Updated NBA Futures Odds: Three-Team Race for the Title
The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, All-Star Weekend has passed and contract buyouts are underway. That means the futures board for the NBA title has been shuffled, but after the dust settled the same two teams are on top of their respective conferences and a new contender has appeared on the scene
In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not where they want to be at 34-22 trailing both the Toronto Raptors at 41-16 and the Boston Celtics at 40-19. However, oddsmakers look at the whole picture and not the current records as they have the Cavaliers at the All-Star Break at +600 to win the NBA title, topped only by two Western Conference teams, the Golden State Warriors at -180 and the Houston Rockets at +400.
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Cleveland made several changes, trading away almost half its roster at the trade deadline by moving Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas amongst others and receiving in return George Hill, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson.
Prior to the deadline, the Cavaliers lost 14 of 22 games, including blowout losses of 28, 34, 24, 32 and 18 points. A shift of power in the East appeared to be taking place. But the Cavaliers knew they had to make some adjustments and did just that, which led to a four-game winning streak heading into the All-Star Break.
LeBron James can hold the fort while the new players find their way, and with Kevin Love due back soon the Cavaliers still the favorite in the east. LeBron has played in seven straight NBA Finals, and sportsbooks are not quite ready to count the superstar out for an eighth straight appearance.
By trading Thomas, Cleveland assures that more possessions start with the ball in LeBron's hands. Shipping out Wade, Rose and Channing Frye shifts the balance toward a younger, faster roster. Three newcomers - Clarkson, Nance Jr, and Hood - are 25 and athletic, while veteran Hill at 31 brings much-needed defense and a guard who can play effectively off the ball.
Although Cleveland's odds are not as short as they were to open the season, it is clear oddsmakers believe the new-look team with LeBron as the centerpiece will work.
However, although the oddsmakers have counted out Toronto, the Raptors are winners of seven straight and sit atop the conference standings. Sportsbooks have Toronto at +2200 to win the NBA title, down from an opening line to start the season of +5000, but far from being a favorite. Boston sits at +1200, which is fourth best in the league behind the Warriors, Rockets, and Cavaliers.
Regardless of all the moves they have made to change the roster, Cleveland's chances end in the East.
Despite Golden State trailing Houston by a half game entering the All-Star Break, and having lost two of three head-to-head games against the Rockets, the Warriors are heavily favored to win the title at -180. However, if the Rockets were to finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the West, the Warriors would not have home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Houston's odds opened this season at +700 to win the NBA Finals, and they have shrunk to +400 thanks in part to its current 10-game winning streak.
The Rockets and Warriors have succeeded in pushing their contenders down the futures board with their success. Oklahoma City at 33-26 has gone from +1200 down to +2000, and San Antonio at 35-25 has seen its odds balloon from +1600 to +2500.
The Warriors may have lost three of their last five, but they are mentally and physically down after playing the last three seasons deep into June and are more concerned with becoming healthy and regaining energy than winning each regular-season game they play.
The only way the Warriors do not win the 2018 NBA title is if one of their three stars - Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry or, Draymond Green - cannot play.
The Warriors have the same lineup they had last season that went undefeated in the conference playoffs, and they lost just one game in the NBA Finals.
While everyone expects to see LeBron turn up his play down the stretch, as he has done the last two or three seasons, expect the same from Curry and company.
While there is not much value in the Warriors -160, the chances any other team will knock them off their perch and prevent them from winning a second straight title and third in the past four seasons is minimal at best.
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