Two weeks have passed since the National Basketball League (NBA) regular season tipped off, and already the outcome appears to be preordained.
The Golden State Warriors – the quintessential “super-team” and champions in three of the last four NBA Finals – have cruised to a 7-1 start. With their core four of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all playing to the peak of their abilities, the Warriors haven’t needed a single minute from injured big man Demarcus Cousins to set the league aflame.
Given the team’s impeccable pedigree, not to mention Cousins’ expected impact when he returns, Golden State is all but assured to appear in their fifth consecutive NBA Finals.
Don’t take my word for it, just ask the oddsmakers at online sportsbook Bovada – where the Warriors have been installed as massive odds on favorites to take their fourth title:
|Team||2018-19 Title Odds|
|Golden State Warriors||-175|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+750|
|San Antonio Spurs||+5000|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+5500|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+7000|
|New York Knicks||+9000|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+10000|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+12500|
As you can probably tell by scanning those lines, the league is incredibly top-heavy at the moment.
Only four teams – the Warriors, the Boston Celtics (+600), the Houston Rockets (+750), and the Los Angeles Lakers (+750) – are offering better than 10 to 1 odds on hanging the 2018-19 championship banner. And even more incredibly, a whopping 24 of the NBA’s 30 teams are huge longshots getting a 50 to 1 price or worse.
It’s no wonder fans who cheer for any other team but the Warriors are feeling hopeless as the season begins. When a Denver Nuggets supporter taunted Cousins from his front row seats, telling the perennial All-Star that his decision to sign with Golden State was “destroying the league,” he seemed to be speaking on behalf of everybody who doesn’t don the Warriors’ gold and blue duds.
And the malaise isn’t limited to fans alone.
Jeff Sherman – head NBA oddsmaker over at the famous Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook – recently spoke to ESPN Chalk about the “Warriors Fatigue” affecting basketball bettors:
“If the NBA was more wide open, or at least perceived that way, [betting] handle would be greater than what we are seeing now.
So many teams have little to no chance of winning the title with the lack of parity.
At this point, our handle on NHL outrights [odds to win the Stanley Cup] is greater than NBA outrights.”
The same article quoted a sportsbook director at Caesars Palace who blamed Golden State’s dominance for dampened betting enthusiasm:
“That has more to do with how the market is laid out than the sport itself.
There aren’t eight teams who can win the NBA title. There are only eight teams in the NHL who can’t win [the Stanley Cup].”
As much as I enjoy a good hockey game, there’s a definite problem when Sin City sportsbooks are seeing the NHL beat out the NBA in terms of betting handle. Put flatly, basketball bettors will always vastly outnumber their puck-minded counterparts, so the NBA should always reign supreme in head to head competition.
But you really can’t blame bettors for shying away from the window this season, as it looks increasingly likely that Golden State simply can’t be beat.
Along with their sterling 7-1 record, the Warriors have turned their nightly matchups into highlight contests akin to a Globetrotters game.
Curry lit up the scoreboard for 51 points in just three quarters of action against the Washington Wizards, keying a 144-122 annihilation of yet another outgunned opponent. Not to be outdone, Thompson connected on 14 three-pointers – breaking a record held by his fellow “Splash Brother” Curry – in a 149-122 beatdown over the Chicago Bulls.
When an NBA team is putting up scorelines last seen from the Monstars in Space Jam, lining up to bet against them doesn’t make a lick of sense. And if you want to back the Warriors with your betting bankroll, be prepared to risk a mountain of cash to win a molehill. One bettor at the Westgate SuperBook plunked down $67,736.25 bet the Dubs to reach the playoffs at astounding (-10,000) odds – good for a potential payout of just $677.35.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you’re obviously not alone, as the Vegas’ sportsbook data can attest. But with basketball fever finally catching on again after an offseason of speculation, even casual fans still need a way to get a little skin in the game.
Fortunately, between online sportsbooks like Bovada – and newly legalized brick and mortar bet shops in states like Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi – NBA bettors have an abundance of non-Warriors wagers to choose from.
On that note, take a look below to find a “Starting Five” of the best ways to bet on the NBA without worrying about the Warriors:
1 – Bet on the Eventual League MVP
They say the NBA is a league driven almost exclusively by superstar players, with legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James proving capable of carrying any roster on a title run.
With that in mind, why not bet on which superstar will capture pro basketball’s second-most important trophy – the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
While M.J. will always be known best for his six championship rings, he was named the league’s MVP on five occasions (’88, ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98). That’s second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six MVPs), but as any Jordan aficionado will tell you, the G.O.A.T. would’ve won a few more if not for voters looking to shake things up.
