Updated NBA Championship Odds 1 Month Before the Playoffs
With a month left in the 2020-21 NBA season, crunch time is officially here.
Teams with legitimate championship shots should be trying to hit their peaks over the limited schedule that remains, and those on the contention bubble could see their title odds change significantly based on what happens between now and the start of the playoffs in May.
Here we'll use FanDuel's championship odds to organize all 30 teams based on their chances to win it all. The numbers will determine the order, but we'll gladly editorialize where we think the oddsmakers are missing something. Just so you know ahead of time, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors won't be collecting rings, but they aren't getting enough respect from the betting market.
Speaking of which, we all know there are several teams that don't really belong in the championship discussion at all. We'll lump those into a couple of quick sections to get them out of the way before jumping right to the top-end favorites. Think of it like choking down vegetables before the main course.
Let's run down who the markets like and who they don't.
These seven teams are too far out of contention for play-in spots, too clearly committed to building for the future at the expense of present success to factor into the championship odds conversation, or both. They all technically have 250-to-1 shots at a ring, but their chances are really much closer to zero.
Cleveland Cavaliers (250-1)
As young cores go, you could do a lot worse than Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen. Two smallish guards who can score and handle, a low-usage shutdown wing and a rim-protecting big man who can catch a lob give these Cavs a clear shape going forward. That said, the only things they've been halfway decent at all year are offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers. Everywhere else—on both ends—the Cavs have struggled.
Though they're within reasonable striking distance of the 10th spot, don't expect the Cavaliers to compromise draft position by trying to close that gap.
Detroit Pistons (250-1)
The Detroit Pistons don't have the worst point differential in the East, but they do own the worst record. Expect rookie point guard Killian Hayes to see increased playing time now that he's back in action after nearly three months on the shelf with a hip injury. Detroit would be wise to give the No. 7 pick in last year's draft as many reps as possible—both because Hayes desperately needs them and because a large role for a first-year player at a critical position should preserve optimal lottery odds.
Houston Rockets (250-1)
It takes 16 postseason victories to earn a title, plus one or two more if a team has to first survive the play-in round. Houston has 14 wins on the year, and only five of them came against opponents over the .500 mark.
John Wall's flashes of past form, Kevin Porter Jr.'s intriguing potential, Jae'Sean Tate's defense and Christian Wood's offensive skill were bright spots this year. But the Rockets are miles from play-in contention and will come out on the wrong end of a three-way pick swap with the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder if their first-round selection falls outside the top four.
There's no incentive for a late-season push here.
Minnesota Timberwolves (250-1)
D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns have combined to miss 51 games this season, and the Minnesota Timberwolves haven't exactly been spectacular on the rare occasions their two theoretical cornerstones have taken the floor in the same contest, managing a 4-4 mark in the eight games they've played together.
Anthony Edwards is making strides offensively, which bodes well for Minnesota's long-term scoring punch. But that doesn't change the fact that, right now, the Wolves are farther back in the standings from a play-in berth than any other team in the league.
Oklahoma City Thunder (250-1)
The rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder's 2020-21 season was a wild success. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed superstar potential, the steady pour of incoming first-round draft picks acquired via trade continued, and OKC should finish the year with a great shot at a high lottery selection.
By design, wins were few and far between. And with SGA's plantar fasciitis keeping him out of action, that'll continue to be the case.
Orlando Magic (250-1)
You don't trade away Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier (and then waive solid backup Khem Birch) if you're trying to make the playoffs, let alone win a championship.
Sacramento Kings (250-1)
The Sacramento Kings haven't packed it in or torn it down like the rest of the teams in this section, but they're a long way behind the West's 10th spot and fading fast. Their current nine-game losing streak is their second of that length since February.
Skids like that tend to happen when you own the league's worst defense.
De'Aaron Fox is piling up numbers and got some All-Star consideration this season. Bet on him coming even closer in 2021-22. You'll notice we're already looking ahead to next year, an annual Kings tradition at this point of the season.
FanDuel gives these six teams the same impossibly long title odds as the group of cellar-dwellers in the last section. While it's true none of the squads here have even a semi-realistic shot to win the championship, each of them is either in playoff position or close enough to get there with a decent closing run.
