Picking against the Warriors or Cavs to win the NBA Finals is a bit risky, but wagering one will not play for the title may be a good bet. The Raptors and Clippers are seeing the biggest adjustments on the futures oddsboard to win the East and West, and still offer value headed into the New Year.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are overwhelming favorites to clash for a third straight NBA title. Steph Curry and company are currently -225 favorites at many online sportsbooks to win the Western Conference, while LeBron James and crew are listed at -280 odds to take the East.
A third straight matchup in the Finals would be a league first. Even the dominant Boston Celtics of the 1960s, which played for the championship 10 years straight at one point (1957-1966), never squared off against the same opponent three seasons in a row. With this in mind, value exists in NBA Conference futures, and the Raptors and Clippers are taking most of the action.
Toronto is the most likely candidate to topple the Cavs in the East, losing to King James 4-2 in last year's Conference Finals. The Atlantic Division winners opened as third choice behind the new-look Celtics (+625) this summer at +1500 odds. By Dec. 1, the Raptors had swooped into second at +1050 odds. The number sits at +800 currently.
Led by MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors currently holds the second-best record in the East at 18-8; Cleveland's 18-6 mark is tops. Toronto, though, owns a better points differential than the reigning champions for the first time since a blistering 24-8 start in 2014. The Raptors average margin of victory is 8.4 points per game, while the Cavs own a 7.6 difference.
The Clippers are seeing big adjustments in future odds to win the West. Like Toronto, they opened as third betting choice behind the Warriors (-245) and Spurs (+515) in August at +2000 odds. By Thanksgiving, sportsbooks adjusted the number by more than half (+675) after L.A. went 14-2 to open the season. The Clip sit at +725 odds currently.
Like Toronto, head coach Doc Rivers' squad is winning in style. The team owns the NBA's second best points differential at 8.6 per game; Golden State's 11.7 leads the league. For what it's worth, not including the 2011-12 strike-shortened season, 18 of the last 20 conference champions ranked second or better in average scoring margin in their respective league at the start of the New Year.
Other movers and shakers up the futures board include the Hornets. Charlotte opened at +10000 odds on Aug. 1 to win the East, slipping all the way to +3750 nearly 20 games into the season. The Michael Jordan-owned team, at 14-13, holds a slim half-game lead over the Hawks in the wide-open Southeast division.
The Jazz, meanwhile, are seeing plenty of adjustment following an injury-ravaged 17-10 start. They sit at +3500 on the board, up from a +5500 opener in the offseason. Utah has rolled out its preferred starting five (Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood and George Hill) in only one game all season.