James has four MVP awards to his credit (’09, ’10, ’12, ’13), and when you take a look at the latest odds on the award posted by Bovada, you’ll find “The King” atop his rightful throne:
2018-19 NBA MVP Odds
|Player||Team||MVP Award Odds|
One reason the MVP race makes for a great non-Warriors betting option is Golden State’s super-team construction. While both Curry and Durant – two-time (’15, ’16) and singular (’14) MVP honorees in their own right – can be backed for (+1000) and (+1200), respectively, they essentially box one another out.
Put another way, with both players’ presence working to dilute the other, Curry and Durant don’t exactly stand out as being “more valuable” than the other.
That’s why you’ll find four players besides LeBron offering better odds to win the award.
Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans is the second favorite at (+450), which makes sense given he was among the three finalists up for MVP last year. The big man gets extra juice for playing on a lackluster Pelicans squad, one which he leads in terms of points per game (ppg) with 27.3 and rebounds per game (rpg) at 13.3.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is nicknamed “The Freak,” and with his 25.0 ppg and 14.2 rpg sparking a 7-0 start for his team, he very well might add “The MVP” to his list of monikers.
James Harden of the Houston Rockets knows something about MVP seasons, as he won the award last year in a landslide victory. All it took was 30.4 ppg and another 8.8 assists per game (apg) – along with the Rockets dethroning the Warriors atop the Western Conference standings – to join the exclusive club.
Houston has stumbled to a 1-4 start on the year, but you can’t blame Harden and his 28.5 ppg / 9.0 apg stat line for the team’s troubles. Priced at (+650) to double up on MVP trophies, Harden could be a bargain for value-hunting bettors.
And finally, Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors led the league in offseason drama, but his messy exit from the San Antonio Spurs hasn’t carried over to the court. He’s put up an impressive 26.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg to justify his (+950) price ahead of the Dubs’ dynamic duo.
But none of these players can hold a candle to LeBron James, who will be looking to impress in his debut season as a Los Angeles Laker. The purple and gold has long been associated with MVP-caliber stars, with Kobe (’08), Shaq (’00), Magic (’87, ’89, ’90), and Kareem (’76, ’77, ’80) forming a Mount Rushmore of stars who needed only one name.
LeBron should be poised to add his name to that list of illustrious Lakers, especially if he can drag a team of castoffs from 35 wins last year to a playoff spot come June.
Along with those favorites, the MVP race is littered with intriguing dark horse candidates like Kyrie Irving (+1500) of the Boston Celtics and 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook (+1600) of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And the best part about betting on MVP candidates is you don’t have to limit yourself to just one selection. Splashing around a few choice wagers on your favorite players offers a great opportunity to balance out risk, while providing a full 82 games’ worth of on-court action to sweat all season.
2 – Predict the Division Winners
Unlike the NFL and MLB, the NBA’s regular season hierarchy is largely defined by conference standings rather than five-team divisions.
In fact, when you load up the standings page on ESPN.com (http://www.espn.com/nba/standings), you’ll find the league sorted along conference lines by default.
But while playoff seeding is determined by conference pecking order alone, NBA division titles do come with an automatic postseason bid. For that reason alone, players have every incentive to chase down a divisional crown this year, and bettors should feel free to come along for the ride.
Below you’ll find odds on each team to win its respective division, so sort through the numbers to identify the juiciest prospects:
Odds to Win the Atlantic Division
|New York Knicks||+10000|
Odds to Win the Central Division
Odds to Win the Southeast Division
Odds to Win the Northwest Division
Odds to Win the Pacific Division
Odds to Win the Southwest Division
|New Orleans Pelicans||+500|
|San Antonio Spurs||+1000|
The most competitive division in basketball, by far, is the Northwest – where all five teams offer better 7 to 1 or better on taking the title.
On the flip side, folks who aren’t afraid to take a flier on longshots might consider LeBron and the Lakers at (+1100) to chase down the Warriors. It’ll probably take major injuries in Golden State for that to happen, but stranger things have happened to sportsbook denizens before.
3 – Predict the Conference Champions
I just alluded to the importance of conference standings above, so we’ll keep this entry short and sweet.
