Despite the effective disbandment of the Golden State Warriors, the NBA remains a top-heavy league in terms of 2020 title contenders. According to the latest NBA Championship odds, there is a clear top-three – the LA Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and LA Clippers, in that order.
LeBron James’ Lakers have been the outright favorites since acquiring Anthony Davis. Their odds have been between +200 and +275 all season, currently sitting at roughly +215, which equates to a 32% chance to win the championship.
The Lakers have had their issues, especially against other elite teams, but they are still a Western Conference-best 40-12 on the season (three games ahead of the field) with a +7.4 point differential (second-best in the league) and the greatest basketball player of this generation.
Recent NBA history suggests that you need a proven playoff superstar to win a title (either LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or Steph Curry/Klay Thompson/Kevin Durant has been on the last eight NBA champions). The only thing that has kept LeBron James out of the NBA finals since 2010 is injury.
The Bucks have the second-best odds at about +275 (27% chance) and they have been trending up. After a disappointing third-round playoff exit at the hands of the Raptors last season – which saw them lose four straight games – oddsmakers had their doubts about this group.
But it’s impossible to ignore what Giannis Antetokounmpo and company are doing right now. They are an NBA-best 46-7, which is 5.5 games better than any other team. Their league-leading +12.5 point differential is more than five points better than the Lakers. It’s also nearly four points better than last season when Milwaukee was a 60-win regular-season juggernaut.
As you can see from the Bucks’ recent results, they are annihilating opponents on a nightly basis. They have only been underdogs once all season, and that was opening night at Houston. They have been favored by at least six points in 21 straight games.
If not for last season’s postseason debacle and the large looming figure cut by LeBron James, this team would be a heavy championship favorite.
The Clippers were right there with the Lakers at the start of the season, opening around +290 thanks to the signing of reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. They have since fallen to +350 (22% chance) because of two main reasons.
First, Leonard and fellow superstar offseason acquisition Paul George are struggling to stay on the court, as usual. George has missed 21 games this season, while Leonard has missed 13.
Given that both Leonard and George have significant injury histories, there’s no guarantee this team is at 100% during crunch time.
Second, the Clippers just haven’t been quite as good as the Lakers and Bucks. They are a solid 37-16 with a +6.1 point difference. But their record is only good enough for third in the West, so they face the prospect of having to win three series without the benefit of home-court advantage in order to win a title. Their 15-11 road record indicates that’s a tall order.
The Clippers’ ceiling is sky-high, especially with the addition of Marcus Morris at the trade deadline, but they also have questions that the Lakers and Bucks don’t right now.
The next-best NBA championship odds belong to Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz. They are all between +1400 (7% chance) and +2200 (4% chance).
But even if you put the other 27 teams – i.e. every team other than the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers – together, their odds would still pale in comparison to the top three.
The current odds indicate there’s an 81% chance that the Larry O’Brien Trophy winds up in Los Angeles or Milwaukee.