With NBA Season Ready To Roundball Rock, Are Underdogs The Best Bet?

Written By Grant Lucas on July 23, 2020 - Last Updated on June 8, 2022
In less than a week, the NBA season will resume.

Finally. The NBA countdown has reached single-digit days.

Within the week, basketball will resume, with 22 teams converging on the bubble in OrlandoFlorida.

This means that within the week, the legal sports betting world will enjoy a major boost.

Finally, sports are back. Finally, we can back our teams. And finally, perhaps, we can celebrate the underdogs.

Lakers, Bucks (and vice versa) lead NBA futures

With good reason, three teams have been projected as the 2020 NBA champion: the Los Angeles LakersMilwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.

Recent history sides with the favorites. Over the past 12 years, the team entering the postseason as the favorite reached the NBA Finals 10 times. Of that group, seven went on to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Here’s a quick look at the odds to win the title for each team in Orlando:

DraftKings SportsbookFanDuel Sportsbook
Los Angeles Lakers +240Milwaukee Bucks +240
Milwaukee Bucks +250Los Angeles Lakers +260
Los Angeles Clippers +333Los Angeles Clippers +320
Houston Rockets +1200Houston Rockets +1700
Boston Celtics +1700Boston Celtics +1800
Toronto Raptors +2200Toronto Raptors +2000
Philadelphia 76ers +2300Philadelphia 76ers +2500
Denver Nuggets +2500Denver Nuggets +2700
Miami Heat +3000Miami Heat +3000
Utah Jazz +3300Utah Jazz +3300
Dallas Mavericks +4000Dallas Mavericks +3800
Indiana Pacers +10000Indiana Pacers +10000
Oklahoma City Thunder +10000Oklahoma City Thunder +10000
New Orleans Pelicans +12000New Orleans Pelicans +12000
Brooklyn Nets +15000Brooklyn Nets +16000
Portland Trail Blazers +15000Portland Trail Blazers +16000
Memphis Grizzlies +20000Memphis Grizzlies +21000
Orlando Magic +30000San Antonio Spurs +21000
Washington Wizards +30000Orlando Magic +25000
Phoenix Suns +50000Phoenix Suns +25000
Sacramento Kings +50000Sacramento Kings +25000
San Antonio Spurs +50000Washington Wizards +25000

Which underdog teams are worth looking at?

Obviously, the odds on the Lakers, Bucks and Clippers will attract the majority of wagers.

But what about bettors looking for bigger payouts? Perhaps looking for a reason to back an underdog?

The Toronto Raptors stand as the defending NBA champions but boast little star power. But as the Detroit Pistons proved in 2004, teams don’t necessarily need all-NBA talent to win the title.

Toronto sits in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 46-18 record. The Raps boast five players averaging at least 16 points per game, including Pascal Siakam (23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Kyle Lowry (19.7 points, 7.7 assists). Plus, Toronto’s defense has allowed the fewest points per game this season and the second-lowest field goal percentage.

Or maybe take a look at the Dallas Mavericks. This team will surely be a tough out with rising star Luka Doncic at the helm and especially if Kristaps Porzingis can play well consistently.

At 40-27 and seventh in the Western Conference, Dallas ranks third in the league in scoring and has committed the third-fewest turnovers per game. With Doncic averaging 28.7 points9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists, the Mavericks may be primed for a run.

The popular underdog pick appears to be the Portland Trail Blazers, though, even as Portland prepares to resume play 3.5 games back of the No. 8 seed in the West.

But the Blazers are benefiting from Damian Lillard averaging a career-high 28.9 pointsCJ McCollum putting up 22.5 and Hassan Whiteside enjoying a career resurgence with 16.3 points14.2 boards and 3.1 blocks.

To boot, Portland big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins returned to scrimmage action after battling injuries all year. A year after getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Blazers could be well equipped to make history.

Cinderella stories have happened before

Of course they have. They’re bound to in 74 years of NBA history.

Take the Washington Bullets, for example, who won the league title in 1978 despite a mediocre 44-38 record in the regular season. Washington’s .537 win percentage still stands as the lowest among NBA champions.

And the New York Knicks, who made a run to the Finals in the strike-shortened 1998-1999 season as the No. 8 seed in the East — still the only team lower than a six-seed to accomplish such a feat.

There’s another honorable mention for the aforementioned Pistons, who took down the Lakers in 2004. Detroit entered the postseason at +700 to win it all, which is the fourth-longest odds among champions.

Really, though, three champions stand out as the most improbable of Cinderella stories.

1994-95 Houston Rockets

Granted, it’s strange to have a defending champion on this list. Regardless, the second title didn’t come easy for Houston.

The Rockets loaded up midseason by acquiring former college teammate of Hakeem Olajuwon and eventual hall-of-famer Clyde Drexler from the Trail Blazers. Even so, Houston was average at best. The Rockets went 18-18 after the All-Star break, finishing as the sixth seed in the West and living in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category.

Houston turned it on in the playoffs, though. With Olajuwon averaging 33 points10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while shooting 53.1%, the Rockets became the first team to defeat four opponents with 50 or more wins (only the Lakers have done the same, in 2001).

With a sweep of the Orlando Magic in the Finals, Houston became the lowest-seeded team to win the title. The team owns the third-lowest win percentage among league champions. And Houston’s +1800 line to win it all heading into the playoffs is tied for the longest odds to do so.

Tied with…

2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

Remember the “not one, not two, not three” speech LeBron gave in 2010? After he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami? Yeah, that became more infamous because of the Mavericks.

Despite coming out of the gates strong with a 24-7 record, the Mavericks limped to the finish line with a 13-9 record — and only because they won the final four games of the regular season.

Still, Dallas went into the postseason as the No. 3 seed. And the Mavs lumbered through the bracket, taking down Portland in six games, the Lakers in four and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five.

Game 2 of the Finals was the turning point, it seemed. Dallas’ 15-point comeback remains the largest in Finals history. Despite dropping Game 3, Dallas took the next three games to claim the championship and slay the Big Three.

2018-19 Toronto Raptors

We nearly hit the Texas trifecta within this list. But we’ll count it anyway since this section involves Kawhi Leonard, who was traded from the San Antonio Spurs before the season began.

While the 1995 Rockets and 2011 Mavericks have the longest pre-postseason odds to win the title, last season’s Raptors owned the third longest at +975.

Toronto’s path to the title seemed much more tumultuous than the others in this section. Consider Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, when Leonard’s buzzer-beating shot lingered on the rim for an impossibly long time before falling through to eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then there was the next round, when the Bucks went up 2-0 with ease. This included a 22-point thrashing of Toronto in the second game.

Yet Toronto won four straight after that, then dismantled the two-time defending champion (and injury-plagued) Golden State Warriors in six games to win the championship and become the first team to bring the trophy to Canada.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf throughout his career.

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