Updated 2020 NBA Championship Odds and Playoff Predictions
Following a three-day work stoppage in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the 2020 NBA playoffs will resume Saturday.
With 13 teams still standing (a generous characterization for some on the verge of elimination), it's time to reset the title odds for each.
Those at FanDuel suggest a three-horse race is brewing between the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. A handful of other teams could surprise in this unprecedented environment, though.
Can Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell or Jamal Murray stay hot enough to make some noise? Will the return of Russell Westbrook shake things up?
What happens next is as difficult to predict as it's ever been, but that won't stop us from trying.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers are done. Let's get that out of the way at the outset.
They deserve all the credit they've received for maximizing their time in the bubble, charging all the way to the eighth seed in the Western Conference and winning Game 1 against the top-seeded Lakers, but Game 5 will be their last.
L.A. won Games 2-4 by an average of 17 points. And Damian Lillard, the lifeblood of that miraculous run in the bubble near Orlando, Florida, has left the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex with a knee injury.
That means a bigger offensive responsibility for Carmelo Anthony.
So, even though the Lakers are almost certain to end this series in convincing fashion, Melo will go down swinging.
In 12 games in the bubble (regular season and playoffs combined), Anthony is shooting 42.6 percent from three.
He'll knock down a few more before Portland heads home.
Championship Odds: +25000 ($100 bet wins $25,000)
The Game 1 victory for the Orlando Magic was even more stunning than that of the Blazers. The latter was led by a superstar, and Portland came into the postseason red-hot. Orlando was without Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon and had stumbled over the regular-season finish line with a 3-5 record in the bubble.
Their fate is likely the same as Portland's, though, with Game 5 almost certainly the Magic's last.
This one could get out of hand quickly, and that means veterans like Nikola Vucevic may not play much. Instead, this will turn into a showcase for one of the Orlando's younger talents: Markelle Fultz.
After a long, strange trip over his first two NBA seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Fultz had a mini-breakout in 2019-20. He'll cap it with a solid (albeit losing) performance against the Bucks.
Championship Odds: +25000
Luka Doncic already provided plenty of fireworks in his postseason debut.
After spraining his ankle during a 13-point triple-double in Game 3, Luka had one of the performances of the bubble with 43 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists and a buzzer-beating, game-winning stepback three in Game 4.
But without Kristaps Porzingis (out with a torn meniscus), the Dallas Mavericks were obliterated by the Clippers by 43 points in Game 5. It felt like L.A. established control, and the Clips won't give it up in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Like Orlando, Dallas may not play its main guys much either. If things get out of hand quickly (as they did in Game 5), head coach Rick Carlisle might have to think about the risk of injury to Doncic.
With mostly subs in down the stretch, expect some fun moments from Boban Marjanovic, who's 34th in NBA history in points per 75 possessions (among players with at least as many career minutes).
Championship Odds: +8500
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of this season's biggest and most entertaining surprises.
Their preseason over/under was a modest 31 wins. Even in an abbreviated 2019-20, they flew past that mark on the way to a 44-28 record (a 50-win pace in a normal 82-game slate).
The magic of a three-guard lineup with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder was far more potent than anticipated. And it'll be enough to get one more win against the Houston Rockets. But the extended Cinderella run will end this round.
As tempting as it is to pick CP3 to exact revenge on the team that traded him last season, the return of Russell Westbrook will be too much to overcome.
Championship Odds: +6500
Difficult as it may be to believe, Jamal Murray has a higher postseason box plus/minus than Donovan Mitchell, who's averaging 37.6 points in the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.
Murray (30.8 points, 6.8 assists and 6.4 rebounds) may be scoring a bit less, but he's averaging more boards and dimes while committing less than half the number of turnovers.
By any metric, he has been one of the postseason's top performers. And he has a knack for rising to the biggest moments of tight games.
Nikola Jokic is the Nuggets' best player, but Murray may provide the emotional fuel. He has that "I refuse to lose that game" look when things get tight.
And that fire, as well as the skill he's cultivated, will help Denver pull off a series victory despite being in a 1-3 hole before winning Game 5.
Championship Odds: +6500
With the way Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz have shot the ball in the first round, that last prediction may seem a little bonkers. It might be even tougher to believe after digesting this prediction.
Donovan Mitchell is going to put up 50 points one more time this series.
He's already done it twice. Michael Jordan (in the 1988 first round) and Allen Iverson (in the 2001 second round) are the only players in league history who can say the same. And neither of those legends got to three.
With Bojan Bogdanovic out for Utah and Denver's defense having a whale of a time containing Mitchell, expect at least one more shootout between Mitchell and Murray.
Championship Odds: +4200
The Miami Heat are not going to lay down for the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With two All-Stars, one of the game's best floor-spacers and a solid supporting cast, Miami will push its second-round series to six or seven games before eventually falling.