In fact, it's not that difficult to imagine a couple of these teams giving a top-seeded opponent some trouble in a first-round series.
Charlotte Hornets (250-1)
LaMelo Ball pumped new energy into the Charlotte Hornets this season, and his presence on the roster is the biggest reason to believe in the franchise's future. Charlotte has been respectable (7-6) since Ball left the lineup with a wrist injury, though, and it remains a short hot streak away from the East's No. 4 playoff spot.
A championship? No way. But it sure seems like the odds here, which give the Hornets the same likelihood of earning a ring as the league's worst teams, are a little longer than they should be.
Chicago Bulls (250-1)
The Chicago Bulls should be more uncomfortable with their inclusion in this section than anyone else here. Having surrendered top-four protected first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 for 30-year-old Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls clearly advertised their focus on the present. After sacrificing so much future capital in exchange for what they hope are shorter-term gains, the Bulls can't be enthused about their position.
Vucevic was never going to put Chicago in the contender class. But the Bulls had to have been hoping for something better than a fight to hang onto the East's No. 10 spot and a 3-8 record since the trade deadline.
Memphis Grizzlies (250-1)
We may feel differently after the Memphis Grizzlies conclude a punishing seven-game road trip in Denver on April 26, but right now it feels like a naked affront that they share the same title odds as the rest of this (mostly) sorry lot.
This is a team with a winning record in the rugged West, a top-10 defense and some sneaky upside if Jaren Jackson Jr. ever returns to the lineup.
A squad that plays this hard and makes life so tough on the opposition (Dillon Brooks loves nothing more than irritating/fouling/face-guarding premier scorers) deserves more oddsmaker love than this.
New York Knicks (250-1)
It's an oversimplification to call the New York Knicks the East's version of the Grizzlies, but there are enough commonalities to apply the same level of indignation we gave Memphis' odds.
The Knicks own the league's third-stingiest defense. No, they can't score at all, but these guys have the No. 6 point differential in their conference. We've seen enough to dismiss the idea that their success at limiting opposing scorers is wholly the result of smoke and mirrors. New York's stopping power is real; only the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have stymied opposing offenses more effectively, and those two are top-flight contenders.
San Antonio Spurs (250-1)
The San Antonio Spurs have the second-toughest remaining schedule, which justifies picking them to slide out of the play-in group by season's end. Still late to adopt the shot-type norms that have the rest of the league hunting threes and layups, the Spurs' effective field-goal percentage, dragged down by a hefty helping of two-point jumpers, ranks 25th.
Still, San Antonio takes better care of the ball than any team in the NBA and can always count on its bench to punish opposing reserves. On balance, this is a solid team that might not be remembered that way if its imposing stretch-run schedule results in a trip to the lottery.
Washington Wizards (250-1)
Theoretically, Bradley Beal gives the Washington Wizards a chance to win every game they play. But the team almost always loses when he puts up big scoring nights. The Wizards have won just one of the last 12 games in which Beal has cracked the 40-point mark.
Washington is on the outside of the play-in group, and it's not even the best team with that status in its conference. That honor goes to the Toronto Raptors (more on their odds shortly), who top the Wizards in net rating and championship experience.
Brooklyn Nets: 11-5
With the extreme long shots out of the way, we can now jump right into the serious contenders, starting with the oddsmakers' No. 1 favorite to win it all, the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets land here on the strength of their star power. At full health, they can field three unstoppable first-option scorers in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Those three have only logged seven games together this year.
Brooklyn's inside track to a ring, then, may seem to depend more on faith than actual evidence. But if you zoom out and consider overwhelming individual talent is the common trait shared by most NBA champs, maybe that counts as the most persuasive evidence of all.
Postseason success depends on so much more than individual offensive punch, but Brooklyn has the luxury of entering any single game or series with more "this guy can win the game by himself" options than anyone else.
No team in this century has won a championship with a defense as bad as Brooklyn's, which ranks 25th in the league. But there's a first time for everything, and this group has the look of a mold-breaking offense-only title-winner.