Check the lists below for full odds on winning the Eastern and Western Conferences:
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference
|New York Knicks||+15000|
Odds to Win the Western Conference
|New Orleans Pelicans||+2000|
|San Antonio Spurs||+5000|
The East is obviously where the fun is at, what with the favorite Boston Celtics (+115) joined by the Toronto Raptors (+230), Philadelphia 76ers (+550), and Milwaukee Bucks (+1000) at 10 to 1 or better.
4 – Take on Team Scoring Totals
The other four entries on this list focus on futures betting, but if you prefer single-game wagering, the hot trend among basketball betting experts is team scoring totals.
With these bets, you don’t need to worry about who wins or loses, point spreads, or anything else except for your team’s final score.
The sportsbook will set a line – say, 112.5 points on the Rockets facing the Jazz – and your job is to decide whether they’ll go Over or Under that total.
To help get you started in the right direction, check out the points per game (PPG) scored and points per game allowed (OPP PPG) for every team in the league:
|New York Knicks||106.7||110.7|
|Golden State Warriors||124.3||110.8|
|New Orleans Pelicans||122.5||118.8|
|Los Angeles Lakers||122||122.4|
|Los Angeles Clippers||116.5||107.3|
|San Antonio Spurs||113.7||116.8|
5 – Wager on the Next Head Coach to Get Canned
This one would’ve been labeled “Wager on the FIRST Head Coach to Get Canned,” but the Cleveland Cavaliers began their post-LeBron era of misery in earnest by firing Tyronn Lue after a disastrous 0-6 start (http://www.nba.com/article/2018/10/28/report-cleveland-cavaliers-fire-tyronn-lue).
This isn’t unprecedented in the NBA, where team owners and general managers tend to get antsy when their on-court product suffers. The Phoenix Suns infamously fired Earl Watson after an 0-3 start in 2017-18, while the L.A. Lakers ditched Mike Brown five games into their 2012-13 campaign.
On that note, check out the list below to see which head coaches could find themselves on the chopping block next:
Odds on Next NBA Coach to Get Fired or Resign
Head Coach (Team) Odds of LosingJob
|Head Coach||Team||Odds of Losing Job|
Interestingly enough, while LeBron’s move to the Lakers puts him atop the MVP odds race, his new coach Luke Walton now holds the hottest seat in basketball.
The Lakers were never expected to turn into world-beaters overnight, but the oddsmakers did tag the team with a season win total of 48 – or 13 more than they won last year. That makes their 2-5 start to this season extremely disappointing, which helps explain Walton’s inclusion at the top with (+175) odds to get the pink slip.
Another mark against Walton is his relative inexperience as a head coach, as he’s only been in charge of a team for two seasons now. Add in the fact that LeBron and Walton were actually members of the same draft class – putting them in the ranks of peers rather than a true player/coach relationship – and many pundits are waiting for the axe to fall in L.A.
But if you’re in search of a little value on your “next coach to get fired” bet, look no further than Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are off to a lackluster 2-5 start, which doesn’t bode well for Chicago fans given Hoiberg’s history of underachievement. In his first year in the Windy City in 2015-16, Hoiberg went 42-40, but Chicago’s win total slipped to 41 the following season, before plummeting to just 27 last year.
Hoiberg is already under fire from his own players too, as power forward Jabari Parker openly questioned the coaching staff’s preparation in the wake of a 135-106 humiliation at the hands of the woeful Charlotte Hornets:
‘‘I really felt like we didn’t adjust. [The Hornets] did a totally different thing [from the game Wednesday at the United Center].
Instead of setting a single-side pick-and-roll, they set a double-drag, and we couldn’t guard it.
We didn’t have a scheme for it, so that kind of buried us… They kept on running it, too.’’
The Bulls responded by winning their next game, but Hoiberg took more heat when Thompson poured in a record 14 three-pointers as the Warriors won 149-124. That demolition included Golden State scoring 92 points in the first half alone, prompting ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith to call for Hoiberg’s immediate firing:
“There are moments in the heat of competition … (when) things transpire with a team where the coach should be escorted out of the arena by security at the end of the damn next time out!
That was one of those things last night with Fred Hoiberg.
I don’t give a damn how explosive the Golden State Warriors were last night… 92 points in the first half? In the first half!”
All things considered, taking Hoiberg at (+500) to be the next coach shown the exit could be the steal of the season for NBA bettors.
The Warriors have certainly put a stranglehold on the NBA – and that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon – but basketball bettors can still have fun with the alternative action listed above. Whether you prefer predicting the performance of elite superstars, how entire teams will perform against expectation, division and/or conference races, or even the schadenfreude of following head coach firings – there’s always a wager out there waiting for you.