It's that time of year again, when the NBA's finest reach for more than hoops in a bid to make it through the playoffs and towards championship glory. As ever, the lead up to the NBA playoffs has been laced with drama and when the 16 teams from east and west finally converge for the start of the tournament on 15 April, there can only be one winner.
Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers upset the odds to claim their first victory, but this time around it's all about the Golden State Warriors. A quick look at the early online betting odds across our selection of recommended bookmakers has Steve Kerr's men as the odds-on favourites for this year's NBA Championship title.
Despite a recent loss to Utah Jazz ending the Warriors' winning streak at 14, California's finest are currently 13/20 to win this year's title according to LeoVegas. It's a similar story inside Ladbrokes' basketball betting lobby, with the line hovering at 4/6. For specific info about basketball betting, check out our review of the entire betting market.
At this stage in the tournament, the oddsmakers clearly believe the partnership between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will prove to make the difference in the end, but 10 April's loss could open up some value. Up until this point in the season, the Warriors have looked almost unstoppable. Curry has notched up a field goal percentage of 46.8% so far this season, as well as a three-point average of 40.8%.
In individual terms, that hasn't made him the biggest hot shot according to ESPN's ratings; that honour is currently with Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook. However, it seems Curry's blossoming partnership Durant is helping tip the balance in the Warriors' favour when it comes to the pre-playoff betting odds.
Indeed, despite losing 99-105 to Jazz, Curry bagged 28 points while Durant got 16 of his own with ten rebounds. Add to this the fact that the Warriors were shooting a 49% game (Jazz were only at 45%) and it's clear they have the firepower to give any team in the playoffs a problem.
The Jazz match could also tell a story when it comes to the team's defensive line. Although the Warriors have got the Western Conference on lockdown, things could get interesting later down the road.
Even though NetBet is currently offering 4/11 on the Warriors winning in the west, those are the same odds as the Cavaliers winning in the east. It's hard to ignore the fact that the Warriors lost to Utah even though they were trying. Yes, the game didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but head coach Kerr was doing everything he could to make his players forget that fact and simply play.
In the end, however, a few rotations in the third meant the Warriors weren't playing with a full strength side and that allowed Jazz to come in and steal that game. What this may suggest is that a few injury blows during the NBA playoffs could be costly for the Warriors. At their best, few look likely to get close.
If Curry, Durant or shooting guard Clay Thompson pick up a knock and can't play, that could leave the door open for another top prospect to nip and clinch the title. The Warriors are quite rightly the online betting favourites at this stage. However, their fortunes may be balanced on a knife edge and one slip the wrong way could slash the odds for one of their closest rivals.
Indeed, few would argue that the Cavaliers have a great chance to retain the title if the Warriors make a mistake. At 7/2 with LeoVegas, the price is certainly right, but with a recent loss to Miami Heat putting the number one seed spot in doubt, it seems that things are just as precarious over in Cleveland.
Beyond the proverbial big boys, the San Antonio Spurs are listed at 7/1 at Ladbrokes but had a rough ride on 11 April at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers currently enjoying a purple patch. Moving further down the roster, the Boston Celtics are sitting at 18/1 with LeoVegas while you can pick up the Houston Rockets and LA Clippers at 20/1 and 33/1 respectively at Ladbrokes.
Can any of the outsiders topple the Warriors or Cavaliers? Well, the obvious answer is yes they can. However, an upset may only be on the cards if one, the other or both falter during the playoffs. Both teams have looked almost invincible at certain stages this season, but they've also had some shaky moments.
The Warriors 14-game unbeaten run was hugely impressive but was squandered with a silly loss to Utah. Similarly, a surprise loss for the Cavaliers nearing the end of the regular season put the number-one seed in doubt. For all intents and purposes, the moral of the story here seems to be that you should seriously consider the current betting favourites, but don't be afraid to go beyond the obvious.
Dribbling left when they should have gone right or hitting an unforeseen bout of injuries could turn the odds on their heads so be prepared for anything in the coming weeks. For all your NBA betting needs, visit Ladbrokes today and enjoy our generous welcome bonus!