The start of the 2019-20 NBA regular season is almost here!
By now you've heard about how open the field is to win the NBA title and how many teams believe they have a shot to raise the Larry O'Brien trophy. But how likely is it that your favourite team actually wins the championship?
In an NBA Finals run, a lot of things have to fall in your favour. It takes breakout performances from stars, dark horse players stepping up and, of course, a little bit of luck.
What will it take for each of the projected top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference to reach the NBA Finals in pursuit of a championship?
All odds to win NBA Finals are from the Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Odds to win NBA Finals: +600
This one is a little more self-explanatory than the rest.
The Bucks are the favourite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals this season after reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo led them to 60 wins last season.
You can make the case for Milwaukee to reach the Finals rather easily. Antetokounmpo achieves his other 40%, becoming the best player in the world while the rest of the league cowers in fear as he's crowned MVP for the second consecutive season. He somehow becomes more dominant than last season, using his go-go gadget arms to dunk the ball every time he steps inside the paint (again). He occasionally flashes his offseason's hard work, developing a respectable 3-point jumpshot that goes in 35% of the time, just enough to make the defence respect it.
Additionally, Khris Middleton replicates last season's production on his way to a second All-Star nod, Brook "Splash Mountain" Lopez continues to be one of the best 3-and-D role players in the league as a centre and Eric Bledsoe plays like regular season Eric Bledsoe in the playoffs as the Bucks cruise through to the Eastern Conference Finals.
They take a 2-0 series lead after winning two home games and with last year's collapse still fresh on their memory, they don't play with their food this time around as they reach their first NBA Finals since 1974.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Odds to win NBA Finals: +800
The 76ers are the Bucks' biggest competition in what is seen to be a two-team race to win the East heading into the 2019-20 season. But what would it take to put them over the edge?
Well, as I'm sure you've heard, Ben Simmons is a 3-point shooter now after all of the summer Instagram workout videos came to fruition in a "real" game.
OK, calling him a 3-point shooter is hyperbole, but it's an encouraging sign for a player whose already found a way to average nearly 17 points per game without attempting shots outside of the paint.
Joel Embiid and Al Horford click on both ends of the floor, forming an actual brick wall down low on defence while working in opposite spots of the floor on offence as Embiid imposes his will in the paint with Horford steps out to the perimeter for pick-and-pops.
Tobias Harris comes into his role as the team's third star he's being paid to be on his way to the first All-Star bid of his career and continues to play that way through the postseason. Josh Richardson takes Jimmy Butler's role as their premier perimeter defender and makes a living off of open 3s, converting nearly 40% of his attempts giving the 76ers the consistent shooter they desperately need.
Philly finally gets past the dreaded Conference Semifinals where they've been eliminated two seasons in a row, carrying that momentum through the Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since Allen Iverson brought them there in 2001.
3. Boston Celtics
Odds to win NBA Finals: +2500
Calling the Celtics' 2018-19 season a disappointment would be generous. There's plenty of other adjectives and phrases that come to mind that can't be typed out here.
But the past is the past, and this team has learned from its chemistry issues and mistakes from last year and is ready to play together in pursuit of Banner 18. "Ubuntu," as the 2008 NBA champion Celtics would say.
Kemba Walker is a kid on Christmas morning and can't believe all the shiny new toys he gets to play with. Don't worry, he's still a prolific scorer, he's just excited about the talent around him and has the season of his career as a playmaker. After being talked down on in his first season following a major injury, Gordon Hayward has his bounce back and looks a lot like the All-Star who averaged 21.9 points per game with the Utah Jazz.
The Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown duo continues to improve - Tatum cuts out the long twos and starts playing "Moreyball" while Brown progresses as a scorer and defender, flirting with the league's Most Improved Player award. Marcus Smart puts together another First Team All-Defence campaign and generates a little bit of buzz to be the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996.
Frontcourt depth? That becomes less of a problem when Robert Williams shows flashes as a DeAndre Jordan/Clint Capela-lite, which allows Enes Kanter to come off the bench.
Size is an issue. Depth might be an issue, too. But the talent is there and these scenarios aren't that crazy, right?
4. Indiana Pacers
Odds to win NBA Finals: +5000
Another year, another season the Pacers are being counted out early.
Well, think again.
Sure, Victor Oladipo isn't expected to return from his quad injury until "December or January," but Indiana has brought in plenty of guys that can hold it down in the meantime. Let's say the newcomers - Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb - mesh instantly.
Brogdon proves he's the guard Milwaukee should have kept, showing he really is the perfect NBA point guard who shoots efficiently from all areas of the court while acting like a robot who doesn't have a turnover function. Warren takes over the Bojan Bogdanovic role as the team's leading scorer while Oladipo is out and Lamb plays like he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate if he were serving as Oladipo's backup like he usually would.
Myles Turner finally takes the leap to become one of the Eastern Conference's best bigs, as he's been projected to be since he entered the league. He leads the NBA in blocks per game again and shoots even more efficiently from 3-point land as Domantas Sabonis punishes opponents in the paint and on the glass, with the duo becoming the NBA's version of thunder and lightning.
They're a 3-seed midway through the season and Oladipo comes back at full strength. He's back to his All-Star, All-NBA form and gives the Pacers the exact star power needed to make a deep playoff push.
