Due to the onslaught of the coronavirus, all the usual calculations regarding the NBA playoffs can be efficiently thrown out of the window. In fact, this year, the underdogs have most chances at winning, in the history of the game.
The odds for/the odds against:
Compared to other cut and dry sports like football or baseball, the NBA postseason is a much more prevalent betting favorite. This is due to factors like a best-of-seven format, home-court advantages, and the notion that officials are swayed by home crowds.
The odds near +275 with the Los Angeles Lakers, who are championship favorites. They along with the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers, both with offerings near about 3-1, form the top tier of contenders. The other teams have minimum odds of 12-1. 31 out of 36 champions have entered the playoffs as 1-seed or 2-seed, since the inception of seeding in 1983.
The top three seeds have reached the second round in 49 of the 54 first-round series, through the previous nine NBA postseasons.
Last season, the top-seeded Golden State Warriors were favorites over -50,000 to the Clippers, the Bucks were -10,000 versus the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors were over the Orlando Magic by -1,400.
In comparison, the biggest favorite in MLB was -300. An apparent mismatch was featured in NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning (-400) against the Columbus Blue Jackets but Tampa Bay got swept. The Kansas City Chiefs still had 4-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, despite entering playoffs with a first-round bye. Caesars offered +255 on Selection Sunday despite the NCAA tournament favorite Duke having three of NBA’s top 10 picks. But neither they nor the second favorite Gongaza at +550 reached the Final Four.
How the history unfolded:
In the championship runs of 2019, St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup behind rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, in spite of being the lower seed in all but one series. The Nats won three rounds as the road underdog after hosting a wild-card game. Both the three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg performed brilliantly.
The pandemic has made things unpredictable and no one knows if the 2020 NBA will remain as different as it has been before. Before March the Bucks were at -220, assuming Milwaukee would have home advantages. Yet now they are the favorites to win the Eastern conference at -230.
The analysis by the sports pundits:
ESPN colleague and professional bettor Preston Johnson said in an interview, “The Bucks were the team whose chances suffered the most from the pandemic, based on my model”.
According to his estimation, the viral outbreak drops the chance of Milwaukee winning by 12.5%.
The approximately five-month delay adds to these variables.
Another contributing factor is the nearly five-month delay. Johnson said, “They were always good about resting their stars. Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is the best player and he was not even playing 31 minutes per game,” explaining also, why Milwaukee’s opponents will face challenges reaching the postseason. Due to the pandemic, the Bucks are not going to be the only ones getting rest.
The enforced cooldown period has enabled many players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to repair injuries. Milwaukee’s competitors like the Boston Celtics (5-1), Toronto Raptor (7-1) and Miami Heat (10-1) all have better chances to win now.
The Houston Rockets (6-1) and Denver Nuggets (9-1) surprisingly are presenting challenges to the Lakers (+135) and Clippers (+150) who are currently topping the Western Conference betting board. The Portland Trail Blazers (35-1) are looking good too with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back.
A word of precaution:
The NBA is taking special care to isolate and protect the players from any infection in the Orlando bubble. If any player tests positive, he is having to go through a quarantine window of 14 days, pass a cardiac exam and present two COVID-19 negative reports within a 24 hour period. With the best player as likely to get infected as the worst one, favoritism just doesn’t make sense anymore.
How does it all stand?
However, all of this might just end up having not as much impact as we fear. The favorites may still reach the NBA Finals with ease, with that pandemic merely becoming an inconvenience instead of an upsetting factor. At least, logically following, the nature of basketball lets us hope so, with the increase in the number of possessions over the past few seasons.
This year though, has time and again proved itself as existing just beyond the scopes of logic and probabilities.