It was a busy Sunday in the NBA. You had the dunk contest, the 3-point contest, and Giannis Antetokounmpo earning All-Star Game MVP honors by going 16-for-16 from the field — impressive efficiency even in a game in which defense is played using the 6-feet social distancing rule.
You also had the Philadelphia 76ers’ two all-stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, missing the game due to contact tracing protocols related to a COVID-positive barber, and you had the most superstar-loaded team in the league, the Brooklyn Nets, adding one more in Blake Griffin.
And none of this impacted futures odds at the regulated U.S. mobile sportsbooks heading into the second half of the league’s season, which tips off on Wednesday night.
It’s a natural that Steph Curry draining treys with racks of balls and “Team LeBron” winning an exhibition against “Team Durant” wouldn’t impact anything. And with Embiid and Simmons set to miss at most two games — and possibly zero games — if they continue testing negative, it’s no surprise that the Sixers’ odds are unaffected.
But you would have thought that the Nets, the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and the team with the second shortest title odds in the league, would have seen their odds shrink a little with the addition of a six-time all-star to their frontcourt.
You would have thought that — if you hadn’t been paying close attention to Griffin the last two seasons.
Now 31 and showing the effects of a surgery-filled 12-year pro career, Griffin averaged a career-low 12.3 points per game for the Detroit Pistons this season, barely half of the 24.5 he posted two seasons ago. And the 6-foot-9 power forward hasn’t dunked the ball once since play began in December.
So on a team with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, the addition of Griffin hasn’t moved the needle at the sportsbooks. Whether that will change as he’s integrated into the lineup and Durant returns from injury will be one of the many NBA second-half betting subplots to watch.
Lakers, Nets … and everybody else
For the past six years, the team that won the NBA title entered the all-star break with either the lowest or second-lowest title odds. (Even the surprising 2019 Toronto Raptors, who had the good fortune to face an injury-plagued Golden State team in the finals, were No. 2 on the odds sheet at the break.) This makes sense; in the NBA postseason, unlike the NHL and MLB, major upsets are rare and the superstar-led squads are usually the ones left standing.
If that tradition holds, it means either the Lakers or the Nets will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this year.
Odds vary from book to book, but the most bettor-friendly price we’re seeing on the Lakers to win is +280 at FanDuel Sportsbook, PointsBet, and BetMGM, among others, while both FanDuel and DraftKings Sportsbook have the Nets as high as +300 (the same price affixed to them before the Griffin pickup).
There are still moves to be made, though, and with one key trade, a longshot can start to look like a serious contender. Among the teams currently priced at 25/1 and up to win the title and looking near-certain to make the playoffs, intriguing options include the Denver Nuggets (30/1 at FanDuel), Phoenix Suns (33/1 at multiple books), and Portland Trail Blazers (60/1 at many books but a juicy 85/1 with FanDuel).
40/1 preseason longshot now MVP frontrunner
Individual awards are a fun way to take a betting position at midseason, and at every book, Sixers center Embiid overtook LeBron James in the MVP odds after he scored 40 (including the game-tying three-pointer to send it into overtime) and grabbed 19 rebounds in a big win over the Utah Jazz in Philly’s final game before the break. The best payout on Embiid is now +200 at BetMGM, while James is +275 at PointsBet.
Nikola Jokic lurks at +480 on FanDuel and has a chance if his Nuggets can move up in the standings, while everyone else is a double-digit longshot — including preseason favorite Luka Doncic, who’s now playing his way into the picture after an out-of-shape slow start. Where Doncic was as low as 4/1 before the season began, current favorite Embiid’s preseason price was as high as 40/1.
Here’s a betting note that doesn’t apply to futures bets you can make right now, but might be useful for wagers you’re making on individual games in the very near future: New Orleans Pelicans games have gone over the pregame point total 71.4% of the time. (The rest of the league is hitting the over 50.6% of the time.) The Pels just happen to rank fifth in the NBA in scoring and fifth-to-last in preventing the other team from scoring.
Over-unders to feel good (or bad) about
With all teams having played between 32 and 38 games of this 72-game COVID-shortened regular season, nobody’s preseason win total over/under line is completely out of reach yet. But, using the opening lines from Westgate SuperBook, there are a few that are inching toward a clinch already:
- Miami Heat, 44.5: Now 18-18, the Heat would need to go 27-9 in the second half to hit the over.
- Orlando Magic, 31.5: At 13-23, a 19-17 second half to hit the over is highly unlikely.
- Charlotte Hornets, 25.5: They almost have the over clinched at 17-18, needing to win just nine of their final 37 games.
- New York Knicks, 22.5: Even closer to locking up the over than the Hornets, the surprising Knicks are 19-18 and would hit the over even with a disastrous 4-31 second half.
- Utah Jazz, 42.5: Over bettors should be feeling good, as the team is 27-9, needing just a 16-20 second half to get there.
- Phoenix Suns, 38.5: At 24-11, in a similar position to the Jazz, the Suns need to go 15-22 for the over to cash.
- Houston Rockets, 34.5: At 11-23 and having lost 13 straight, there’s almost no chance of a 24-14 finish to reach the over.
- San Antonio Spurs, 29.5: The Spurs look good for the over at a surprising 18-14, needing to go just 12-28 the rest of the way.
- Minnesota Timberwolves, 28.5: At a league-worst 7-29, there’s no reason to think a 22-14 second half is possible.
- Oklahoma City Thunder, 22.5: At 15-21, anything better than that T-Wolves 7-29 mark gets them to the over.
Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA Today Sports