For my money, there are still too many question marks—from defense to chemistry to health—to co-sign the Nets as the best championship bet. But considering the potentially easy path through the East and the upside of a KD-Harden-Kyrie core when all three are clicking, it's not hard to understand why so many view them as the favorite.
Los Angeles Lakers: 7-2
There are two good arguments against the Los Angeles Lakers owning the second-best championship odds.
First, it's been a long time since LeBron James (March 20) or Anthony Davis (Feb. 14) last played an NBA game. Los Angeles is wise to treat both of its superstars' injuries with an abundance of caution, particularly after the strain of last year's title run and the shortened offseason. If either player isn't healthy enough to hit peak form by the postseason, the Lakers cannot repeat.
Second, the West simply has more teams capable of knocking L.A. out than Brooklyn will face in the East. And if the Lakers have to fight their way to the Finals as a lower seed—which would pit them against top competition early in the playoffs and cost them home-court advantage throughout—the chances of an early postseason departure increase.
All that said, James makes the Finals like clockwork. He's been in nine of the last 10 overall. His current sidekick, Davis, is the most complete, playoff-matchup-proof big man in the game. Meanwhile, Los Angeles' defense has held strong as the best in the league with Davis and James out of action.
This year, every team has dealt with key injuries, games lost to health and safety protocols and the rigors of a condensed schedule. Head-to-head data is compromised by key absences, and each of the other top-end championship threats comes with serious question marks (which we'll address). Knowing all that, and considering how little predictive value this bizarre season has provided, it almost feels safest to place our trust in simple analysis.
James, Davis and the league's best defense? How do you bet against that?
Los Angeles Clippers: 7-1
You have to wonder how different the Los Angeles Clippers' betting prospects would be if they'd exited last year's playoffs in less disappointing fashion. That's not to say the third-best odds are wildly out of step with where L.A., which ranks third in net rating and owns the league's best offense, belongs.
But it feels like that blown 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets is priced into this 7-to-1 figure.
Paul George has battled through a toe injury to post one of the best scoring stretches of his career in recent weeks, and Kawhi Leonard is still on the short list of two-way wings you'd trust to carry you in the most meaningful games. His two Finals MVPs speak for themselves.
In addition to their pair of superstar wings, the Clippers boast as much lineup versatility as any other contender. They can strain opposing big men by using Serge Ibaka or even Marcus Morris Sr. at center, field fully switchable five-man units and even overpower smaller foes by unleashing four rangy wings and Ivica Zubac inside.
Until the Clips prove they've fixed the chemistry and leadership concerns that cost them in the bubble last season, they'll feel like a somewhat risky bet. But these odds also make them a solid value bet.
Utah Jazz: 7-1
The Utah Jazz's placement here is the latest confirmation that the regular season and the playoffs are two different enterprises.
With the league's best record and net rating, the Jazz have consistently been this season's top team. They're in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they boast a deep rotation anchored by Rudy Gobert's interior presence and Donovan Mitchell's perimeter scoring prowess. If championships were won on paper (or on regular-season record, for that matter), we'd already be crowning this Utah squad.
Skepticism persists about how they'll hold up against better scouting and the switching defenses they're likely to see in the playoffs. Mike Conley's role as a supporting piece who can break down the defense against frontcourt mismatches will be key to the depth of the Jazz's postseason run. If the veteran point guard can join Mitchell in punishing opponents who dare them to penetrate (or pull up) against switches, Utah will be in business.
Considering the superior star power of the teams ahead of them, these odds feel about right for the Jazz—even if they'll likely have home-court advantage all the way through the Finals. At the same time, keep an eye on Mitchell's return from an ankle injury. If he's hampered, these odds could get worse.
Milwaukee Bucks: 15-2
How the Milwaukee Bucks manage Giannis Antetokounmpo's knee injury, which cost him six straight games before his Thursday return against the Atlanta Hawks, will go a long way toward changing these odds.
Milwaukee is chasing the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the race for the East's top spot, and whoever secures that critical position will only have to play one series against the other two intra-conference powerhouses to reach the Finals. If Antetokounmpo is back to full strength, he could swing the three-team race in Milwaukee's favor, especially with two games against Philly and two against Brooklyn still on the schedule.
