunder have impressive wins in the early part of the season.

But what about the teams favored to take down the whole thing? Let’s handicap the five teams with the best odds of winning the NBA Finals and also look at a longshot that might deserve an investment.

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Utah Jazz (+1300)

At the beginning of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the Jazz looked like the team to beat out West, especially after Kawhi Leonard went down with an injury. But the Jazz blew a 2-0 series lead, and the 22-year stretch without a Finals appearance continued.

This year, the Jazz brought back essentially an identical roster and are already poised to make a deep playoff run again. If not for the sheer dominance from the Warriors this season, we would all be talking about the Jazz, who are at 7-3 (second in the West) even after a bad loss to Orlando. The Jazz are outscoring opponents by 9.1 points per game and are so far and are undefeated in conference play.

The Jazz are second in the NBA in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating and are holding opponents to only 29% shooting from three, best in the league. Barring a major injury, this should be a Western Conference Finals team, meaning the +1300 you’re getting to bet them to win two more rounds looks appealing.

Milwaukee Bucks (+900)

Give oddsmakers credit, as they have not overreacted to the overwhelming amount of injuries suffered by the Bucks this season. Despite a 4-6 record and the 10th seed in the East, this is a team poised to explode the rest of the way when they are fully healthy.

The Bucks really only have Chicago in their division to worry about, so playoffs should be a lock. And now they have a battle-tested team and evidence that Giannis can put a team on his back for four rounds.

The Bucks are languishing at 18th in offensive rating and 19th in defensive rating as they patiently await their players to get back on the court. However, if you thought Milwaukee presented good value during the preseason (they opened at +900 to win the title most places), then the current situation shouldn’t scare you off.

Golden State Warriors (+900)

The Warriors have simply been the NBA’s most dominant team through the first ten games of the season. Considering they opened the year at 10-1 to win the title, the sharps are already starting to see what type of team they have, and they should get better with Klay Thompson due back in six weeks.

No NBA team is within even four points per game of Golden State’s offensive output, and only the Denver Nuggets allow fewer points than do the Warriors. When you look at the box scores of these

games and see how dominant the Warriors have been, it’s hard to determine how they even lost to the Grizzlies for their one defeat.

The Warriors are top-five in offensive rating and lead the league in defensive rating. This is now back-to-back seasons in the top five for defensive efficiency, as Steve Kerr has been drilling that aspect of the game as they survive without Thompson. It’s scary to think this might be an even better defensive team with the return of Thompson and James Wiseman later this year.

Los Angeles Lakers (+550)

I saw the Lakers at +400 to win the title several places in the preseason, but losing LeBron James and suffering a couple of bad losses will tank those numbers fairly quickly.

Too often, this team resembles one of those throwback teams of former All-Stars, just trying to rely on sheer talent to get things done instead of team dynamics and scheme. The Lakers have climbed their way back into the eighth playoff spot recently, but it will be a struggle for them to make the top four at this rate.

That prospect of no home-court advantage severely impacts the Lakers’ title chances, as does the fact that this superstar-driven team only ranks 17th in offensive rating this year.

Brooklyn Nets (+325)

Many books had the Nets at +225 to win the Finals and at an astounding +100 to win the East during the preseason. Those are both still on the table, of course, but Brooklyn could really use another playmaker like Kyrie Irving on their squad.

With no end in sight to that debacle, the Nets have started with a choppy 7-4 start. James Harden had his first great game of the season on Monday, and the entire offense has been reliant upon Kevin Durant to carry it.

With the 76ers, Heat, and Bulls all looking like serious contenders, the +325 on the Nets might keep falling at a steady pace. However, if we get any further movement down or new that Irving will be able to play, that will be the time to scoop up Brooklyn at a good value.

Longshot to Watch: Phoenix Suns (+2200)

Even with DeAndre Ayton missing a couple of games with an injury, this is quite the disrespect to the Western Conference Champions. The Suns are another team that brought back the entire core of their roster and now have the playoff chemistry between Ayton, Chris Paul, and Devin Booker to drive them through this season.

The Suns have had a couple of stumbles this season, but they have now run off five wins in a row to get right back near the top of the West. However, this line is sure to move towards lower odds, so take advantage while you can if you’re a believer in the Suns’ powerful offense/defense combination.

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Proudest husband and dad you will ever find. When I'm not with my wife and two kids I split my time working in higher ed, grinding DFS and season-long, collecting silver age comics, studying behavioral economics, and drinking coffee. I once played Pat Connaughton in an actual NBA DFS lineup for money. Astros, Rockets, and Texans for life.


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