Historically deep set of teams contending for 2021 NBA championship

Nets star James Harden and Lakers star LeBron James
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As Giannis Antetokounmpo said, the Bucks might win the championship or they might not. But they have a realistic chance.

Using betting futures to create odds, Milwaukee has a 9% chance to win the title. In each of the previous eight years, a 9% chance would rank third or fourth in the NBA entering the playoffs.

This year, it ranks sixth.

The 2021 title chase appears wide open with several teams holding at least reasonable odds.

The championship chances of each playoff team based on betting futures:

  • Brooklyn Nets: 26%
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 17%
  • L.A. Clippers: 13%
  • Utah Jazz: 11%
  • Philadelphia 76ers: 10%
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 9%
  • Phoenix Suns: 3%
  • Denver Nuggets: 3%
  • Miami Heat: 2%
  • Dallas Mavericks: 2%
  • Portland Trail Blazers: 1%
  • Atlanta Hawks: 1%
  • Boston Celtics: 1%
  • New York Knicks: 1%
  • Washington Wizards: 0%
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 0%

Beyond the six teams with at least a 9% chance, the Suns (3%) seem undervalued. The Nuggets (3%) would have ranked higher if not for Jamal Murray‘s injury (and Will Barton‘s and P.J. Dozier‘s).

Still, six teams with at least a 9% chance to win the title entering the playoffs is quite high.

Under the current 16-team format, that happened only one other time, according to Sports Odds History. In 1995, the Spurs (15%), Bulls (13%), SuperSonics (11%), Magic (11%), Suns (11%) and Jazz (11%) entered the playoffs with relatively flat championship odds. The Rockets (4%) – who ranked below the Pacers (8%) and Knicks (8%) and were tied with the Hornets (4%) – won the title.

So, 2021 doesn’t compete with 1995.

But this is a major diversion from recent history – at least outside the bubble.

The Clippers entered the 2020 playoffs at Disney World as favorite with a 24% chance of winning the championship. That’s less than the 2021-favorite Nets’ 26% chance.

Prior to that, though, the Warriors spent five straight years entering the postseason with higher odds than Brooklyn has this year. In three of those years, Golden State was even favored over the field.

Again, it’s not just that no single team is highly favored this year. It’s that so many teams have a realistic chance. Last year, there was a steep drop after the Clippers (24%), Lakers (22%) and Bucks (19%). This year, many more teams are in the mix.

Here are teams’ championship odds entering the playoffs since 1984,* when the NBA adopted a 16-team playoffs, sorted by rank among teams that season. This year’s teams are red:

*Excluding 2003 and 1987, years Sports Odds History doesn’t have full data.

Notice how high 2021 places in sixth, fifth and even fourth. At No. 1, 2021 is notably unexceptional.

The 2021 playoffs aren’t unsettled only because of the championship race. Individual series are also topsy-turvy.

In the previous five years combined, two lower seeds were favored to beat higher seeds in the first round. This year, there are three:

  • 7. Lakers over 2. Suns
  • 6. Trail Blazers over 3. Nuggets
  • 5. Hawks over 4. Knicks

Using betting odds to predict seed upsets in the first round, the three this year are most on record.

The seventh-seeded Lakers are also the lowest seed in the Sports Odds History database to be favored in a series.

But that was before Lakers star LeBron James was found to have violated the NBA’s coronavirus protocols. That could tilt the odds.

These playoffs are so unpredictable.

Watch Curry score 35, help Warriors pull away in fourth to beat Raptors

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 129-117 on Friday night.

The high-scoring affair was close until the Warriors pulled away with a 31-point fourth quarter, securing a sweep in the season series.

“It feels like we took better care of the ball tonight,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “When Steph plays like that, the whole game opens up. The whole floor opens up.”

Klay Thompson added 29 points, knocking down six 3-pointers despite beginning the night 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. Though Thompson played in the Warriors’ 126-110 victory in Toronto on Dec. 18, the game Friday was his first time facing the Raptors at home since he tore his ACL in his left knee in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals won by Toronto in Oakland.

Kevon Looney returned to the starting lineup and had 12 points and eight boards as six Warriors players scored in double figures.

The Warriors have won consecutive home games after dropping four straight at the Chase Center.

“We’ve been teetering on either side of .500 for a very long time. I’m kind of sick of it at this point,” Curry said. “(We’ve) got to figure out how to keep moving in the right direction and stack wins no matter how we can get ’em.”

Golden State’s bench outscored Toronto’s 39-26, highlighted by 15 points from Jonathan Kuminga. The 20-year-old missed his first three shots from deep before making four straight 3s in the final three minutes of the third quarter, giving the Warriors a 98-94 lead they did not relinquish.

“He just showed another element to his game that some might have doubted,” Thompson said. “To get on the hot streak he did was very impressive, and for that man, the sky’s the limit for his talent.”

Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 11 assists and the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 24 points in his 33 minutes off the bench.

“We knew what we were coming up against, and we’ve had fairly good success guarding and executing, and tonight we just didn’t do it,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We missed a lot of communication, we just got beat physically.”

Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who began their season-high, seven-game road trip 1-1. Scottie Barnes had 24 points and Pascal Siakam had 21, while Gary Trent Jr. added 17.

Precious Achiuwa contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

LeBron, Grizzlies, NBA world reacts to death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Hours after the excruciating video of Memphis police fatally beating Tyre Nichols was released, the Memphis Grizzlies chose not to open their locker room and not speak to the media about it — it was too raw, too painful.

“The senseless loss of life for Tyre Nichols has really hit us hard,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said pregame in an interview with local broadcast partner Bally Sports (via the Associated Press). “It’s been tough being on the road, not being home. I wish I could extend my arms through this camera right now to the family. They’re going through a lot.”

The Grizzlies weren’t the only ones who felt that way around the NBA, emotions were high around the league Friday (as they were around the nation). Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Milwaukee released states echoing what the Grizzlies said.

LeBron James used his platform to make a statement, as he has in the past.

Statements were released from the NBA, WNBA, players, the players union and more.

“This is just crazy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said unprompted to open his press conference, discussing the video and incident.

Nichols, 29, was pulled over in a traffic stop by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7 and was beaten to death by five officers. The bodycam footage shows Nichols being brutally beaten as he calls out for his mother and is defenseless. Nichols died in the hospital three days later. The five officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.