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The 6 most intriguing NBA Finals contenders

The NBA season kicks off in just under two months. With an historic offseason of roster turnover, a host of contenders have emerged. We break down six of the most intriguing.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray slap hands after a play in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The summer of 2019 will likely go down as one of the most jaw-dropping in NBA history. The player movement was fast and furious right out of the gate, then a slight pause and fireworks for the grand finale.

No one saw Russell Westbrook going to the Rockets or Kawhi Leonard going to the Clippers, but that’s what happened. Anthony Davis was finally moved to the Lakers and Mike Conley was traded to the Jazz. Kemba Walker is now a Celtic and Jimmy Butler is a member of the Heat. Kyrie Irving will team up with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, and D’Angelo Russell joined the Warriors. Those were just some of the major moves, with a host of other signings likely to impact the title race.

With that being said, let’s jump into the odds for teams that have a legit shot at winning the title. All odds come via the DraftKings Sportsbook.

Battle for Los Angeles

Kawhi Leonard kept Los Angeles and Toronto guessing as to what his next move would be. There were plenty of rumors flying around, but no one even brought up the idea of Leonard teaming up with Paul George in Los Angeles. It was pretty much a forgone conclusion that he would sign with the Lakers, and the Purple and Gold refused to sign any big contracts until the Leonard situation was resolved. After Yahoo! Sports reporter Chris Haynes reported that Leonard was signing with the Clippers, the Lakers moved quickly to pick up the remaining free agents to round out their roster.

With the regular season weeks away, the Clippers currently sit as the favorites at +325. Does it make sense for you to believe in LAC? Only time will tell. For an organization that has never made it past the second round, it’s crazy to see the Clippers as the favorites. I love all the pieces this team has, but Paul George’s recovery from surgery on both shoulders will be the main storyline.

This team could struggle out of the gate as all the new pieces get acclimated, meaning it’s likely wiser to wait for better odds. Grab a piece now if you believe in this team, but be prepared to add to your position later in the season.

The Lakers also have a ton of new pieces to work with, however their opening schedule is a bit softer than that of the Clippers. LeBron James will be on a mission from the start to prove the doubters wrong, and building a position at +425 is viable. The Lakers have the most national TV games and will have plenty of teams trying to knock them down, but I believe the added shooting will be the difference when it matters.

Beasts of the East

The Bucks showed that they were a legit team last year, however, Giannis Antetokounmpo will need to take another step forward to carry Milwaukee to its first championship since 1971. The signing of Eric Bledsoe to a huge deal and trading away Malcolm Brogdon was terrible in my eyes, but the added shooting from Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews could help offset the loss. Robin Lopez is joining Brook Lopez, and these two will be needed to help slow down Joel Embiid and the 76ers. If Khris Middleton can keep up his All-Star form after signing a $178 million deal, this team has all the pieces to win the title at +650.

The Sixers slightly trail the Bucks at +700, and with that, offer a better value. Sending Jimmy Butler to Miami for Josh Richardson, and signing Al Horford away from the Celtics could put this team over the top. Butler didn’t seem to be a good fit next to Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. By adding a proven veteran in Horford, Philly added insurance on the front line in the event of an Embiid injury.

Losing JJ Redick will be tough to recover from, but Josh Richardson is a strong defender and a low-usage player. His skills will allow the others in the starting lineup to flourish, while locking down the other team’s best offensive player. Both teams will be battling for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but the slight edge goes to the Sixers due to their stronger starting five. Eric Bledsoe will likely be exploited again in the playoffs, and getting the Sixers at slightly longer odds is just more valuable.

Northwest the Best?

The Utah Jazz significantly upgraded when they traded for Mike Conley and let go of Ricky Rubio. Rubio was a liability on offense and Conley is a stronger on-ball defender. Add in Utah signing elite sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, and this team can attack you from every starting spot. With a two-time Defensive Player of the Year prowling the paint, this team will suffocate any opponent.

Expect Donovan Mitchell to also take another leap in his game, meaning the Jazz at +1300 makes a lot of sense. This team also added quality depth with Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay. The Jazz should be able to withstand minor injuries that pop up throughout the season. Their biggest challenge will be in their own division from the Denver Nuggets.

Denver will head into the season with the longest odds of these championship hopefuls, but don’t be fooled, this is an elite team. Nikola Jokic had his best season as a pro last year, and now it will be time for Jamal Murray to make his ascent. The former Kentucky Wildcat should put together an All-Star caliber season and lead this team towards the top of the standings. Jumping on +2300 could make a big difference in the end because of all the hype the other teams are getting.

Denver’s only real addition in the offseason was Jerami Grant, and their continuity as a team should pay huge dividends. Grant provides insurance for an oft-injured Paul Millsap and is a player that can guard multiple positions. After losing to the Trail Blazers in the seven games last year, this team is ready to prove they have what it takes.

Will it be enough to knock off the Lakers and Clippers in the West or the Bucks and Sixers in the East? We’ll find out in June, but you should consider these six teams to have the best odds to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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Odds and lines subject to change. See website for actual odds.
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