Buy or Hold: How You Should Bet NBA Title Contenders This Year
Mark Strotman | 6 mins
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There will be plenty of changing NBA title futures odds during the first month of the season. Some teams will start hot, others may struggle with a difficult schedule, while others will attempt to stay afloat while their stars recover from injury.
But sometimes the schedule plays into a team’s start more than their talent does.
A team that starts the season 3-5 against a difficult stretch of opponents on the road may not be any less of a contender than a team with a home-heavy start to the year that begins 7-1.
NBA Win-Loss Totals Can Help Predict Hot or Cold Starts
Using the chart below, which grades teams’ strength of schedule by month – based on oddsmakers' projected win-loss totals – we can analyze which teams may jump out to hot starts (meaning their odds will shorten) and which teams may struggle (meaning their odds may become better value).
NBA 2019-20 Strength of schedule by month for each team, using vegas over/under for opponent strength. Teams shown in order of hardest to easiest. pic.twitter.com/l6DCwon9e9— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) August 12, 2019
The LA Clippers have one of the most difficult schedules through the first three months of the season: Their opponents’ average expected win total – based on oddsmakers’ over-under total – is at or above .500 for October, November and December.
Conversely, the Warriors begin their regular season with their easiest stretch in those three months, with January being the first month in which their opponents have an expected win total greater than .500.
2020 NBA Title Odds to Buy
The biggest buy on the board. The Nuggets’ three easiest months are October, November and December, and in those months they’ll play 19 of 32 games at home. All three Clippers games, all three Warriors games and both Milwaukee games occur after December.
The Nuggets are going to spring out of the gates in the Western Conference, meaning you’ll want to jump on their +2300 odds now. They’re going to shrink in a hurry in November and early December.
Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson won’t be back before the All-Star break, but that’s OK for a Warriors team with three of its four easiest months of the schedule coming before February.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Warriors ranked at or near the top of the Western Conference when Thompson returns and the schedule becomes woefully easy. Their title odds may not look better at +1400 than they do right now.
It’s anyone’s guess on a year-to-year basis how the Celtics will do. What we do know for sure is they should rush out to a fast start. Three of Boston’s four easiest months opponent-wise come in November, December and January.
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See if they survive a tough October against the East’s top three teams (Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto) and then watch as they surge to the top of the East with a relatively easy pre-All-Star break schedule. They’re +2700 to win it all.
The Pacers will face an average schedule of expected .500 or better opponents just twice, and it comes in March and April. They’ve got a backloaded schedule, meaning they should be able to pile up wins early in the year before All-Star Victor Oladipo returns from his quad injury from a year ago.
It’s similar to the Warriors and Klay Thompson: Easy schedule early, get your All-Star back when the schedule picks up. They’re a dark horse at +5000, but it’s good value compared to what they’ll be in February and March.
2020 NBA Title Odds to Hold
This one is easy. The Rockets’ most difficult month of the season is November. Prior to Dec. 1, they play the Bucks, Warriors, Nuggets, Blazers and Clippers (twice).
Twelve of their first 19 games are against projected playoff opponents. The schedule weakens the rest of the way, as their average opponent strength decreases each month from January to April.
Wait until their gauntlet is done in November before pouncing on their title odds, which currently sit at +950.
Los Angeles Lakers
It takes a roster time to mesh with LeBron James. When he joined the Miami Heat in 2010, that team started the year 9-8. When he re-joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, that team started the year 5-7.
And when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers last season, that team started the year 4-6. James didn’t join a new team this offseason, but his Lakers supporting cast is entirely different with Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Jared Dudley, Dwight Howard and others.
December is also far and away their toughest month of the season opponent-wise, and they play nine of those games on the road. It’s a safe bet that they’ll get off to a slow start and could see their title odds lengthen from +440 around January when they do.
Speaking of teams with new faces, the Sixers will be implementing both Al Horford and Josh Richardson into their rotation. And though their easiest month is November, their schedule gets easier each month beginning in December all the way through April.
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Their sweet spot for jumping on title odds could be in February, when they face an average of expected below .500 teams the final three months of the season.
They’ll be racking up wins and momentum later in the season. They play 11 of their last 18 at home. Wait on their +850 odds.