Early Look at the Top Contenders for the 2022 NBA Finals

By Nick Sterling in NBA
| July 28, 2021 9:41 am PDT

The 2020-2021 NBA season is officially in the books. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the NBA Finals to win their first championship since 1971.

We are still over two months away from the new season, but that didn’t stop the top NBA betting sites from releasing early odds to win the 2022 NBA Championship.

It’s no surprise that teams like the Lakers and Nets are favorites, but there is some value further down the board. Let’s take an early look at the top contenders for the 2022 NBA Finals.

Brooklyn Nets (+200)

This one really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Brooklyn Nets looked well on their way to a Finals appearance last season, but injuries derailed their run.

Going into 2022, they return their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.

Durant and Irving joined the Nets ahead of the 2019-2020 season. Durant missed the entire season as he recovered from an Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals. Irving only played 20 games during the season as he dealt with a shoulder injury.

Both players returned to begin the 2020-2021 season. They each missed sometime early in the season, but help was on the way. Brooklyn acquired James Harden from the Houston Rockets on January 13.

The big three struggles with injuries most of the season. Durant missed 25 games in the middle of the season. When he finally returned to action on April 7, Harden went down with an injury and missed the next month. All in all, Irving played 54 games, Durant played 35, and Harden played 36.

Despite missing time, all three players put up great numbers. Here is their stat line from 2020-21.

Player Points Assists Rebounds
Kevin Durant 26.9 5.6 7.1
Kyrie Irving 26.9 6.0 4.8
James Harden 24.6 10.9 8.5

Brooklyn finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 48-24 record. They cruised through the first round of the playoff, defeating the Boston Celtics in five games.

They faced adversity in the second round when Harden suffered a hamstring injury 43 seconds into their series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Then, Irving suffered an ankle injury in game 4.

Harden returned in game 5 but it was clear that he wasn’t at full strength. Despite a 48-point game in game 7 by Durant, the Nets fell in overtime to lose the series.

The biggest thing that held the Nets back last season was injuries. Maybe they could use some more depth, but it’s hard when you have three players making over $34 million a year. Sharpshooter Joe Harris and center Nicolas Claxton are under contract for the upcoming season.

DeAndre Jordan is likely on his way out after not playing in the postseason. Freeing up $9 million will help Brooklyn look for some low-cost free agents.

There’s also the possibility they get some pieces back in a sign and trade for Spencer Dinwiddie.

If Brooklyn can avoid injuries in the playoffs next season, they definitely have a great chance to win it all.

Los Angeles Lakers (+525)

The Los Angeles Lakers face a bit of uncertainty this offseason, but we know LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be back in the fold. Those two guys alone make the Lakers a threat to win their second championship in three seasons.

Following the Lakers championship in 2020, the expectation was they would run it back in 2021. If nothing else, they’d at least compete for the top spot in the Western Conference. However, injuries essentially derailed their season.

First, it was Davis who suffered a calf injury at the beginning of February. He missed 30 games before finally making his return with just over 10 games remaining in the regular season.

James did a great job making up for the loss of Davis. He was on an MVP pace going into the All-Star break. These were his numbers up to that point in the season.

  • 25.8 points
  • 7.8 assists
  • 8.0 rebounds
  • 50.9 field goal percentage

Unfortunately, James played just five games after the All-Star break before suffering a high-ankle sprain. That meant the Lakers would have to go 16 games without either player.

Los Angeles went just 7-9 over that stretch. They eventually finished the season 42-30, but had to participate in the play-in tournament. They beat the Golden State Warriors to advance to the playoffs.

They took a 2-1 lead in their playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, but lost the final three games to lose the series. Davis left halfway through game 4 and missed game 5. He tried to play through the injury in game 6 but could only manage five minutes.

The Lakers have a good number of free agents this offseason. Dennis Schroder struggled in the playoffs so he probably won’t return. Talen Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent, so the Lakers can match any offer he gets. However, there are reports that he could land a big contract out of the Lakers price range.

Point guard is a position of need with Schroder likely out the door. Los Angeles could acquire one via trade, but there’s a chance they sign someone.

A Lonzo Ball reunion has been discussed, while the Lakers are one of the top suitors for Kyle Lowry.

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When you have someone like James on your team, free agents are usually willing to sign for less than their market value because of the championship potential. That’s why it’s hard to doubt the Lakers even though they have some holes to fill this offseason.

Los Angeles will open the season as the favorite in the Western Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks (+900)

Oh, how times have changed with the Milwaukee Bucks. After another disappointing playoff defeat in 2020, the Bucks faced a lot of questions about the future of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Many people believed the Bucks couldn’t win a championship with him as the leader of their team.

Milwaukee ignored the critics and signed Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $228 million contract extension. They also made the move to acquire Jrue Holiday.

