Best NBA Long-Shot Championship Bets for 2018
Championship odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Monday, Feb. 19. Remember to always give these lines the once-over before deciding on or placing a wager, as they are subject to swings in either direction—especially as the NBA’s title picture thins out in the coming weeks.
Denver Nuggets (+30000)
The Denver Nuggets are the longest of the long shots listed here. But while you shouldn’t be throwing a ton of money on their championship chances willy nilly, this inclusion is not without its merit.
Paul Millsap is expected to return from wrist surgery sometime in March. He adds a nice defensive dynamic to an offense-first squad that ranks seventh in points scored per 100 possessions. In the time he’s spent on the floor with his other four fellow starters, the Nuggets have a net rating of around 12—better than that from the first-place Golden State Warriors.
Blend his switchability on defense with Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Trey Lyles and Wilson Chandler, and the Nuggets suddenly have some of the most versatile stopping power in the league. Combine that then with their raw offensive output that features a ton of post passes, fast-break opportunities, off-ball cuts and shooting, and they can give even the toughest powerhouses some serious trouble.
Milwaukee Bucks (+7500)
If you’re any one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams—Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors—you don’t want anything to do with the Milwaukee Bucks in a seven-game playoff series.
No, firing Jason Kidd hasn’t culminated in an insta-boon. The Bucks still struggle to knock down the three-ball, and they’re not dissuading a ton of shots at the rim. Still, they’re seventh in points allowed per 100 possessions since Christmas, so their defense is coming along. More importantly, many of their most-used lineups are statistical fireballs.
All seven of the Bucks’ top played five-man combinations, in fact, are outpacing opponents by at least nine points per 100 possessions. That’s wholly, truly, totally absurd. So while their lack of overall depth can betray them at times in the regular season, they won’t be as hard-pressed to hang with the league’s elite in the playoffs, when rotations shorten.
In the event Jabari Parker regains his footing following his second ACL injury, Eric Bledsoe ups his outside shooting percentage and/or Malcolm Brogdon doesn’t miss a beat after returning from his own injury, the Bucks project as a bona fide postseason terror—the kind capable of escaping the Eastern Conference if all goes right.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500)
Truth-telling time: The Oklahoma City Thunder almost didn’t make this list. Their odds just barely make the cut, and this comes after they lost Andre Roberson, arguably their best defender, for the rest of the season.
Cake in Carmelo Anthony’s career-worst true shooting percentage and the fact that the Thunder rank 19th in defensive efficiency since that Roberson injury, and they have some real issues. But the offense is humming, and Oklahoma City remains switchable enough to keep pace with the Warriors and Houston Rockets over the course of a best-of-seven series.
Specifically speaking, the Thunder have found success subbing in Josh Huestis or Jerami Grant for Roberson beside the other four starters—and this, again, is with Anthony struggling to find the bottom of the net. If they work those lineups more while getting Anthony out of his funk, they’ll remain the West’s biggest non-Warriors, non-Rockets threat—even if the sportsbooks don’t continue to treat them as such.
Philadelphia 76ers (+7500)
Join us out on this limb.
The Philadelphia 76ers still have their issues, most notably their absence of reliable depth. Even with the addition of Marco Belinelli on the buyout market, their bench is young and inexperienced and hard up for guaranteed spacing and shot creation.
But we cannot ignore the progress they have made since Christmas.
No team in the NBA has a better defensive rating since Dec. 25, and the Sixers are somehow even stingier than that first-place mark when Joel Embiid is in the lineup. Not only that, but their point differential during this time is exceeded by only one team: Golden State. Seriously.
That alone should get us to take the Sixers as a viable upset candidate, but they’re enjoying an equally important, if more pivotal development: The growth of rookie Ben Simmons. Though he’s suffering from some swings on the offensive end, he’s really coming along as a defender—to the point he no longer needs Embiid on the court to headline effective lineups.
Through Dec. 30, in the 694 minutes Simmons played without his big man, the Sixers were outscored, on average, by 6.7 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they’re a plus-0.7 when he plays on his own. That net-positive score matters, because it allows head coach Brett Brown to futz and fiddle with his rotations in a way that ensures he won’t overwork his best player (Embiid). And that, in turn, renders the Sixers a forced with which to be reckoned come playoff time.
San Antonio Spurs (+3500)
Face it: You knew the San Antonio Spurs were going to make this list. They’re the San Antonio freaking Spurs. They’ve labored through as many injuries and bad luck as anyone, and yet they’re still on pace to win 50-plus games while deploying the league’s second-best defense.
Giving them this nod rests on one caveat: Kawhi Leonard would need to play again this season. He’s missed most of the year tending to a quad injury that continues to baffle both him and the organization. If he ends up watching from the sidelines for the rest of the season, the Spurs’ offense won’t ever have the firepower necessary to pull of fan upset against the Warriors or Rockets.
Should he return, or if you get word from a reliable reporter he’ll eventually come back, pounce on the Spurs’ championship odds before they move. As they showed last year in the Western Conference Finals before Leonard suffered a series-ending injury, they have the means to tussle with the NBA’s alphas—even the Warriors. Don’t forget that.
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