If the Bucks play it safer with their two-time MVP, they can still comfortably cruise into the postseason as the No. 3 seed but will face a much tougher road to the Finals. In that scenario, their odds could get worse.
More broadly, Milwaukee hasn't adapted to the rigors of the playoffs in its last two trips. Hopefully, all the tinkering it did this season will change that narrative.
Despite all those concerns, the Bucks (and Giannis) pose a real matchup problem for a Nets team short on high-end defenders. Between Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Donte DiVincenzo and especially Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee also has some of the best options to throw at Brooklyn's dangerous scorers.
Note, too, that Milwaukee has gone 5-2 against the Sixers dating back to the 2018-19 season.
If the Bucks somehow secure the No. 1 seed, they'll deserve odds in the top three. For now, they have to settle for the top five.
Philadelphia 76ers: 12-1
The Philadelphia 76ers have the third-best odds in the East, despite current ownership of the conference's top seed. That signals doubt about some combination of Joel Embiid's health, the translatability of their style to a playoff setting, or their chances of holding onto that seed.
Considering the Sixers have an easier remaining schedule than either the Nets or Bucks, that third option seems least likely.
Philly's title shot depends entirely on Embiid. As impactful as Ben Simmons is, and as impressive as Tobias Harris' year-over-year growth may be, it's difficult to imagine the Sixers winning a second- or third-round series without a truly dominant effort from their overwhelming big man, whose presence on the floor has boosted their net rating by 14.9 points per 100 possessions this season.
With fans returning in larger numbers, home-court advantage is a swing factor for the 76ers. They own the East's best home record for the second straight season, so they should be more motivated than any of their competition to lock down that top seed in the East. If the Sixers head into the postseason at No. 1, their odds should spike significantly.
Phoenix Suns: 24-1
Utah has been the best team in the league over the full 2020-21 season to date, but another West team has outperformed everyone else over the past two months.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Phoenix Suns!
After some early adjustments, Chris Paul and Devin Booker have developed playoff-ready chemistry. Phoenix plays to a plus-7.1 net rating with those two on the floor, which is quite an achievement considering that figure was in negative territory early in the year. Filter the dates to isolate the last two months timeframe we already highlighted, and the Paul-Booker minutes have produced a plus-12.5 net rating since Feb. 15.
At least as far as the regular season, the Suns have figured out how to get the most from their two best players.
Phoenix slots in behind the two L.A. teams and the Jazz because it hasn't proved itself in the playoffs yet. Casual observers and oddsmakers like to have some kind of history to judge, and the Suns, who missed the playoffs last year and added Paul, Jae Crowder and Dario Saric to the mix, don't have any.
What the Suns do have is a very dangerous profile. Beyond Paul and Booker, Mikal Bridges is among the best wing defenders in the league. Crowder seems to matter every year in the playoffs, wherever he is. Throw in Saric as a small-ball option at the 5, plus Deandre Ayton against more conventional bigs, and the Suns are equipped to handle top competition of all shapes and sizes.
Denver Nuggets: 30-1
Though their odds aren't all that much worse than the Suns', the Denver Nuggets represent the start of a new tier.
They're our first fringe contender, which wouldn't be the case if Jamal Murray were healthy.
Sadly, his torn ACL knocks the Nuggets down a peg. Nikola Jokic is looking like the increasingly likely MVP, and he could crank his already stellar production up to another level in the postseason. But when you remove a star shot-creating guard from the equation, particularly one with a reputation for raising his game in the playoffs like Murray, it changes things.
Michael Porter Jr. could rack up several 30-point outings, and Aaron Gordon has quickly developed pass-and-cut chemistry with Jokic. But those two are still supporting players; Murray was a star, the kind of takeover weapon the Nuggets needed to compete with top opposing scorers.
With Murray, Denver had a chance to go toe to toe with the league's best. His scoring would have helped the Nuggets survive stretches without Jokic on the floor and offset a defense that remains a relative weakness. Without him, the Nugs will have to play their absolute best to get out of the first round.
