Who are the frontrunners in this year’s NBA playoffs?
Drew Goodsell | 17 August 2020
We look at the four teams who are favourites for glory in 2020
In what could be the most unpredictable NBA post-season in history, the 2020 NBA playoffs get underway on Monday, five months later than originally scheduled.
After eight rounds of seeding games, the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns were eliminated from play-off contention, with the Memphis Grizzlies missing out in the NBA play-in decider game.
The NBA bubble has it’s 16 playoff contenders settled, and ahead of the action, we look at who the favourites are to lift this year’s NBA title, as well as look at the dark horses left in the running.
For the second consecutive season, the league’s reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks side enter the playoff with the best record in the NBA.
They’re 5/2 favourites to win the 2020 title, after missing out on the NBA Finals through a 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals defeat to eventual NBA Champions Toronto Raptors.
Prior to their eight seeding games, the Bucks had lost just 12 games, but their form hasn’t quite been the same since they made the journey down the Walt Disney Resort.
Antetokounmpo has continued to lead by example for the Bucks, averaging just shy of 30 points a game through 63 appearances this season, while pulling in over 13 rebounds a night too.
Last year’s experience has only spurred on the Bucks to do even better this season, with the pain still reeling through the likes of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez.
With the number one seed in the Eastern conference, they face the more favourable side of the draw, with a potential rematch against last year’s nemesis the Raptors in the Conference Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers
It’s been a marked improvement on last year’s NBA season for LeBron James and LA Lakers, and they’ve elevated themselves to be 11/4 second favourites for a ring this season.
That’s the kind of improvement you’d expect from a team who added seven-time all-star Anthony Davis to their ranks pre-season, among with the addition of others to overhaul their squad.
They’d already secured the top spot in the Western Conference before their seeding games, meaning they could shift their focus on to recuperation and squad management throughout their eight games.
James and Davis got the rest they needed, while other rotational squad talents began to show their worth, with Kyle Kuzma hitting a game winning three in the dying embers over the 7ft 1in Denver Nuggets center Bol Bol.
They’re faced with a tough task in the first round of the playoffs, the first time they’ve reached this stage since 2013. They’re up against Portland Trail Blazers, who shone in the play-in tournament.
If the Lakers come through the Blazers test with flying colours, they could become the favourites to take the chip back to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Clippers
The battle of Los Angeles could go all the way to the wire, with the Clippers in amongst the battle for the Larry O’Brien trophy this year too.
After they managed to poach 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard away from Toronto Raptors, and partner him with Paul George on the West Coast, they’ve managed to create a formidable team under Doc Rivers.
The Clippers are out at 14/5 to become this season’s champions, and as seems to be the way with the Western Conference, they’ll get their playoff adventure started with a tricky match-up against Dallas Mavericks.
They’ll need to bring their A-game defensively if they’re to overcome the Mavericks in the first round and prolong their season.
Not only that, but Rivers and his Clippers side can’t solely rely on the talents of Leonard and George. We’ve seen before that teams can double up on the pair and make them ineffective.
Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell have been key when in situations like that, picking up the slack. Marcus Morris started his season with the New York Knicks, but could end the season with a championship ring after his trade in February. They’ve got the pieces, but can they put them all together to find glory?
After Toronto Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, few expected them to be able to fight for a second successive title.
But that’s exactly what’s happening. With very few additions, the Raptors have regrouped under Nick Nurse and are 9/1 to retain their title.
The rest of the core to the squad has stayed the same, with Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam going from strength to strength.
But the real fairytale story remains Fred VanVleet. Back in 2016, the point guard went undrafted in the NBA Draft, with the Raptors picking him up through the Summer League. But his drive, passion and determination have led him to become one of the most feared guards in the league.
It’s the defence that’s really stepped up in Toronto, with the highest defensive efficiency in the league at 101.8. Throughout the bubble too, they’ve forced the most opposition turnovers too, averaging 18.7 per night.
Last season showed they know how to defy the odds to win, can they shock the NBA world for a second successive NBA title?
Who are the dark horses?
Portland Trail Blazers started life in the NBA Bubble 3.5 games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but a record of 6-2 meant they leapfrogged Memphis Grizzlies into eighth and needed only one win in the play-in game.
They’ve got NBA Bubble MVP Damian Lillard on board, who’s playing some of the best basketball of his career, alongside CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and forgotten forward Carmelo Anthony.
They’re a 45/1 shot to win a chip. They’ve come close before, losing in last year’s Western Conference finals. But some pundits have said they’d have made the Finals last year with Anthony on board. With him this season, could they provide an underdog story for the ages?
Elsewhere, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have teamed up again, but this time for Houston Rockets. They’ve looked strong throughout, and at 12/1, could compete with the very best.
Miami Heat have looked strong throughout the season, despite losing Dwayne Wade through retirement. Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, teamed with the experience of former NBA champion Andre Iguodala could provide a threat. They’re 25/1 outsiders.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.