October 1, 2021

NBA Best Bets: 2021-2022 Conference Finals and Finals Championship Futures

Like many Americans, I am too caught up in the fact that football season is just getting started and that the baseball playoffs start next week to remember that the NBA is on the horizon.

We still have to get through the NBA preseason, of which no one will be watching, until we get some real basketball. However, there are still some bets to be made. Today, we will look at the best futures for conference and finals champions.

*All lines are courtesy of the FanDuel Sportsbook. 

Eastern Confrence Champion

The Brooklyn Nets probably would have won the Eastern Conference, and the NBA championship, if both Kyrie Irving and James Harden were able to stay healthy down the stretch. They still almost beat the eventual NBA Champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the Eastern Conference Finals. If Kevin Durant had a one-size smaller shoe on, the Bucks don't even make the NBA Finals. 

No true threat in the Eastern Conference considerably improved this offseason. Arguably the biggest addition was the Heat adding Kyle Lowry to team up with Jimmy Butler in South Beach. 

With no real grasp at what the 76ers roster will look like after they find a trade partner for Ben Simmons, and all the questions surrounding the Celtics, this conference is going to come down to the Nets and the Bucks. The Hawks, Knicks, Pacers, and Hornets just do not have the firepower to keep up with the big dogs, even though the Hawks went on a run to the ECF last season.

It will be tough for Giannis Antetokounmpo to repeat his incredible run from last season, but the two-time MVP will welcome back almost his entire supporting cast from last season.

With the odds that the Bucks are getting, there is some incredible value for the Bucks to repeat in the East.

Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks (+360)

Western Conference Champion

The Western Conference is much more balanced and competitive.

The Lakers were looking like the favorite all season until injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis saw the defending champions fall all the way to the seventh seed. They took on the Suns, and for the first time in his career, LeBron was sent home in the first round of the playoffs as the Suns went on to represent the West in the finals.

The Lakers responded this offseason with a flurry of moves. It all started on draft night when they agreed to acquire Russell Westbrook from the Wizards to give them a third superstar. The Lakeshow also added role players in Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, Dwight Howard, and Kendrick Nunn.

The Lakers got better, and two big threats will be without their star players. The Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray as he is still recovering from a torn ACL, and the Clippers will be waiting for Kawhi Leonard's return from the same injury. The problem for the Clippers is that he suffered his injury in the playoffs, so he could miss the entire campaign.

On paper, the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks should be in the mix, but they are too thin outside of their superstars. The West will come down to the Jazz and the Lakers. I will take James in any series, at any time. No disrespect to the Jazz, who were the No. 1 seed last year, but they just do not have enough to slow down the Lakers. 

Prediction: Los Angles Lakers (+195)

NBA Finals

Obviously, I have the Lakers and the Bucks in the 2022 NBA Finals. There are still some great value picks out there that we can discuss, but let's chat about my projected matchup.

The Greek Freak will be the best player on the court in about 90% of games he will play in. This series would be no different, but the Bucks depth does not come close to what the Lakers have. Depth is such an important part of any championship team and the Lakers have the best in the league. With P.J. Tucker leaving Milwaukee for Miami in the offseason, that is one fewer defender on the Bucks. Who is going to stop James, Davis, and Westbrook?

The Bucks might not have enough to slow that down. If they do get through the East, they will have to go up against the Nets, who are in a similar situation as the Lakers. Having to beat a team with three superstars is tough. Having to do it twice in one playoff run is almost impossible.

My instinct is to take the Lakers in five, but for the sake of entertainment, let's say this one goes seven games.

Prediction: Los Angles Lakers (+450)

Value Picks

Milwaukee Bucks (+800)

If the Bucks are good enough to make it to the finals, Milwaukee can win the finals. Hell, they won the finals last season.

The Bucks did a nice job adding young talent to an already young and talented roster. Grayson Allen and Rodney Hood have both proven to be good wings off the bench who are high-risk, low-reward. With practically the same exact roster returning, the Bucks are in an excellent position to repeat as NBA champions.

Denver Nuggets (+2500)

The Nuggets are always so close, and last year it was the same song and dance.

Even though Nikola Jokic took home the MVP award after putting up a stat line of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists, they were without Jamal Murray for the second half of the season, and for all of the playoffs with a torn ACL. After getting swept by the Suns in the conference finals, it was clear that the Nuggets missed Murray's presence.

Everything will depend on how they fare while Murray is still rehabbing. With Jokic and the emerging Michael Porter Jr., they will not be in danger of missing the playoffs. At this point, Denver checks all of the boxes. Denver is a great two-way team with playoff experience and the reigning NBA MVP. 

Brooklyn Nets (+210)

I did not want to put Brooklyn because they are the favorite, but since they have not been mentioned much in this article, I figured I would remind everyone that I am aware of how good they are.

With Durant, Irving, and Harden all coming back healthy, and a supporting cast that includes Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Millsap, the Nets are of course a contender for both the East and for the Finals. The +210 value is just not juicy enough for me to personally take. 

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