One of the great things about the NBA’s championship picture is it begins to take firm shape about 20 games into the season. And with the 2016-17 crusade roughly one-third of the way done, we have a great idea of which teams are most likely to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end.
We’re here to take you through the five most promising candidates, ranked from the least likely winner to most likely victor. All championship odds come courtesy of TopBet.
5. San Antonio Spurs (+800)
The Spurs are yet again among the NBA’s best defensive teams overall, and their offense isn’t too shabby either. They rank in the top six of both points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions.
Still, for all their promise, the Spurs struggle against teams that are quicker and more athletic. Speed doesn’t matter as much as execution during the playoffs, but they’ll be more hard pressed than usual to match up with squads who can get up and down the floor in a hurry.
4. Houston Rockets (+3500)
The Houston Rockets are one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season. They are contending for one of the three-best records in the Western Conference and, following the return of perpetual perimeter pest Patrick Beverley, are partnering their outstanding offense with an average defense.
Sustaining even a mediocre defense is a huge deal when it’s accompanied by a hyper-efficient offense. The Rockets shoot a ton of threes every game—the most in NBA history, actually—and are going to average more points per possession than many of their opponents, almost by default.
James Harden has also been absolute beast after taking over as the Rockets’ full-time point guard. He is a nightly triple-double threat and leads the league in assists per game. The Rockets’ championship stock took a hit when they lost starting center Clint Capela for six weeks to a broken fibula, but so long as they have Harden firing cross-court bullets to wide-open three-point snipers, they’re going to be just fine.
3. Utah Jazz (+10000)
From a value perspective, the Utah Jazz are the best championship bets around. Sportsbooks are giving them long-shot odds, when they should actually be viewed as one of the favorites.
It’s all about staying healthy for the Jazz. George Hill, Boris Diaw, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum have all dealt with injuries of varying severity, which has thrown off Utah’s early-season mojo for long stretches at a time.
And yet, the Jazz still have the net rating of a team set to win 55 or more games. There is no overstating that.
This group cannot play fast or blow opponents out of the water with its offense, but it is efficient, stingy and deep. If the Jazz ever get to point where most of the roster is healthy, save for perhaps Burks, who remains sidelined indefinitely following ankle surgery, watch out. They’re going to be the real deal.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (+220)
Yes, it gets boring after a while listing the Cleveland Cavaliers as the Eastern Conference’s only true championship contender. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
As long as LeBron James is healthy, this team is a lock to make it back to the NBA Finals. And getting there is more than half of the battle.
The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors might provide some real resistance as the season wears on. But, once again, the Cavalier’s appeal comes back to LeBron. If he’s on the court, kicking it into postseason gear, there isn’t a team in the East that’s currently built to beat Cleveland four times in seven tries.
Golden State Warriors (-160)
It was always going to be the Golden State Warriors.
This is how it’s been since this past July, just after the Warriors added Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players ever, to a 73-win core that already included Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. They were dubbed the team to beat, and that hasn’t changed.
In many ways, that designation has only amplified. The Warriors have the best record in the NBA, and one of the best offenses of all time.
And they haven’t even scratched the surface of their potential together.
Watch closely, and you still see fundamental miscues, particularly on the defensive end. Those wrinkles will be ironed out in due time, which is great news for the already nearly perfect Warriors, but a terrible development for the rest of the league—not just this season, but for many years to come.