Bettors continue to load up on the Los Angeles Lakers to repeat as NBA champions.
The Lakers are the clear favorite, money and ticket leader at Las Vegas sportsbooks to win the 2021 title.
But that doesn’t mean the defending champs are an automatic bet to cover the spread in Tuesday’s 2020-21 season opener against the L.A. Clippers.
Professional sports bettor Erin Rynning and Westgate vice president of risk Jeff Sherman each like the Clippers (+2½) over the Lakers.
“All signs point to a Lakers win on opening night as they look like an even stronger version from last season, while already controlling the Clippers in the preseason,” said Rynning (@ersports1). “Well, not so fast as the Clippers are clearly pointing to the start of the regular season to erase the awful taste of exiting the playoffs on a whimper to the Denver Nuggets. Take the Clippers.”
Sherman also expects the Clippers to be more motivated than the Lakers after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals in September.
“I like to go against the champions when they get their rings,” he said. “It’s just another distraction, a celebration of last year, and they just might lose a little focus on the game at hand.”
Another factor to consider is that the Lakers won’t have the support of the home crowd at Staples Center.
“It’s just like the bubble now. There’s no crowd at all,” Sherman said. “It’s a neutral court.”
The Westgate lowered the Lakers’ title odds to +250 on Friday after they opened at +350. L.A. is the +240 favorite at William Hill, where more than 60 percent of the money in the futures pool is on the Lakers.
“Even at low odds, the liability keeps growing. The support keeps coming in on them,” Sherman said. “They’re improved so they’re the definite starting point. That’s why you see a wide separation between their odds and other contenders.”
Bucks (+225) to win East
The Milwaukee Bucks are the 6-1 second choice to win the NBA title, followed by the Brooklyn Nets and Clippers at 7-1 and the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers at 16-1.
Rynning, who correctly picked the Heat in the Review-Journal to win the Eastern Conference last season, likes the Bucks to reach the 2021 NBA Finals.
“As the cream most always rises to the crop in the NBA, the futures market can be limited as a price play,” he said. “I expect the Lakers to battle the Bucks for the NBA title this season as the Bucks should be looked at to win the East at odds of +250 or greater.
“The Nets and Sixers still need a year of seasoning, while the Celtics and Raptors are down a notch.”
Nets Under 45½ wins
A Westgate bettor placed a $20,000 wager to win $280,000 on Brooklyn to win the 2021 NBA title at 14-1 behind Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets are 6½-point favorites over the Warriors in the opener of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Rynning recommends a play on Brooklyn to go under its win total of 45½ in the 72-game schedule.
“The Nets will feature a completely revamped team with the addition of Kevin Durant and new coach Steve Nash,” he said. “However, expect growing pains during the regular season as the Nets search for chemistry, health and an identity.”
The Lakers (+125) and Clippers (+350) are the only teams in single digits to win the West. But the East is more of a tossup with five teams in single digits: Milwaukee (+225), Brooklyn (+275), Miami (+650), Boston (+650) and Philadelphia (+650).
“The East is going to be fun,” Sherman said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those five teams came out of it.”
Hawks (-130) to make playoffs
The NBA will hold a play-in tournament including teams with the seventh through 10th-highest win percentages to determine the seventh and eighth playoff seeds in each conference.
Rynning recommends a play on Atlanta to make the postseason.
“The Atlanta Hawks just might be the most improved team in the NBA,” he said. “Their young core will take a healthy step forward, while key additions Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovich spring an additional step forward.
“The Hawks will be playing their best basketball of the season late, while the play-in competition for the final playoff spots suit this team well.”