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How Covid-19 Could Impact The NBA Restart – And the Value on Some Qualifying Teams

Sports fans have been starving for basketball and will finally get action as the NBA is returning with a 22-team restart at Walt Disney World on July 30th.

The qualifying 22 teams will each play an eight-game regular-season finale. The seven teams in each conference with the best records (previous regular-season games + seeding games) will clinch a playoff spot as the eighth seed could come down to a play-in tournament. Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the playoffs will proceed in the traditional conference-based format.

As we count the days until tip-off, let’s take a dive at how Covid-19 can affect the finish of the 2019-20 season and how to handicap the unique restart.

In recent years, the NBA has been the most predictable league in regards to who will end up facing off in the title match. This time around, things are a little different… Well, let’s not sugar-coat anything… a lot different.

If this was a regular year, it would be a longshot to wager on anybody other than the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks to win the title. But listen folks, this is the opposite of a normal year. It will feel uncanny for players to play meaningful basketball games with no fans. It is also inevitable players will show rust as they may not have had the opportunity to stay in NBA basketball shape during the quarantine. So how do we know which players have been getting in work as opposed to those who have been playing 2k all quarantine? The answer is: you can’t, which causes major handicapping problems.

Now to address the Covid-19 element of the tournament: what will happen if a player such as LeBron James tests positive for Covid-19 before a conference title game? Well, your +240 wager just found a one-way ticket to the shredder.  

There is so much uncertainty that comes with this restart that it is wise to either stay away from futures or take a few longshot bets rather than hammering a team that is undervalued for this scenario.

But that said, we know you have money that has been burning a hole in your pocket – let’s talk about the value for a few of the 22 teams who qualified for the restart.

Los Angeles Lakers +240
Yes, if I had a gun to my head and had to pick a winner, I would not hesitate to take a rested LeBron James and Anthony Davis to run the table in Orlando. Disregarding all the variables that come with this bizarre scenario of a tournament, the Lakers are plain and simple, the team to beat and showed it during the final games before the shutdown. LeBron and company handled both the Bucks and the Clippers in the same weekend before the season went on hiatus. The Lake Show also hold the best road record in the league at 26-6.

The value is just not there at +240, so hang onto your money and see if the odds shift during this roller coaster of a restart we are about to witness. Best to wait a week or too- then jump into the futures wagering pool!

Milwaukee Bucks +260
The Bucks (53-12) hold the best record in the league and were my favorite to raise the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy before the season went to a standstill. The projected bracket had the Celtics, Sixers and Raptors all on the other side, meaning the Bucks would’ve only had to beat one of those teams to get to the finals. Due to the new layout, there’s a good chance that the Bucks will face either the Celtics, Sixers or Raptors in the second round of the playoffs.

The Bucks were also an astounding 28-3 at home, that advantage is now gone. As mentioned previously, what if a superstar is sidelined due to Covid-19 or an injury? Well, Milwaukee relies on Giannis Antetokounmpo more than any other team relies on a superstar. Fade any futures favoring the Bucks in Orlando.

Los Angeles Clippers +320
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the few teams that benefited with the time off and restart in Orlando. Throughout the regular season it never seemed as if the Clippers were chasing home court advantage. They didn’t rush Paul George into a quick return and were giving Kawhi Leonard load management treatment. 

During the Clippers’ home games against the Lakers, it was apparent that LA still bleeds purple and gold. That won’t be an issue in Orlando as Laker nation won’t be in the arena. If George can get somewhat back into form, nobody will want to see a healthy Clippers team in the Western Conference.

Houston Rockets +1600
As it’s hard not to consider James Harden and Russell Westbrook in an AAU style tournament, the Rockets are a fade for me solely because of positioning. They are currently a six seed and would have had a favorable matchup against the Nuggets, but any shake-up, which is almost inevitable with this format, would cause a worse scenario for them. If they move a spot back, they will likely play the Clippers. If they move up in the standings, they’ll have a second-round date with the Lakers. The road to the finals looks gruesome for Houston, which is why I am staying away from any futures associated with the Rockets.

