Photo of Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers

Now that the NBA board of governors have approved the plan for basketball to resume activities, we know what to expect come July 31.

There will be a total of 22 teams that will play out an 8 game regular season schedule to determine final playoff seeding and to allow for players to have a small window to ramp up for postseason play. The 22 teams that met the qualifications to be invited to Orlando for the remaining duration of the NBA season include 13 teams from the Western Conference and 9 from the Eastern Conference.

Once the 8 game regular season is played out, the final regular season standings will be in place. If the 9 seed in either conference has a record that's within fewer than 4 games of the 8 seed, those teams will have a play-in game to determine who advances into the playoffs. For example, if the Memphis Grizzlies end the regular season with a record of 36-37 and the Portland Trailblazers end with a record of 33-41, they will be 3.5 games out of the 8th and final playoff position for the Western Conference and will trigger a play-in matchup between Memphis and Portland.


The higher seed (the Grizzlies in this example) would only need to win 1 of 2 games against the lower seed (Portland in this example) whereas Portland would need to win both games in order to advance.

Vegas has released the betting odds for the 22 teams that still have meaningful basketball games ahead of themselves, and we're going to detail a few teams to target as good bets to raise the Larry O'Brien in October that experts may be discounting.

Indiana Pacers (Currently 5th Seed in Eastern Conference, +10,000)

The Pacers have already clinched a playoff berth and are one of the most intriguing teams left in the race. While the brand of basketball they play is as boring as driving through the cornfields in their home state of Indiana, the frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner give the Pacers two big men that can stretch the floor out to the three point line, yet who are the most comfortable dominating in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends.

Add to that Malcolm Brogdon, a 6'5" guard that can defend, small forward T.J. Warren, who has led the Pacers in points per game this season, and perimeter shooting support from Doug McDermott and the brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday, and you have a team that can control the pace of the game and prevent opposing teams from getting easy buckets in the restricted area.

The extended break may have been beneficial for a team that has thrived without its biggest star for most of the season, Victor Oladipo, by allowing the rest of the cast to get healthy themselves. Oladipo has announced he will sit out the restart ,so we won't get to see how Brogdon and Oladipo can produce together in playoff basketball as the team envisioned when acquiring Brogdon in the off season. But the Pacers may have a roster that can go all the way to winning the championship in a truncated season, as they've shown the ability to play winning basketball without Oladipo most of the season–riding the coattails of their breakout star Domantas Sabonis.

With 100 to 1 odds, the Pacers are one of the best bets you can make going into the NBA Playoffs this year.

Miami Heat (Currently 4th Seed in Eastern Conference, +3,000)

The Heat has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-2020 season led by the steady coaching of Erik Spoelstra and the play of their often controversial superstar, Jimmy Butler. While Butler's All-Star-highlighted 2020 campaign was to be expected, the play of fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo and the undrafted G-League star-turned-Rookie-of-the-Year-contender Kendrick Nunn have helped elevate the Heat into a team to fear leading up to the playoffs.

As a league shutdown like we've experienced this year is unprecedented, it's still to be seen how players will react to the layoff and how long it will take to shake off the rust. What is known, however, is that Spoelstra has experience coaching deep into the playoffs with two championships to show from the Lebron James-era in Miami.

Furthermore, Butler is one of the game's most intense competitors who is now in a situation where he is looked to as the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. Goran Dragic (16.1 PPG), Duncan Robinson (13.3 PPG), and Tyler Herro (12.9 PPG) have provided scoring support throughout the season, and the additions of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala bring veteran leadership to a young squad eager to make their mark as a championship contender.

With current odds at 30 to 1, the Heat are a great option if you want to place a bet on a team that isn't one of the preeminent favorites and would provide a nice payout if they managed to win it all.


Philadelphia 76ers (Currently 6th Seed in Eastern Conference, +2,800)

Last season the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs in the conference semifinals by one of the most memorable buzzer beater shots in NBA history, as Kawhi Leonard hit the game winner for Toronto that danced on the rim before going in, effectively sinking the title hopes for Philadelphia. Toronto went on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and advance to the NBA Finals where they beat the Warriors to earn their first NBA Championship. This was an outcome that many believed would be the 76ers' destiny before the start of the playoffs; but instead, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris saw the team retool this past offseason, replacing Jimmy Butler with Al Horford to shore up their frontcourt and give Simmons more opportunity to affect the offense with Butler no longer there to eat up possessions.

Embiid can be one of the most unstoppable forces when he's in good form, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career, which has prevented him from being able to optimize his talents when the team needs him in the postseason. Conditioning is no problem for Ben Simmons, but his inability to shoot from distance lets teams focus on clogging the paint and limiting the effectiveness of the point-forward.

While these are all the negatives to think about when considering the 76ers, there is a lot of good to focus on as well. This team has good size at every position and can match up with the Eastern Conference favorites the Milwaukee Bucks, going 1-2 against them on the season with their victory being a game in which Embiid and Simmons both scored 15 points or more. One of the losses came in a game where Simmons scored 5 points but left the game early after aggravating a back injury.

The 76ers have the pedigree on the roster to make another deep run this postseason, and the extended time off may have allowed Embiid and Simmons to nurse their bodies back to full health. With the Vegas odds having them just a shade above Miami at 28 to 1, they are a safer bet to come through and win the championship this year at a payout that may be the best value of the remaining teams going to Orlando this summer.

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic's presence will determine the Nuggets outcome this yearPhoto by Keith Allison Sports Photography


Denver Nuggets (Currently 3rd Seed in Western Conference, +2,500)

It was a toss up for me to decide if I wanted to put the Nuggets here or the Dallas Mavericks, and it came down to the supporting cast of players. While Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis make up a formidable duo, I struggled to point to who could step up if either of those two had an off night in a must-win game.

The Nuggets, however, have contributors deep into their bench and have 6 players averaging double digit points per game this season. Denver's 43 wins are only bested by the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in the superior Western Conference, and the versatile play of center Nikola Jokic has seen him lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists per game.

While the Houston Rockets are more likely to win based on Vegas odds, I don't think they can create a matchup in which Jokic won't pick them apart as they would deploy a mix of Robert Covington (6'7"), Jeff Green (6'8"), or P.J. Tucker (6'5") to defend the 7 footer. The Nuggets have a strong mix of shooters and finishers, allowing them to score at every level and Jokic gives them a centerpiece for the offense to revolve around which also lets them control the pace of games which can take faster paced teams out of rhythm in a series.

At 25 to 1 odds, the Nuggets may be able to get hot and ride the mismatch that Jokic presents all the way to the championship this year. The only downside to placing a bet on the Nuggets is that their All-Star center was diagnosed with coronavirus on June 23. As an increasing number of players have been receiving similar news, it's unsure how it will affect rosters once play resumes in Orlando.

Some teams have already begun to proactively sign replacements for players that don't expect to play the rest of the season. Keep an eye on what Denver is doing, and if they sign a free agent big man, then it surely indicates that they don't expect Jokic to make the trip back from Serbia, which would mean you can forget about Denver winning the title this season. Currently, the plan is still for Jokic to make it back for the restart, but it's a situation worth monitoring closely.


NBA Futures Odds obtained from vegasinsider.com

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

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In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

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Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

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LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


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