On the season, the Heat were plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions when Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (the All-Stars) shared the floor with Duncan Robinson (the spacer).
Robinson led the league in both catch-and-shoot attempts and catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage (68.6) among players with at least 300 attempts.
That level of volume and efficiency demands more than just the attention of a single defender. It bends entire defenses out to the three-point line, which in turn opens things up for the slashing of Butler and Adebayo.
Few teams are as well equipped to handle that as Milwaukee, but that trio is going to cause problems before Miami leaves the bubble.
Championship Odds: +1900
The most important aspect of the Rockets' micro-ball strategy is likely what it does for Russell Westbrook.
On the season, Russ averaged 28.8 points per 75 possessions with a 58.2 true shooting percentage when he played without a traditional 5 in the game.
With the floor spaced, the paint is wide-open for Westbrook to attack. It turns many of his possessions into semi-transition opportunities.
So, even though he has yet to appear in a postseason game with Houston, he'll top 30 points before his former team is closed out.
"He'll go through practice [Friday], and if things are normal, we expect him to be ready to go," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of the star guard.
Championship Odds: +1500
Somehow, Jayson Tatum quietly averaged 27.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.5 threes per game during the Boston Celtics' sweep of Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.
If it wasn't clear already, the first round reaffirmed Tatum is a star (and maybe even a superstar). And in combination with Kemba Walker, Boston should have an ever-so-slight edge in top-end talent in its second-round series against the Toronto Raptors.
According to Basketball Index's "simple average impact," which combines catch-all metrics from around the internet into one number, Tatum and Walker were the 14th- and 20th-most positively impactful players in the league this season. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were 18th and 33rd on that list.
Of course, regular-season impact numbers aren't determinative of an upcoming playoff series. Games are won and lost on the floor.
There, Tatum's star will continue to ascend. Against the defending champions, he'll be the best player on the floor and help the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Championship Odds: +1000
Pascal Siakam's ascension to the No. 1 option coincided with a better regular-season winning percentage for the Raptors than the Kawhi Leonard-led 2018-19 team posted.
That improvement may have had more to do with the development of OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and others, though.
Siakam was a deserving All-Star this season, but his performance may not have been quite as good as some think.
Then, in the playoffs, against the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets, he shot 41.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three.
Things won't get any easier against the highly switchable Celtics, who should be able to hold Siakam's shooting percentages around the levels he posted in the first round.
Championship Odds: +750
Los Angeles Lakers
Jason Kidd is the only player in NBA history to log at least 200 minutes and average a triple-double in a postseason.
Right now, LeBron James is at 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists. And if the Lakers are going to win the title, he may have to maintain that stellar production.
You don't secure the top seed in the Western Conference without being a good team, but L.A. isn't the deepest one left. That means plenty of minutes and triple-doubles going forward.
In the first round, LeBron is averaging only 32.8 minutes. That figure will have to go up against teams like the Rockets, Thunder, Clippers or Bucks. That's another factor that'll help him average a triple-double this postseason.
Championship Odds: +320
According to box plus/minus, Eric Bledsoe has played like a below-average player during his career postseason minutes with the Bucks.
In 26 games, he's averaging 13.4 points while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 25.2 percent from three. And things aren't looking much better in 2020.
In addition to Bledsoe's continued struggles from the field, the Bucks have been significantly better with him off the floor this postseason.
Whether it ends in triumph or heartbreak, Bledsoe will turn that trend around before this playoff run is over.
Postseason basketball brings significantly more intensity than regular-season action. So, we can't just rely on a "law of averages suggests he'll eventually play better" argument.
What we can rely on, though, is his talent, and the fact that he'll face Kemba Walker and the Celtics in the second round (assuming Milwaukee advances).
Boston's positionless defenders should be tied up with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. That'll leave possessions for Bledsoe to attack Walker, who's never been known for his defense.
The Celtics can hide him on Wesley Matthews for stretches. They also have Marcus Smart to deploy against Bledsoe. But there should be plenty of opportunities for the Bucks guard to break out of his postseason slump.
Championship Odds: +270
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are going to win it all.
Even with Paul George playing like a shell of himself (he shot 21.3 percent from the field and 16.0 percent from three in Games 2-4 against the Mavericks), the Clippers went shot for shot with the greatest offense in NBA history.
When George finally broke out for 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting, L.A. annihilated Dallas by 43 points.
George will have more below-standard games, but the Clippers have the star power and depth necessary to weather his inconsistency.
Kawhi Leonard is about as steady as NBA superstars get. Those two and Marcus Morris Sr. allow the team to play a lot of positionless ball. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have a nasty pick-and-roll game. And L.A. can even play big with Ivica Zubac.
The Clippers can counter any punch thrown their way.
Championship Odds: +270