- Clippers’ Christmas Day win sees them leapfrog Lakers in Championship odds
- Milwaukee Bucks stick as Eastern Conference favorites despite loss to Sixers
- Houston Rockets priced at +800 following shock defeat in San Francisco
The seven favorites to win the NBA title were all in action on Christmas Day. It was a day of surprises, with performances altering the narrative. The Los Angeles Clippers came from behind to topple the Lakers at Staples Center, and moved to title favorites. The average NBA Championships odds still have the Lakers are favorites, however.
The showpiece game in the Eastern Conference saw the Milwaukee Bucks get outplayed by the Philadelphia 76ers. Milwaukee have built up enough credit over the regular season to hold onto their status as East favorites at an average price of +350. Their average was as long as +550 on December 3rd.
It has been an up and down few weeks for Philadelphia. Their average title odds are currently +867, and there’s been plenty of movement of late – they were +1000 on December 9th and +650 on December 1st.
2019-20 NBA Championship Odds
|Los Angeles Clippers||+325|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+350|
Odds taken Dec. 27th.
Clippers Put Down Marker
The Los Angeles teams matched up for the second time this season on Christmas Day, and the first with Paul George involved. The Clips won on opening night and moved to 2-0 over the Lakers on the 25th thanks to another epic night from reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James were both available despite injury concerns, but they couldn’t do enough to hold off a second half surge from the Clippers.
Injuries and load management have meant George and Leonard’s time together on the court has been limited – they have only played 387 minutes together compared to 706 for James and Davis. George and Leonard are outscoring opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions in those minutes.
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— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 26, 2019
The two Los Angeles teams have been run very differently. Their approach to rest is contrasting. With James and Davis playing 39 minutes apiece and George and Leonard playing 37 and 38, respectively, the Christmas Day matchup wasn’t a night for rest. It was more like a playoff game, albeit with longer rotations than we will likely see in a potential postseason series.
The Lakers might hold a superior record thus far, but the Clippers’ two wins in their Staples Center meetings arguably outweigh that. They are far and away the two favorites to come out of the West, and it seems inevitable they will face each other in the playoffs.
Doc Rivers’ team were immense defensively, capped off by Patrick Beverley’s game-sealing block on James. Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell protected the paint well. The Lakers had no answer to Leonard’s offense.
The Clippers’ roster looks the more balanced, and having handed the Lakers two of their seven losses this season, they deserve their status as title favorites.
Their next matchup comes on January 28th – the Lakers need a win to prove they can go toe-to-toe with this Clippers team.
Are the Sixers Good Value?
Philadelphia hit 21 threes on Christmas Day, a new NBA record. That was significant for a team that has had its issues with shooting, but the most important take away from the game was how they defended Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP was kept to just 18 points on 8-for-27 shooting.
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Al Horford all took turns at guarding the Greek Freak. Embiid’s strength and size troubled Antetokounmpo in the restricted area, and Simmons’ quick feet allowed him to keep pace with those usually unstoppable drives.
After shooting over 40% from beyond the arc in December, Antetokounmpo went 0-for-7 from deep, too. It was a night when everything went right for Philly and pretty much everything went wrong for the Bucks (Khris Middleton’s hot fourth quarter was their highlight).
Brett Brown said his team is ‘designed for the playoffs’. That may turn out to be true, but the Christmas Day performance wasn’t exactly a guarantee of playoff success. The Sixers aren’t going to shoot 48% from three very often. How they dealt with Antetokounmpo, though, will be key for their postseason chances.
Philly and Milwaukee were expected to be the East’s two main competitors. Although the Sixers’ record is only good for fourth in the conference at the moment, the championship odds still put them far ahead of Boston, Miami and Toronto. They will need to get past the Bucks to make the Finals, and no team is as well-equipped to halt Antetokounmpo.
The Sixers’ up and down regular season performances have resulted in their title odds moving frequently. The offense is imperfect, but they look a good value bet right now – they are Milwaukee’s most serious challengers and should be at a shorter price than the Rockets.
Outsiders With a Chance
With two Los Angeles juggernauts standing in their way, the Houston Rockets fall into the ‘outsiders’ category with the Celtics and the Denver Nuggets. Houston were poor on Christmas Day, asJames Harden growing frustrated with the Warriors double-teaming him. Russell Westbrook had a brutally inefficient game, shooting 11-for-32.
After a terrible start to the season defensively, Houston have improved, but they are still just 19th in defensive rating over the last 15 games. Unless Harden puts them on his back in the playoffs, it’s very hard to see them troubling the Lakers or Clippers in a best-of-seven.
Denver saw a winning streak come to an end on the 25th. The loss to the Pelicans isn’t season changing, but the poor defensive effort and another quiet night from Jamal Murray are causes for concern. The Nuggets have the pieces to make a big mid-season trade. Despite likely being a high seed, adding an All-Star like Jrue Holiday is necessary for them to be considered serious contenders.
The Celtics are the most interesting team of this trio. They rank second in defensive rating and fifth in offense. Jaylen Brown has taken a leap this year, and they have numerous offensive options. Like Denver, though, a trade is likely needed. Boston’s interior defense is an issue, particularly with Embiid and Antetokounmpo as probable playoff opponents.
Without obvious players to trade for salary, it will be fascinating to see what moves, if any, the Celtics make before the deadline. Their performances so far make the +1300 appealing, but they need another big if they are to escape the ‘outsiders’ tag.