The NBA Playoffs tip off on Saturday, and for the first time in several years, the Finals matchup doesn’t seem to be a foregone conclusion.
Online sportsbook Bovada still likes the Golden State Warriors chances of winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which would be their third NBA title in four years. The internet casino has the champs at +135 to repeat.
Bovada also doesn’t exactly have the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that has went up against the Warriors in the last three NBA Finals and won the title in 2016, as a long underdog. LeBron and Co. are at +650 despite finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference.
But unlike last year when the Warriors lost just one game in the entire playoffs, and Cleveland just five (four of which came in the Finals), 2018 is shaping up to have much more drama.
That’s because the Warriors and Cavs finally have some formidable foes. In fact, neither team finished with the best record in their respective conferences.
Led by James Harden, the Houston Rockets went 65-17 in the regular season, the best mark in the NBA. After the Warriors, they have the next shortest title odds at +160.
The Toronto Raptors claimed the East’s best record at 59-23. But Bovada puts them longer than Cleveland at +850 despite having home-court advantage through the Conference Finals.
The Boston Celtics finished the NBA season at 55-27, the fourth best record. But the chances of the team winning its 18th championship, but first in a decade, are slim.
That’s due to Kyrie Irving being out for the remainder of the year due to a left knee injury. Without their superstar playmaker, oddsmakers feel there’s little hope that Boston even reaches the Finals, let alone wins it. The Celtics are at 70/1 to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The Philadelphia 76ers, the hottest team in the entire league, are at 15/1 to be the last team standing at the conclusion of the NBA Playoffs. Winners of 16 in a row to end the regular season, Philly too has injury concerns by way of star center Joel Embiid.
The team’s top scorer, rebounder, and blocker, Embiid has been out since March 28 due to an orbital bone fracture. He is expected to miss game one against the Miami Heat.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is Steph Curry. The Warriors star is recovering from a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and while he’s expected to return next week, three-point specialists who have endured similar injuries have seen their shooting percentages drop in the weeks after returning.
According to the Basketball Power Index (BPI) developed by the ESPN Analytics Team, the closest First Round series should occur in the West between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz. The BPI gives favorites OKC just a 53 percent chance of moving on.
The BPI’s calculations for the other First Round matchups:
Rockets (88 percent) over Timberwolves
Warriors (76 percent) over Spurs
Trailblazers (63 percent) over Pelicans
Raptors (88 percent) over Wizards
Celtics (78 percent) over Bucks
76ers (78 percent) over Heat
Cavs (62 percent) over Pacers