Lakers' bubble struggles leave no clear-cut title favorite entering NBA playoffs

ByDavid Purdum ESPN logo
Monday, August 17, 2020

Thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles in the bubble, there is no clear-cut favorite to win the NBA championship entering the playoffs, for a change.

Some sportsbooks have the Milwaukee Bucks as the team to beat, while other bookmakers still have the Lakers pegged as the favorites, and in Las Vegas, the LA Clippers can be found atop the odds to win the championship.

It's the first time there hasn't been a clear-cut title favorite heading into the playoffs since 2015, the beginning of the Golden State Warriors' run. The Warriors were the overwhelming favorites in each of the past five postseasons, with odds never longer than +175.

This season, though, the favorite's odds -- whether it be the Lakers, Bucks or Clippers -- are about +250 on average.

"We bumped the Lakers up to 3-1 [to win the title], which is the highest we've been in a while, and we made the Clippers the favorites at 11-4," Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk at the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, told ESPN.

At one point, before the league suspended play because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Lakers looked to be distinguishing themselves from the Bucks and Clippers. But LeBron James& Co. were unimpressive since the restart, going 3-5 in Florida.

Some of the Lakers' performance can be chalked up to their situation: They were locked in to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference early in the restart, and coach Frank Vogel experimented with different lineups in the games that had less meaning.

However, the Lakers finished the seeding games with the second-worst net efficiency rating.

"It did affect their rating and their perception, because people are enthralled by Portland in this series," Sherman said, noting that the SuperBook had taken six bets on the Trail Blazers for every one they had received on the Lakers in the teams' first-round playoff series, including a $5,000 bet and a $1,000 bet on Portland at 4-1 odds.

The Trail Blazers also were a popular bet to upset the Lakers at sportsbook PointsBet, which reported taking "sharp action," causing Portland's odds in the first-round series to improve from +450 to +375.

The Lakers' title odds fell behind the Bucks and the Clippers at PointsBet. Communications director Patrick Eichner said the Lakers' performance in the bubble, in addition to their tough path in the Western Conference, caused their odds to lengthen.

The Lakers still have attracted more bets and more money to win than any other team at multiple sportsbooks, and Caesars Sportsbook has them listed as the favorites at 2-1, due to heavy early betting support. But Caesars' bookmakers have acknowledged that the Lakers probably would be underdogs to the Bucks and Clippers in potential postseason matchups.

While the Lakers have taken a step back in oddsmakers' eyes, the Clippers have ascended. Sherman said he believes the Clippers would be favored over either the Bucks or Lakers in a playoff series.

"As [the Clippers] progress and get a healthy team, they have- -- on both sides of the court, offense and defense -- the most complete team, so from a power-rated standpoint, we have them rated the highest," Sherman said.

The Clippers are -650 favorites over the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round series, which tip offs Monday.

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