This is a challenging topic my editors at MyBookie.ag have given me. Listing the betting favorites for the 2018 NBA Championship isn’t tough, it’s the teams we all expected at the start of the season, led by Golden State and Cleveland. Of course, they have met in the past three NBA Finals, which had never happened previously in NBA history, and the Warriors have won two of the three. No, the challenge is picking any dark horses or surprises to win it all, but I have done my homework so let’s dive into it!
NBA Betting Favorites & Potential Surprises for 2018 Championship
There are never any surprise champions in the NBA. Major League Baseball? Sure. NFL? The Philadelphia Eagles just won the first Super Bowl in franchise history, and they were a last-place NFC East team in 2016. Teams go from last-to-first in the NFL all the time. Even the NHL has had upset champions. Just last season, the Nashville Predators were the No. 16 overall seed in the playoffs and reached the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to Pittsburgh in six games.
In the NBA, you have to have at least one superstar to win a title. Look at this century and the champions: Los Angeles Lakers (Shaquille O’Neal and/or Kobe Bryant), San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan), Miami Heat (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James), Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce), Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki), Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant) and Cleveland Cavaliers (LeBron James).
The only team this century without a sure-fire future Hall of Famer to win a title was the 2004 Detroit Pistons. That club was led by the likes of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. Fluke.
What about the West?
The Warriors were favored to win their third title in four years when the season began and they still are at -230. Barring an injury to Curry or Durant or possibly Draymond Green or Klay Thompson, it’s hard to argue against them. The only team with a chance to beat them in the West is Houston, which currently has the NBA’s best record and won the season series with Golden State.
Led by James Harden and Chris Paul, Houston (+350 for NBA title) brings a 14-game winning streak into the weekend. It also had a 14-game winning streak earlier this season, from November 16 to December 18.
The Rockets are the sixth team in NBA history with two separate winning streaks of at least 14 games in a season, joining the 1946-47 Capitols, 1970-71 Bucks, 1996-97 Jazz, 1999-00 Lakers, and 2006-07 Suns. Two of those five went on to win the NBA title.
I honestly give no other team in the West a chance – if I have to name a dark horse, it would be San Antonio, which is +2000 to win it all. That all depends on Kawhi Leonard getting back healthy but that’s a big IF.
What about the East?
In the East, the Cavaliers look somewhat mortal and they are +500 to win it all. As long as LeBron is healthy, would you bet against the Cavs? He just finished perhaps the greatest regular-season month of his career. In February, James averaged 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.5 assists.
Only three other players in NBA history have averaged at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in one month in which they played at least ten games. Oscar Robertson did it seven times, Russell Westbrook did it four times and Wilt Chamberlain once.
Boston and Toronto are likely the only clubs with a shot to knock off Cleveland in the East. The Celtics are +950 to win it all but probably are a year away – remember, they lost All-Star forward Gordon Hayward on opening night to a broken ankle. It might be worth a few bucks on the Celtics if Hayward can make it back this season, but that’s still not considered likely.
It’s hard to call Toronto a long shot considering it has the East’s best record, but the Raptors are +1000 to win the franchise’s first NBA title – they haven’t made the Finals yet and the East Finals just once.
Toronto’s 43 victories through 60 games played are the most in franchise history. The Raptors have the NBA’s best home record and are 18-12 (.600) on the road – the fourth best record in the NBA behind Golden State (24-7), Houston (24-7) and Boston (21-8).
Toronto’s average margin of victory in February was an astounding 19.3 points, and they also had the best point differential (+15.27) in the month of February since the 1990 Phoenix Suns, who had a +15.33 point differential. Impressive.
I see no reason why it won’t be Golden State-Cleveland again, but the Raptors have an outside shot if perhaps the Warriors and Cavs suffer injuries.