Boston Celtics +1600
The Boston Celtics are a dark horse and it isn’t hard to explain why. The talent is evidently there and they have in what I believe to be true, the best coach in the league. Brad Stevens will thrive in these conditions as he led a mid-major team in the Butler Bulldogs to back-to-back final four appearances. It’s no secret that Stevens knows how to prepare his squad for big moments in a short amount of time and expect no difference in Orlando.

The Celtics are +700 to win the Eastern Conference and +1600 to win it all. Dare I say… sprinkle some green?

Toronto Raptors +2000
The Toronto Raptors quietly have themselves as a two seed in the Eastern Conference, but have the second toughest schedule in the restart. Meaning that they have a good chance of falling back, creating a tough path for themselves. With home court stripped from the defending champs, I don’t see the Pascal Siakam led Raptors being a threat in Orlando.

Philadelphia 76ers +2000
The 76ers benefited the most from these four months off as it’s fair to say that Philly’s season was on life support as Ben Simmons looked unlikely to return and Joel Embiid was still on the mend. Data analyst Jacob Goldstein, has the 76ers with the second easiest schedule for the NBA restart, which could help them leapfrog their way out of the six-seed and avoid a tango with the Boston Celtics. With a healthy Simmons and Embiid, look for the 76ers to regroup and display why they were a presumed championship contender.

Denver Nuggets +2500
The Denver Nuggets are a team I could see struggling in this format as they had been leveraging home court advantage all season due to the elevation in Denver. That is now irrelevant and they just don’t have a deep enough roster to surprise anyone in the West. Expect a more experienced Nuggets team to come back stronger next year, but for now it’ll be a quick vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort for Michael Malone and his squad.

Dallas Mavericks +3500
As scary as the Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis duo is, their lack of depth and poor play on the defensive side of the ball ceases them from being a serious threat in a stacked Western Conference. If they get paired up with a team like the Utah Jazz or the Denver Nuggets, they should take care of business, but don’t expect them to get past the second round.

Miami Heat +4000
I absolutely love the Miami Heat to come into Orlando and make some serious noise. The Heat were 27-5 at home and a disappointing 14-19 on the road before the season went on hiatus. There will be no long flights or rowdy opposing crowds that the Heat will contend with in the restart. As that does eradicate their home-court advantage, the mute arenas bring out a secret weapon that may leverage the Heat against their opponents. Which is 2x NBA champion, Erik Spoelstra. More than ever before, coaches will have a huge impact on the game and I fully expect Spoelstra and the Jimmy Butler led Heat to keep surprising basketball pundits, even in Orlando.

Pat Riley also went out and grabbed former Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, a veteran that is a big addition for a locker room that doesn’t have much playoff experience. Does a rested Iguodala have one last title run in him?

The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics are two of the deepest teams in the league, which give them both solid value if players are sidelined due to injuries or Covid-19.

Sprinkle some action on the Heat! +900 odds to win the Eastern Conference and +4000 to take home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

Brooklyn Nets +4000
The Brooklyn Nets will be without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Orlando. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets lose some games and get their playoff seed snatched after the final eight games of the season.

New Orleans Pelicans +10000
The NBA favored a 22-team return to display stars such as Zion Williamson, who has had four extra months to recover from injury. If the Pels can sneak into the 8th seed they will earn a chance to face off against the Lakers. As the star power in LA will be too much for this young Pelicans squad to handle in a seven-game series, it will be must watch television.

The Pelicans’ schedule is rather favorable as six of their remaining eight games are against teams not guaranteed to make the playoffs. Pelicans are +290 to make the playoffs. 

Portland Trail Blazers +10000
If there was a draft for a tournament of this style, there is no doubt in my mind that Damian Lillard would be in conversation as a top 10 pick. Portland will be getting a healthy Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, both who have been out for the entire season. The Blazers remaining regular season schedule doesn’t seem too tough as they will play the Memphis Grizzlies twice.

A healthy Blazers team in control of their own destiny is scary, but will they have the chemistry to sneak into the playoffs? Portland is +350 to make the postseason and at that price, it is worth a shot.

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