Philadelphia, PA – The All-Star break has come and gone and Miami is still the favorite to win the NBA championship. This should not come as a shock to anybody, but what might be is the way the Heat are favored to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Miami is the heavy 3-2 betting choice to win the crown, with Oklahoma City next at 17-4, followed by Chicago at 5-1. The Los Angeles Clippers are the fourth choice all the way back at 12-1. Based on those numbers, the oddsmakers are saying that it would be a tremendous upset if any team outside the Heat wins the NBA title.
Now 3-2 might seem a bit short in a 30-team league, but the likelihood of at least 23 of the other 29 clubs becoming the next NBA champion is slim. That is just how it is in this league compared to the other three major sports.
Only eight franchises have won the NBA title in the last 28 years and just one champion since 2006-07 has posted a regular-season winning percentage below .700. That was last year's Dallas Mavericks squad, which fell one game short at 57-25.
This season, the Heat leads the Eastern Conference with a 27-7 record and a .794 winning percentage. The Thunder are on top of the Western Conference with the exact same numbers.
Nevertheless, there is much more competition in the West as the aforementioned Clippers, along with San Antonio, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers could all take down Oklahoma City. Furthermore, the mystique of Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade far outweigh that of the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
In the East, there is only one team - Chicago - that might give Miami trouble. However, the Heat has the Bulls' number, winning five of the last six meetings, including the lone match-up this season.
Miami is the same price at the All-Star break as the Lakers were three years ago when they won the title in five games over Orlando. The year before that, Boston was the even-money choice at the midway point and wound up knocking off Los Angeles in six games in the NBA Finals.
That season, the Celtics' odds jumped to 3-2 at the end of the regular season despite the fact the club went 62-20 while winning eight of its last 10 games. Furthermore, Boston's odds were even higher (8-5) at the start of the NBA Finals.
That won't be the case for Miami this season as almost everyone expects it to reach the championship round and knock off whichever team comes out of the West.
Spending $200 to win $300 might not sound like a wise play, but if you think the Heat will win the title, it is best to get 3-2 right now rather than waiting when the odds, as well as the return on investment, will be lower.
THE TOP VALUE PLAYS
For those folks who flat out refuse to bet on a favorite regardless of the price, I would advise them to place their money on the Lakers and Spurs - both at 14-1.
For all the troubles Los Angeles has had in the first half of the season, coach Mike Brown's club is still just 1.5 games behind the Clippers for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
Moreover, the chance of landing Dwight Howard is still extremely viable and the combination of Kobe Bryant and Howard is better than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That should be enough to get the Lakers home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and from there, anything can happen. Don't forget, if Los Angeles gets Howard, you can kiss those 14-1 odds goodbye. Come the last month of the regular season, the Lakers could very well be 5-1 to win it all.
The other value play is San Antonio. The Spurs have won 12 of their last 13 games, going 10-2-1 against-the-spread in the process. Surprisingly, 10 of those 13 contests were played on the road, an incredible turnaround since San Antonio was 2-8 straight-up (and 3-7 ATS) in its first 10 games away from home this season.
The Spurs also have a pretty good record against the current Western Conference leader. They have won seven of the last eight meetings versus Oklahoma City, so if the two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs will certainly have the mental edge knowing they can beat the Thunder.