The Lakers lead the way at the Westgate sportsbook in money wagered and tickets written on a team to win the 2020 NBA title.
But Jeff Sherman, Westgate’s vice president of risk management and resident NBA expert, expects Los Angeles’ other team to win its first championship this season.
“I have the 76ers coming out of the East playing the Clippers (in the Finals) and I have the Clippers winning it all,” he said. “They have better depth than the Lakers do. And everyone knows how talented Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been offensively, but they’re two of the league’s best defensive players, too.
“Plus they have (former NBA All-Defensive first teamer) Patrick Beverley. They should be able to excel on both ends of the floor.”
The Clippers are 1-point favorites over the Lakers on Tuesday on opening night of the 2019-20 NBA season. The Clippers are the plus 350 favorites to win the title. The Lakers are the 4-1 second choice, followed by the Bucks (6-1), Sixers (8-1) and Rockets (8-1).
Anthony Davis joins LeBron James on the Lakers, but Sherman has some concerns about “the two cogs that drive the engine.”
“LeBron James is getting up there in years (at 34), he had an injury last year and we’ve already seen some of his skills erode,” he said. “As talented as Anthony Davis is, he’s been injury prone his entire career.”
Under Warriors, Lakers, Spurs
The Westgate also has some substantial liability on the Warriors, who are 12-1 to win the title after losing Kevin Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to a torn ACL.
“I’m not too high on them. I have them finishing eighth in the West,” Sherman said. “It’s going to be probably until March until they get Thompson back. That will put a heavy burden on Steph Curry. If he were to miss any time at all due to an injury, that team will have a tough go at it. They’re almost a fringe playoff team.”
Sherman’s best bets for season win totals are unders on the Warriors (47), Lakers (50) and Spurs (45½), though he placed his wagers at better numbers.
San Antonio made the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year last season.
“They’re pretty much the same team, but the Western Conference just got deeper and better,” he said. “It should be a lot of fun watching Western Conference teams play each other. There’s never going to be a night off when they play.”
Sherman expects the stars of LA’s teams to miss plenty of games for “load management,” which unfortunately doesn’t apply to the average American worker.
“I have the Lakers and Clippers finishing fourth and fifth (in the West) because they just want to stay healthy for the playoffs,” he said. “I think Denver, Utah and Houston will be better regular-season teams. They’re the ones that really put the emphasis on their (playoff) seeding.”
Beasts of East
The Eastern Conference shapes up as a two-team race between Milwaukee (57½) and Philadelphia (55), which own the league’s two highest win totals.
A Westgate bettor in June placed a $100,500 wager to win $2,010 on the Sixers to make the playoffs and a $10,000 bet to win $100 on the Bucks to make the playoffs. The bets are insane, but they also appear to be locks in a weak conference.
“I do expect Milwaukee to have the best record in the East because they’re built more for the regular season,” Sherman said. “The 76ers are built more for the playoffs.”
Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick but added Al Horford and Josh Richardson to its core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.
Like the Clippers, Sherman expects the Sixers to thrive on offense and defense.
“That’s why I like the 76ers to come out of the East,” he said. “They should have a solid defense, more so than Milwaukee.”
The Boston Celtics are the 8-1 third choice to win the Eastern Conference and 25-1 long shots to win the NBA title.
Mavericks, Pelicans rising
Westgate’s largest decision on a win total is the Mavericks over. It opened at 39½ and has been bet up to 42½. Kristaps Porzingis will make his debut with Dallas this season and team up with Luka Doncic, the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year.
Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is the minus 225 favorite to earn 2020 Rookie of the Year honors for New Orleans, which averaged a league-leading 127.8 points in the preseason.
The Pelicans play at Toronto on Tuesday and the total has shot up from 227½ to 232½.
“They were scoring a ton of points in the preseason and not playing defense,” Sherman said. “The Pelicans should be a fun team to watch with Zion and all the young guys they got from the Lakers.”