Not once in the NBA’s near-75-year existence has a world champion failed to be crowned at season’s end; never, not a single time.
That streak was tested on two separate occasions — during the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons — thanks to lockouts. Both those years ended in shortened playing seasons, but an NBA champion was decided regardless.
The storied streak once again hangs in the balance, but perhaps in more jeopardy than ever before. What separates the current COVID-19-fueled playing stoppage and the lockouts of years past is when they struck. The latter examples took place at the very start of the regular season.
Today’s stoppage happened dangerously close to postseason time. The NBA playoffs were originally slated to start only weeks from today on April 18 — not far off from the March 13 announcement that sent shockwaves across the world.
Still, there remains a glimmer of hope that the NBA will return in some capacity over the next few months to decide a much-needed champion. Whether that’s through a shortened playoffs or a tournament format is anyone’s guess, but the NBA brass is planning to end the season in one form or another.
Sportsbooks are taking a similar approach. Betting odds remain available for the future NBA Finals winner — it’s actually one of few wagering options still open.
We glanced through many of the top online sportsbooks and by and large, the Lakers remain the title favorites. Odds vary from site to site, but Los Angeles’ betting line hovers around +200 to win it all in the major online sportsbooks. For the non-bettors out there, that means a $100 wager on the Lake Show would net you $200 (plus you’re original $100 back) if Los Angeles does indeed capture its 17th championship in franchise history this season.
These same sportsbooks are pegging in-town rival, Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks as the biggest threats to the Lakers’ championship bid. The NBA betting odds for the Bucks are around +230, while the Clippers are about +275. No other team has odds lower than +1200 — meaning, it’s a three-team title race in the eyes of professional odds-makers.
Let’s assume (and say our deepest prayers) that the NBA season does resume in 2020. Do the effects of the COVID-19 postponement help or hurt the Laker’s title chances more?
If we’re being completely honest, Los Angeles may stand to benefit more from this unprecedented ordeal than any other team across the association. Why? Because of rest, of course!
It’s no secret that much of the Lakers’ core aren’t exactly spring chickens. Matter of fact, five of its top-10 scorers (Danny Green, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Javale McGee, and Rajon Rondo) are past the age of 30. All in all, the Lakers have the second-oldest roster in the NBA this year.
A long 82-game schedule, long road trips, back-to-back playing nights wear down all NBA players, but especially those with a lot of mileage like these Laker veterans. But with this extended layoff — which at this rate, promises to be close to two months long (and that might be a conservative estimate) — those wear-and-tear concerns don’t quite exist with the Lakers anymore.
Let’s look at the Lakers’ biggest foes through the same COVID-19 lens, starting with the rival Clippers. Rest is less of a concern for them since they’re significantly younger up and down the roster. Kawhi Leonard, famous for his practice of “load management,” gets it involuntarily this year thanks to COVID-19 — and without drawing the ire of fans for sitting out big-stakes games, no less.
So this situation helps the in-town foes right? Not exactly. Let us not forget that this Clipper team hasn’t exactly gelled yet, despite its 44-win mark which ranks fourth-best in the league. Paul George has missed 22 games this year, robbing the team a chance to find itself with both he and Kawhi on the court together.
Sure, this layoff should nurse George back to 100 percent for the first time all season. Nonetheless, what this Clippers team needs more than anything is practice and game reps with both George and Kawhi on the court together — none of which it’s presently getting. Playoff basketball is hardly a place where teams can suddenly gel and become cohesive, which spells trouble for the Clippers.
That leaves us with Milwaukee, the NBA’s winningest team with a 53-12 mark. Rest definitely helps their cause, too. Six of the Bucks’ top 10 scorers (Eric Bledsoe, Kyle Korver, George Hill, Brook and Robin Lopez, and Wesley Mathews) are 30 years or older, which is more than the Lakers.
Given that, plus an Eastern Conference void of serious championship contenders, sans Toronto, and the Bucks should have a clear path to the NBA Finals. If the Lakers do indeed meet them there, it would be a dream matchup of sorts.
Of course, it would pit Giannis Antetokounmpo versus LeBron for all the marbles. MVP frontrunner versus MVP frontrunner. The King vs. the heir apparent. Oh, boy!
If it was up to us — which may or may not be a (slightly) biased take — we’d take that Los Angeles championship bet we mentioned before. We preface that by saying, in times like this, it’s not advisable to stake your life savings on the Lake Show. No, no, save that in case of emergency.
But if you have a dollar to spare and patience to bear, we believe the LeBron-led Lakers can win you some money betting. It’s already been an adversity-filled 2020 for these Lakers — and it’s only been three months — but if there’s a team that can overcome ALL of this, it’s Los Angeles.