The 2023 NBA championship is down to just eight remaining playoff teams: The Nuggets, Celtics, 76ers, Suns, Knicks, Warriors, Lakers, and Heat.
The NBA odds market has shrunk appreciably, but there are still lots of strong futures betting options for savvy gamblers.
Boston Returns to Favorite Status
The first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs was a bloodbath for top-rated seeds. Milwaukee, the No. 1 seed in the East and a +275 favorite to win at the start of last month’s playoffs, was ousted in five games by No. 8 Miami. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed half the series, paving the road to defeat.
In the West, No. 2 seed Memphis (+1600) was the latest playoff victim of LeBron James’ greatness. Sacramento (+6600), the upstart No. 3 seed, acquitted itself valiantly in a seven-game loss to the reigning champion Warriors.
In the history of the NBA, it’s rare to see No. 1 seeds or a No. 2 seed lose a first-round series. There has never before been a playoffs where both have happened in the same tournament, dating back to the 1984 expansion of the playoff model to a 16-game field.
The early absence of a top contender is reflected in the championship odds market. Now at +200, Boston has recaptured the top spot in the table, as it had throughout the first half of this season. It has maintained its favorite position despite losing an early home game to the 76ers.
The Nuggets (+400) and Lakers (+500) are the next closest teams, thanks in part to early series leads of their own.
Western Challengers Abound
At the start of Round 2, the Celtics were the +140 favorite to win the championship. After Boston, though, the NBA odds market actually favored each of the Western teams over any remaining Eastern teams. Denver was +500; Golden State was +550; Phoenix was +600; Los Angeles was +750.
Those odds have already scattered and reformed with early second-round results. Philadelphia, for instance, is now +550 after James Harden’s magnificent Game 1 performance; Golden State and Phoenix have dropped after early Round 2 losses. It’s difficult to envision how the Suns, in particular, get back in the series right now, and the odds market has reflected that.
The larger point here is that nobody really knows how the West will play out, and bettors view every team as still alive for the championship. The depth of the West has been a theme throughout the entire season, and it continues to be a prominent one as the conference’s final four teams compete this spring.
LeBron v. Warriors, Round 5
The history of the NBA Playoffs is often told in specific teams and matchups. In the 80s, for instance, it was Lakers vs. Celtics. The 90s gave us Michael Jordan’s Bulls vs. the world.
For the last eight years, basketball fans have been privileged to watch LeBron & Co. vs. the Warriors. And while it’s often been a Finals matchup or a holiday highlight, this year’s edition of the renewed rivalry series will take on a highly unusual form: A No. 6 seed vs. a No. 7 seed in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Both franchises have had strange and turbulent years. The Lakers were 100-to-1 on Jan. 1, before the roster was remade at the trade deadline; the Warriors were 16-to-1 on March 1 and spent most of the season without multiple key pieces.
Both teams flipped the switch at the exact right time. Golden State got Andrew Wiggins back right before the postseason began, and Kevon Looney has looked like a Hall of Famer through eight playoff games this year.
On the Lakers’ side, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reeves have exploded as real playoff contributors. Jarred Vanderbilt actually had the best plus/minus of any player in Tuesday’s Game 1 showdown at Golden State.
Speaking of Game 1, it was the Lakers who prevailed, 117-112. Steph Curry went for 27 points and connected on six three-pointers, but LeBron (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (30 points, 23 rebounds) seized the early series lead.
The win temporarily vaulted the Lakers from +750 to +500, which is easily their highest board position of the season. It also moves LeBron just three games away from what would be his 12th conference finals series.
As for the Warriors, nobody is counting them out. Golden State is priced at +650 for the championship and +350 to win the West. Bettors who targeted Golden State as a buy-low candidate after it faced an early series deficit to the Kings are happy they did.
Long Odds in the East
The Knicks and Heat have both been considered long shots throughout most of the season. The betting market hasn’t substantively changed how it feels now, even with only six other teams left in contention for the championship.
The Knicks have shared a lot in common with the Kings this season, as both teams were perceived as feel-good stories undeserving of true contender status. On March 1, with Jalen Brunson and the Knicks threatening to seize a top-four playoff seed in the East, their championship odds at BetMGM were 150-to-1.
That disrespect lingers even now. New York is three wins away from the Eastern Conference finals, and Miami star Jimmy Butler is injured. Nonetheless, the Knicks are +600 to win the East and +2000 to win the championship.
Even the Suns, who are actively in deep trouble against the Nuggets and have lost point guard Chris Paul for multiple games, are only +1100 to win the championship.
Bettors who took early Knicks positions at very long odds have an array of hedging options available to them now. But even a new Knicks position in either the East market or the championship market could pay dividends via hedge positions as soon as next week.
As for the Heat, their impressive ouster against Milwaukee appeared to have bought them very little goodwill with bettors. Miami is dead last in the table at +2500 to win the championship and +700 to win the East. Jimmy Butler is currently listed as a game-time decision for Saturday’s Game 3 in Miami.
After two games, Miami is a nominal -115 favorite to beat the Knicks. That’s most likely a reflection of the home court status, which was seized by the Heat after winning in Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Bettors who agree with the odds and like Miami to work its way back to the Eastern Conference Finals should find themselves very excited at the 7-to-1 odds available to Heat bettors right now.
You can view updated NBA championship odds and more online sports betting opportunities at the BetMGM online sportsbook.