They play fundamentally sound, team basketball as they make a 2013 "Grit and Grind" Memphis Grizzlies-style run through the Eastern Conference playoffs, out-defending and out-hustling the "favourites" on their way to their first Finals appearance since 2000.
5. Toronto Raptors
Odds to win NBA Finals: +10,000
With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green gone, nobody is expecting the Raptors to defend their title this season.
First-time All-Star Pascal Siakam has other plans.
The 2019 Most Improved Player improves again. He emerges as a legitimate go-to guy and surpasses all of his career-high averages from last season, posting something like 23 points, eight rebounds and just under five assists per game.
Kyle Lowry makes his sixth consecutive All-Star Game averaging nearly 20 points per game while flirting with a top-five spot in the league for assists per game. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol don't age one bit - they return in the exact same form as the frontcourt duo that played a massive role in the Raptors' 2019 title run.
Fred VanVleet's here as well, reminding us on a nightly basis why he earned that one Finals MVP vote you've read so much about this offseason.
OG Anunoby's progression is back on track with the hype surrounding the rookie guarding LeBron James in the playoffs. Norman Powell makes us say "Danny Green who?"
The team's familiarity helps Toronto jump out to a roaring pace while all the other teams in the conference try and figure out who plays where and who plays well together.
Who knows, maybe the projected sellers become buyers at the trade deadline - we know Masai Ujiri isn't afraid to make a big move if he feels the result could be a title.
The playoffs roll around and the Raptors are the last team you want to face. They have experience. They now have championship moxie. And somehow, they continue to find ways to win games with different role players stepping up around their All-Star duo of Siakam and Lowry night-in and night-out.
Even with Kawhi Leonard, if I told you at this time last year that Toronto was going to win it all, you would have laughed at that too, right?
6. Miami Heat
Odds to win NBA Finals: +10,000
We saw what Jimmy Butler was capable of doing as a go-to guy in the playoffs for the 76ers last season. Now, he does that for a whole season in his first year in Miami.
He's averaging a career-high 24 points to go with a career-high six assists per game as a pick-and-roll maestro and defensive stopper for the Heat. He's not just back to being an All-Star, he's showing why he's one of the best players in the league, all while giving Sixers fans nightmares over why they traded him.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has his team defending at the highest level in the league, suffocating opponents on that end of the floor. Bam Adebayo is running away with the season's Most Improved Player award in his first season as a full-time starting centre, averaging a double-double with ease with north of 1.5 steals and blocks per game.
Justise Winslow channels his inner Draymond Green and becomes an all-purpose point forward. Speaking of the Warriors, a new pair of Splash Brothers emerge in South Beach. They're slightly taller than the duo in the Bay: Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard stretch and space the floor, burying 3-pointers in pick-and-pops with Butler, Winslow and Goran Dragic.
Bucket-getting, sharpshooter Tyler Herro makes a legitimate run at Zion Williamson for Rookie of the Year as he and Dion Waiters give Miami the extra dosage of offence they need to pair with their top-tier defence.
After all, defence wins championships.
7. Brooklyn Nets
Odds to win NBA Finals: +4000
With newly acquired Kevin Durant out for the season rehabbing his torn Achilles from the 2019 NBA Finals, many are counting this as a throwaway season in Brooklyn.
Kyrie Irving won't treat it like a throwaway season though.
He heard all the critics during a disasterous season in Boston. He heard all the critics when he struggled in the playoffs. He heard what everyone has been saying about him all offseason, and it's all fuel to the fire for a massive Year 1 in Brooklyn.
Irving explodes onto the scene with the Nets. He's a top-five scorer in the league while carrying over the playmaking skills he developed last season with the Celtics. He's a dark horse MVP candidate and has the Nets looking better than D'Angelo Russell did last year.
Caris LeVert proves he's worth the contract extension he was given this offseason, emerging as the potential third star to the future Irving-Durant duo. Spencer Dinwiddie looks like he might steal Sixth Man of the Year right out of Lou Williams' hands. Joe Harris nearly knocks down half of his 3-point attempts again. DeAndre Jordan shows flashes of the player who once was an All-Defensive selection and led the league in rebounds in back-to-back seasons. Jarrett Allen's progression continues, learning a thing or two from the veteran centre whose skillset is eerily similar to his.
They get the Celtics in the first round and Irving stuns his former team while boo's echo the TD Garden. This team had the 76ers scared for a little bit in the playoffs last season and that team has a knack for losing in the Conference Semifinals. If you're hot enough to knock off two top seeds, who says you can't do it a third time to reach the Finals?
8. Orlando Magic
Odds to win NBA Finals: +20,000
Let's use our imagination here.
Nikola Vucevic repeats his first-time All-Star performance from last season, posting around 20 points and 12 rebounds again this season. Except this time he keeps that same energy in the playoffs.
Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Markelle Fultz are having a three-way rock fight for the league's Most Improved Player award.
Isaac finds his groove on offence, continues to show progress as an all-around defender and his name starts entering the "who would you rather have for the next five seasons" conversation with other players from that 2017 draft class like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, De'Aaron Fox and Lauri Markkanen.
Gordon finally realizes he has the tools to be Blake Griffin 2.0 and starts playing that way. Fultz shocks the basketball world and makes a crazy comeback, showing he does have the potential to live up to the No. 1 overall pick and could be Orlando's point guard of the future.
Everything goes exactly the way it has to and Orlando makes what would be the most improbable run in NBA history, returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2009.
That was fun, wasn't it?
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