Miami Heat: 36-1
Jimmy Butler just keeps getting more productive, despite his ongoing abandonment of the three-point shot. He's averaging 21.2 points with a career-high 60.0 true shooting percentage, posting his highest assist and rebound rates ever and leading the league with 2.1 steals per game—all with the lowest three-point attempt rate (and a ghastly 23.8 accuracy mark) of his career.
Without a three-point shot, it's not right to say Butler is a complete player. But he's indisputably one of the league's best, and he's also got Bam Adebayo at his side. There might only be two or three bigs you'd rather have in the playoffs, where defensive versatility is vital as matchups and schemes change from series to series.
This isn't new information. Butler and Adebayo led the Heat to the Finals in 2020.
The problem is with everyone else. Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are all performing below last season's levels. Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. are gone. Victor Oladipo has missed more games than he's played since joining the Heat, and he hasn't looked like a helpful rotation piece when on the floor.
Miami conjured some magic during its run last season, and nobody will be happy about drawing it in a first-round tilt. But the Heat just aren't a serious threat to go all the way.
Dallas Mavericks: 42-1
What series of events would it take for the Dallas Mavericks to win a ring this season?
Well, Luka Doncic would probably have to be the best player on the floor in every game—a tall order considering the gauntlet of superstars Dallas would face on its hypothetical run through the West. Doncic looks like an all-time, generational talent, so maybe he could meet that lofty standard.
But in addition to that, the Mavs would need consistent near-superstar production from at least one other source, plus a sudden and drastic improvement on the defensive end.
Kristaps Porzingis is Dallas' most likely candidate to address the former and drive the effort to achieve the latter. But two seasons into his Mavs career, he still looks more like a high-end third option than a true second star.
Brass tacks: The Mavericks are 10th on offense and 17th on D. They don't have the statistical profile or supporting talent around Doncic to be taken seriously as a deep-playoff-run threat.
The good news is that as long as Doncic is around, Dallas will only be a piece or two away from reaching true contender status.
Boston Celtics: 60-1
The Boston Celtics defense finally resembles the unit that ranked fourth in the league last year, thanks in no small measure to Marcus Smart's relentless hustle. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum just earned East Player of the Week honors.
Those developments don't cancel out several months of mediocrity and disappointment. But they suggest better days ahead.
Remember, the Celtics reached the conference finals for the third time in four years last season. While not everyone on the roster was present for all of those runs, many of the team's key players were. It's not a stretch to pin some of the blame for Boston's rough play this year on fatigue.
If Tatum is finally all the way through the lingering effects of COVID-19, and if the Jaylen Brown-Evan Fournier-Kemba Walker triumvirate gets enough reps together to develop some synergy, Boston could get its offense on track to complement its defensive return to form.
These odds are way too long for a team with as much playoff experience and talent as the Celtics have. If you're in the camp that believes this strange and condensed regular season has less predictive value for the playoffs than any in the past, Boston is a tremendous value at these odds.
Portland Trail Blazers: 80-1
The only way the Portland Trail Blazers can win a championship is if they somehow manipulate every game so it comes down to the last shot, and Damian Lillard gets to take it (completely contested, of course) from about 35 feet away.
It seems like they win in those situations more often than not.
Otherwise, the Blazers just don't have the defensive heft to be taken seriously. They rank 29th on that end of the floor. Only the Sacramento Kings, who are on pace to register the worst defensive rating in league history, are giving up points more generously.
Portland never turns it over and can score with anyone. But you've got to play both ends to do more than steal a first-round series and then bow out quietly. Note, too, that Lillard may be wearing down. April has been his worst scoring month of the season—both in volume and efficiency—and Portland's remaining schedule is punishing.
In light of all that, and considering the monsters at the top of the West, these odds might actually be too kind.
Indiana Pacers: 160-1
It's unlikely the Indiana Pacers will finish lower than ninth in the East, thanks mostly to the 10th-seeded Bulls' ill-timed slump. Zach LaVine's health-and-safety-driven absence could send Chicago tumbling even further down the standings.
That said, the Pacers don't look like a threat to advance out of the play-in round—certainly not in a scenario where they have to knock out the battle-tested Toronto Raptors and/or Miami Heat.