Just one season later, the Milwaukee Bucks are NBA Champions.

Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton led the Bucks throughout the season. Middleton averaged 20.4 points and shot 41.4 percent from three-point range. Antetokounmpo fell short of a third consecutive MVP but he posted a great stat line with 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists.

A 46-26 record gave Milwaukee the three seed in the Eastern Conference. After losing to the Miami Heat last season in the playoffs, the Bucks got their revenge by sweeping them in the first round.

Then, the Bucks did what no one thought was possible. They defeated the Brooklyn Nets in the second round in seven games.

Milwaukee did have a little help as Kyrie Irving and James Harden both missed time in the series, but injuries are part of the game. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points or more in six of the seven games.

Antetokounmpo suffered a knee injury in game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s when Middleton and Holiday stepped up. They also had help from Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. Milwaukee won games 5 and 6 to advance to the Finals.

Coming off the injury, Antetokounmpo returned to play in game 1. The Bucks fell behind 0-2 in the series but won the next four games to win the championship. Antetokounmpo won the Finals MVP for obvious reasons.

Look at his performance in the series.

Game Points Rebounds Assists
Game 1 20 17 4
Game 2 42 12 4
Game 3 41 13 6
Game 4 26 14 8
Game 5 32 9 6
Game 6 50 14 2

For the series, he averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.

The good thing for Milwaukee is they return the majority of their key players. P.J. Tucker is their only key free agent, but Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes will likely join him, as they both have player options. The Bucks can go over the cap to re-sign Tucker, so the defensive star may return.

Milwaukee will have to deal with the Nets, but their core should lead them to a top-three record in the Eastern Conference once again.

Truth be told, this is an insane price for a defending champion. Giannis is a two-time MVP and it’s arguable he’s unlocked his true greatness.

If the Bucks can add a little more firepower, they could be a killer bet to target at this price.

Denver Nuggets (+2000)

The Denver Nuggets have been a top-three seed in the Western Conference over the last three seasons. However, the early prediction is they’ll finish with the sixth-best record? I’m not buying into that.

Coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2020, the expectations were high for the Nuggets. The hope was they could take the next step to compete for a championship.

Their season didn’t get off to a great start, as they sat just 17-15 on February 25. Behind their star duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets got hot. They won 17 of their next 20 games, but everything changed from there.

Murray tore his ACL on April 12. The injury was a huge blow to Denver, as Murray was averaging a career-high 21.2 points. Denver went on to finish the season 47-25 and earn the three seed in the Western Conference.

Michael Porter Jr. stepped up the most in Murray’s absence. In his second season, his points per game average went from 9.3 to 19.0. He also increased his rebounding to 7.3 per game.

However, no headline was more important for the Nuggets than Jokic winning the NBA MVP. Jokic put together a stellar season.

Look at these stats and keep in mind that he’s a center.

  • 26.4 points
  • 10.8 rebounds
  • 8.3 assists
  • 56.6 field goal percentage
  • 38.3 three-point field goal percentage

Jokic put together an amazing first-round performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. He scored between 34-38 points in five of the six games. He finished the series averaging 33.0 points and 10.5 rebounds. Denver defeated Portland in six games.

Denver was no match for the Phoenix Suns in the second round. Jokic averaged just 25.0 points, as the Suns swept the Nuggets.

Because the injury happened so late in the season, there’s a good chance Murray misses the majority of the 2021-2022 season. However, I still think Denver presents good value.

We know Jokic will be at the top of his game once again. Porter took a big step forward and should improve even more as he enters his third season in the league.

Aaron Gordon showed flashes after coming over from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline. A full offseason should allow him to become more comfortable with the team and his role.

The only big free agents Denver has are Will Barton and Paul Millsap. Millsap is 36 years old, so his veteran leadership is more valuable than anything. I imagine they’d like to bring him back on a cheap deal. Denver will likely replace Barton with a cheaper option.

Not having Murray is going to hurt but if nothing else, I think Denver presents excellent value here.

Other Potential Contenders for the 2022 NBA Finals

I’ll keep up my trend and go with one team from each conference.

  • Boston Celtics (+5000)
  • Portland Trail Blazers (+5000)

Boston did trade Kemba Walker, but the majority of their roster is back in the fold. Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown will lead a Boston team that made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Despite the trade talk, Damian Lillard has committed to staying with Portland. However, he wants to see more urgency with that team. I think this presents an opportunity for Portland to go all in this season. Re-signing Norman Powell is the top priority early in free agency.

We know things are going to change with free agency, draft picks, and trades over the next two months.

It’s still fun to look ahead before all the offseason chaos begins, and if bettors act now, they could get elite betting value.

If you want some more betting action, check out Noah Davis’ article on who will go first overall in the 2021 NBA Draft.

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