3 reasons why NBA In-Season Tournament favorites aren’t equally favored for the NBA Finals

3 reasons why NBA In-Season Tournament favorites aren’t equally favored for the NBA Finals


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I don’t mean to be a party-pooper, but schedule releases just don’t do it for me — not the much overhyped NFL schedule release and definitely not the release of NBA schedules where we already know every team is going to play every other team multiple times.

So, forgive me if I don’t have some grand takeaway from the NBA’s release Tuesday  of the group stage schedule for its new In-Season Tournament.

We’ve known for more than a month which teams were in each group, and that each team would play the other teams in their group once for a total of four games. Knowing the exact day and location of those games doesn’t exactly add much for me.

However, what I did find interesting with the release were the betting odds that followed. Bettors can now put money on who they believe will win the tournament, but the teams favored to win it don’t all fall in the same order as the NBA Finals favorites.

The top four are the same — Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns (via FanDuel) — which shows oddsmakers likely view them as being in a tier of their own. But the order differs from there, and I have a few guesses as to why.

Some teams will be fresher and more competitive early in the season

This mostly just refers to the Golden State Warriors, who have the fifth-best odds to win the In-Season Tournament at +1300 but are sixth to win the Finals at +1400. Those odds also make Golden State the line of demarcation where teams’ tournament odds begin to outweigh their finals odds. Each of the top four teams have significantly better odds to win the finals than the tournament. But after them, just three other teams in the entire NBA fit that description. Those teams doesn’t include the Warriors, who have to rely on someone like Chris Paul being healthy later in the year.

Some teams won’t be at their best in the regular season

The other teams with worst tournament odds than NBA Finals odds are the Miami Heat (+1800), Los Angeles Clippers (+3100) and Memphis Grizzlies (+3700). However, unlike the top four teams expected to still compete for the tournament title, Miami, LA and Memphis are only expected to play for hardware in June. And with good reason.

Miami and star Jimmy Butler demonstrated last season they don’t particularly play best in the regular season, and with an older roster, they’re more likely to reserve energy through the year (especially if a Damian Lillard trade doesn’t happen soon). The Clippers can’t count on their stars to stay healthy, which makes them a prime candidate to load manage throughout the season. And the Grizzlies won’t have suspended point guard Ja Morant for 25 games of the regular season, including the entirety of the tournament group stage.

Some teams simply aren’t trusted in the playoffs yet

This category is reserved for teams with young talent that has excelled in the regular season but hasn’t quite pushed through in the playoffs yet. The Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance, have the sixth-best tournament odds at FanDuel but just the ninth-best finals odds. The Sacramento Kings have the 10th-best tournament odds and 14th-best finals odds. The Knicks, Hawks, Timberwolves and Thunder are right behind them in both categories.

In its inaugural year, the approach of each team in tournament games still remains a question, which is likely why the odds remain so open overall — the shortest odds of any team are +850 for Boston. But at the end of the day it’s still basketball, and more times than not, the better teams are going to win out.

The Tip-Off

Some NBA goodness from around the USA TODAY Sports network.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Back in July, I went with the Kings over the Celtics as my pick to win the In-Season Tournament. Based on the odds, my Boston pick was spot-on in the Eastern Conference but Sacramento could have a tougher time making me look good.

After a third-place finish in the West last season, the Kings had a quiet offseason. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re destined to take a step back this year. FTW’s Bryan Kalbrosky gave them a ‘B-‘ in his offseason grades for all 30 NBA teams, and that’s largely due to the pieces already on the roster.

“Sacramento didn’t do anything splashy except to extend Domantas Sabonis, but sometimes, natural progression is the best possible move. They made some interesting moves around the edges, though, like signing Euroleague MVP Sasha Vezenkov and trading for the relatively promising Chris Duarte.”

Some natural progression would go a long way for Sac Town to keep lighting that beam. Want to see how your team did? Check out BK’s full list of grades.

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