The 2021-22 NBA season has been a topsy-turvy one with surprise challengers, players on the move, and more parity than ever before.
The projected championship bout between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets now looks more unlikely than ever, with the two occupying the eighth and ninth seeds in their respective conferences.
On the flip side, the Phoenix Suns have been the dominant force in the NBA, and the Golden State Warriors and the surprising Memphis Grizzlies are hot on their heels. Out on the East Coast, the Miami Heat are just half-game ahead of the steady Chicago Bulls for the top spot.
As the battle for postseason positioning rages on, here are the five top championship favorites for this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy.
Golden State Warriors (+460)
The Warriors are the second seed in the West with a 42-16 record; they have re-added Klay Thompson to their lineup, ending his two-year absence from the court after suffering multiple injuries. They are soon to get Draymond Green back from an ailment of his own.
Led by the usual scoring of Steph Curry and a well-developed supporting cast, Golden State plays great defense, shares the ball, and plays egoless basketball.
Although GSW has not managed their usual success in recent years, this appears to be the season that everything changes. If they can stay healthy, they will be a severe roadblock in other teams’ paths to the Finals.
Phoenix Suns (+460)
Phoenix has been the best team in the league this year. They are boasting a sensational 46-10 record and transforming themselves into an undisputed Finals challenger. This is a major turnaround from last year’s team, which, although it had tremendous success as the title runners-up, were thought to have drastically overachieved.
The one-two punch of Devin Booker and Chris Paul blends smooth scoring with old-school stoicism into a perfect package. With Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and others heading the surrounding roster, the Suns are an obvious championship threat.
Milwaukee Bucks (+550)
The current fifth seed in the East heads the conference’s championship favorites as the oddsmakers like Milwaukee’s chances of pulling off consecutive NBA Finals victories. Their usual crew of talent has not changed its shape. And with the recent acquisition of Serge Ibaka, they have even more firepower.
The last time that Giannis Antetokounmpo played in a title match, he went for 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks. Do not bet against the two-time MVP from dragging his team back to the biggest stage and turning in another masterclass.
Brooklyn Nets (+600)
Brooklyn has tons of questions ahead of the postseason: how will Ben Simmons settle in and perform in a new location, will Kevin Durant come back fully healthy, and how does Kyrie Irving’s availability play into the playoffs are a few of the biggest.
Any team with Durant at its head is terrifying, but they will need to seriously improve their defense and consistency to trouble the top three teams in this list.
Philadelphia 76ers (+650)
A recent trade for James Harden allowed Phili to play the game’s most ruthless isolation scorer with the leading MVP candidate and wrecking ball that is Joel Embiid.
In terms of a true small-big pairing, there has not been a duo more prolific than these two since Shaq and Kobe — and they have not even played one game together yet.