Looking at the early betting lines for the 2019-20 NBA season, oddsmakers believe the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks will be the two teams competing for a championship.
Per Caesars Palace, the Bucks are clear favorites to win the Eastern Conference (-120; bet $120 to win $100). The Lakers (+180) are slight favorites in the Western Conference over the Los Angeles Clippers (+220).
The biggest takeaway from these odds is how little competition there appears to be in the Eastern Conference.
The Philadelphia 76ers (+175) have the second-best odds of any team in either conference to reach the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics (+700) are a distant third, giving them the same odds as the No. 5 team in the West (Utah Jazz).
The Bucks have earned their spot as the biggest favorite in either conference. They won 60 games last season with Giannis Antetokounmpo winning NBA MVP at 24 years old, and most of their roster returns.
The Sixers have the upside of a title contender, but their roster also has a lot of question marks. Joel Embiid has never been the most durable player. Al Horford is still effective, but he's 33 and has missed a combined 38 games over the past three seasons. Ben Simmons hasn't been effective in the playoffs the past two seasons because teams know he won't shoot away from the basket.
It's easy to understand why the Lakers and Clippers are getting so much love right now. They added the two best players to change teams this offseason, excluding Kevin Durant going to the Brooklyn Nets since he likely won't play in 2019-20 while rehabbing his surgically repaired Achilles.
Anthony Davis going to the Lakers gives LeBron James a superstar teammate for the first time since Kyrie Irving's final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016-17. Kawhi Leonard is hoping to lead the Clippers to their first-ever NBA title after doing that with the Toronto Raptors last season.
The Clippers also acquired Paul George, who finished third in 2018-19 MVP voting, in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to partner up with Leonard.
Houston's biggest obstacle the past two years has undergone significant changes—the Golden State Warriors no longer have Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and could be without Klay Thompson until February or March while he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Even in a deep Western Conference, the Rockets still have a roster capable of winning a title. Not having to get past a loaded Warriors team anymore could be just the thing Harden and head coach Mike D'Antoni need to change their postseason narratives.