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NBA Betting: The 2020 East/West Divide

If you take a glance at how the NBA Playoffs were shaping up before the season paused, what would you notice? Most fans would point to the fact that things were looking fairly rosy in Los Angeles, with both the Lakers and the Clippers powering into the playoffs. The Bucks, too, boasting the best record in NBA will have caught the eye. Perhaps the Raptors looking for a repeat might have stuck out.

Sportsbooks notice these things too, of course. A quick glance at the NBA betting on the 888sport website shows these odds for the top contenders:

Lakers 5/2 (+250)
Bucks 5/2 (+250)
Clippers 33/10 (+330)
Rockets 13/1 (+1300)
Raptors 18/1 (+1800)
Celtics 20/1 (+2000)

Now, as you can see from the above, there is a trio of teams – the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers – heavily backed to finish up the season as champions. If we look at the combined probability of these odds, you are looking at somewhere in the region of an 80% chance that one of these teams succeeds. That’s unsurprising, of course. After all, these have been the best three teams of the season so far.

Tougher route to Finals for Western Conference teams

But, to the experienced bettor's eye, they will see something different. The betting markets have thrown up two teams from the Western Conference (Lakers, Clippers) and one from the Eastern Conference (Bucks) and given them almost equal weighting in the betting odds. The point is that (at least) one of those Western Conference teams is not going to make the NBA Finals. And, as a punter – when you base it solely on the statistical probability - you should be skeptical of choosing one of the two teams to succeed. Let's put it this way instead: The Lakers and Clippers should have higher odds for the NBA Championships due to the fact they are two great teams in the same conference.

We can also push out this same theory to the 4th ranked team in the betting odds, the Houston Rockets. There is quite the gap between the Rockets and 3rd ranked team, the Clippers. But it still stands that we have three Western Conference teams in the top four in the betting rankings. Again, that's not unusual if you think that those are three of the best four teams in NBA, and there are certainly some that would contend that to be untrue. But you have to remember that there is only one place in the NBA Finals for each conference.

Try to bet without any emotion

So, what does this tell us about betting on the NBA? Everything and nothing all at once. If you firmly believe Lebron James will guide the Lakers to their first triumph in a decade, then you should back him to do just that. But if you were looking at statistics and worried about the value of your wager, then it might be better to look at the Bucks, or perhaps even beyond to a big-price team like the Raptors. We aren't here to argue the merits of each franchise; simply to point out that betting does not always reflect the statistical probabilities of events occurring.

It's difficult for fans of any sport to bet without any emotion attached to their wager. Even if you are not a fan of a particular team, there is a difficulty in looking at probabilities in an unemotional manner. The bookmakers certainly do not always get the odds right for sports betting, and you should not forget that.