NBA odds: Lakers and Bucks are favored, but an unprecedented postseason is ripe for a sleeper champion

There’s no history to study for the NBA taking almost five months off, then playing a handful of regular-season games before going full bore into the playoffs. Or doing it all at Disney World.

The NBA, like the rest of the sporting world, shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus. The league has working dates for restarting the season: July 31 for regular-season games, Aug. 16-17 for the play-in tournament to determine the final seeds, Aug. 18 to start the first round and the NBA Finals beginning on Sept. 30.

The restart of the NBA also means the resumption of NBA betting. BetMGM has future odds for the NBA, including for the championship and each conference title. It’s worth a refresher on where teams stand as the season restarts and to try to figure out how this unprecedented postseason will play out.

The favorites, a.k.a. the NBA Finals we all deserve

If this weird NBA season ends up with a title matchup of the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks in late September and early October, it will be a satisfying conclusion no matter the neutral site or obstacles to get there.

The Lakers (+250, they’ve dropped a bit from +275) and Bucks (+280) are the favorites to win the NBA championship. They have been the best two teams in the league all season. The Lakers led the Western Conference by 5.5 games and the Bucks led the East by 6.5. The odds for a Lakers-Bucks title showdown is just +270, so there is practically no value in the chalk. Common sense says that all the variables — a neutral site for more than two months, a long layoff, potential positive tests knocking players out — make things way too unpredictable to bet the Lakers or Bucks at short odds. Even though it would be a great NBA Finals that we all need.

This would be fun to see in the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
This would be fun to see in the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Only two teams in the next tier

The Los Angeles Clippers, odds-wise, are closer to the Lakers and Bucks than anyone else. They’re +325. They certainly have the talent, and Kawhi Leonard showed in last year’s Eastern Conference finals that he can pose problems for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Still, +325 is pretty short for any team in a weird postseason.

The only other team getting less than 20-to-1 odds at BetMGM is the Houston Rockets at +1200. If we buy the notion that this postseason will be unpredictable given everything going on, this might be the year to find a big underdog and cash in.

And one team stands out.

Best value play is a (somewhat) familiar squad

The Toronto Raptors looked like a one-year wonder. Leonard helped them to a title and then left. The NBA is ruled by stars, and Toronto lost its biggest star.

Then the Raptors pretty quietly were one of the best teams in the NBA. Their 46-18 record was third-best in the league. Their net efficiency rating of 6.4 was tied for third, not far from the second-place Lakers at 7.1 (the Bucks were an impressive 10.7). And here’s the beauty of the Raptors: Their odds to win the title are tied for the sixth at +2200.

The Raptors won 15 in a row and 17 of 18 shortly before the season stopped. They won four straight road games right before games were postponed. If you believe in momentum you also believe it won’t carry over for four months, but playing that well is more than just a nebulous hot streak. The Raptors figuring out roles and the right mix will carry over.

Only two teams, the Lakers and Bucks, had a better road record. The Raptors don’t need to be at home to win. Another plus.

While NBA championships usually go to stars, balance can matter too, and the Raptors have five players averaging at least 16 points a game. And Pascal Siakam was playing like a star this season, though he’s not yet a household name.

There are other teams down the board that are enticing. The Boston Celtics have the talent to make a run and are 20-to-1. The Philadelphia 76ers, if Joel Embiid’s post-All Star break surge carries over and he’s in great shape, are worth a look at +2500. There would be worse bets than Luka Doncic taking a big leap and carrying the Dallas Mavericks to a title at 30-to-1.

But the underrated Raptors seem like the best value if you think the restart of the season could lead to chaos. It would be pretty ironic if the craziest season ever ended with the defending champs on top again.

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