Indy isn't a bad team, but the pieces just haven't quite fit together this season. All-Star Domantas Sabonis is productive, and most regard him as the team's best player. But the Pacers get outscored in the minutes he logs with Myles Turner. And although the knocks on Sabonis tend to focus on his lack of defensive impact, it's the offense that suffers most when he's in the game.
Of all the long-odds teams remaining here, the Pacers come closest to belonging in the honorable mention group we hit earlier—the one that features teams that aren't tanking but whose title chances might as well be "zero."
Toronto Raptors: 160-1
The Toronto Raptors don't belong all the way down here.
Sure, we've spent the year watching them field patchwork lineups, losing games they should win and struggling through months of "home" games played in Tampa. Every team has had a hard time this year, but has any faced more adversity than this one?
And yet...it still feels like a healthy core that includes Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam could pull together and put on the same kind of hyper-competitive run we've from them in the past. Forget the 2019 title; Kawhi Leonard was the key ingredient there. But what's to stop the Raps from matching last year's effort, when they fought like hell and took the Celtics to seven games in the second round?
The best answer to that question is "a season's worth of evidence that this worn-down group hasn't come close to resembling the 2020 version of itself."
Fair enough. But surely we can agree that Toronto, given all its past success and the presence of so many playoff-tested veterans, deserves better odds than the Pacers.
Atlanta Hawks: 190-1
The oddsmakers' lack of faith in the Atlanta Hawks borders on disrespect.
They're seeded higher in their conference than four of the last five teams we've covered, are playing some of their best ball of the year in April and have a game-changing player on both ends. Trae Young's offensive wizardry gives the Hawks a chance to score on anyone, and rim-protector Clint Capela is making a case for fringe Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
A team with the fifth-best net rating in the East deserves better than the eighth-best championship odds.
Atlanta won't win a ring and probably won't advance past the first round. But it has dramatically outperformed the Raptors this season and should absolutely be viewed as a bigger postseason threat than the Pacers.
Golden State Warriors: 240-1
The Golden State Warriors cannot and will not win the 2021 NBA championship. They've been outscored on the season, perform like a G League outfit whenever Stephen Curry isn't on the floor and lack the kinds of second and third scoring options teams need to counter postseason defenses that know how to deny an offense's go-to tactics.
Add to that the daunting field in the West, and we can't even conjure a devil's-advocate case for the Dubs collecting a fourth ring since 2015.
But if you believe they have a mathematically worse shot at glory than the Hawks, Raptors, Pacers or Blazers, well...you haven't been paying attention.
With injured rookie James Wiseman's development no longer interfering with the Warriors playing a win-now style, the team is no longer working at cross purposes. Curry has, predictably, exploded of late. He's playing better right now, at age 33, than he has in any non-MVP-winning season of his historic career.
He remains the game's single most dangerous offensive weapon, and the Warriors are giving more playing time to veterans like Kevon Looney and Kent Bazemore who know how to enable his greatness.
And while his impact doesn't rise to the level of Curry's, Draymond Green remains capable of wreaking more defensive havoc than anyone when he's fully engaged.
Curry and Green have faced down every challenge on the way to multiple championships. They believe, deep down in the bones of their ring-wearing fingers, that they can compete with anyone.
They can't. But they're better than several teams with more favorable odds.
New Orleans Pelicans: 240-1
The New Orleans Pelicans avoided inclusion in the honorable-mention section despite incredibly long odds and a steep uphill climb just to reach the West's 10th seed.
They're an offense-only team currently mired in one of the coldest three-point shooting stretches in years, and they might be one of the simplest teams for opponents to scout in a playoff setting: Pack the paint, shade every help defender toward Zion Williamson and dare a corps of young, reluctant and generally inaccurate perimeter scorers to fire away.
Zion is the type of physically overwhelming talent capable of blowing up even the best-laid defensive plans. All the film study and tactical preparation in the world can still come up short against a player who can power around and through anything in his way—but not for a full series.
And none of Williamson's scheme-busting gifts will be on display if the Pels don't even reach the play-in round.