The 2023-24 NBA season is nearing the run home, with the All-Star break which marks the beginning of that stretch taking place in late February. By this stage we have a pretty clear picture of who is contending and who isn’t, though as always, exactly how regular season form will translate to the postseason isn’t something that we will know until, well, the postseason. The top tier of favourites for this season’s championship has remained relatively steady throughout, though there have been a few bolters and drifters. Below, we’ll take a deep dive into how each of the top eight championship favourites are shaping up.
NBA 2023-24 Championship Winner Betting Preview – Odds, Tips & Predictions
|Los Angeles Clippers
|Oklahoma City Thunder
NBA Championship Favourites
The Celtics have been championship favourites for much of the season, and there is good reason for that. They have the most complete starting five in the league and a strong bench to boot, and a great deal of postseason experience to go with it. The main concern they would have had heading into the season would have been the adjustment to what is a very different roster to what they have had previously, and a slower start than what they are capable of would have been understandable – instead, they have gone the other way. They flew out of the blocks to win 26 of their first 32 games and had easily the best record at that point in the season, though they have slowed down somewhat since then. They’ve lost as many of their past 17 games at the time of writing as they did in their first 32, with a nine-point defeat to a Lakers team without either LeBron James or Anthony Davis particularly notable. But while they have endured a few disappointing results, the Celts won’t exactly be hitting the panic button just yet. A team whose worst starting five player, whichever of them you think it is, is probably a borderline All-Star, is going to be pretty damn tough to beat in a seven-game series. There are plenty of other high quality teams in the league and many of them will have the best player in the series against the Celtics, but none of them will have as balanced and deep a starting five as them. They have gradually shortened throughout the season, but the $4 on offer with most betting sites at the time of writing certainly doesn’t look unreasonable.
What brings them here? The Celtics have been right up there over the last two seasons, and having added two more quality players in Porzingis and Holiday, they’re now as talented as anyone in the league. rs in Porzingis and Holiday, they’re now as talented as anyone in the league.
What could hold them back? The Celtics do have playoff experience, but they have not yet been able to go all the way. Jrue Holiday is the only man on their roster who has, and the Celts will be hoping that championship pedigree rubs off.
Injury report. The Celts have been pretty good throughout the course of the season from a health standpoint, and that remains the case now, with only minor, day-to-day ailments popping up on the injury report.
Of all the teams in the championship conversation this season, the Nuggets might just be the most predictable of them all. And that’s not a criticism; the reigning champions, they have exactly the same starting five and much the same bench as they did last season, and are unsurprisingly looming as a major chance to go back to back as a result. As it was last season, their success is largely contingent on Nikola Jokic – without him they wouldn’t be a threat, but that’s not to underestimate the value of those around him. Jamal Murray is a bonafide star, while each of Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope know their roles to a tee and bring important qualities to the team. As it has been for years, their home floor has been a fortress; at the time of writing they are 20-4 in Denver compared to just over .500 on the road, which means that the more postseason series in which they can secure home court advantage, the better. Also in the favour of the Nuggets is the fact that last season, they – and in particular Jokic – took things to another level in a playoff, resembling the team that is so dominant at home no matter where they played and looking even better in Denver. Having climbed the mountain last season they will have as much confidence in their ability to do so this postseason as anyone, and particularly given that a number of their major competitors in the Western Conference are relatively inexperienced in the playoffs, they are deserved favourites to make it through to the NBA Finals.
What brings them here? Nikola Jokic is the primary reason that the Nuggets are so good, but Murray is also a bonafide star, Michael Malone an excellent coach, and the rest of their team complements each other as well as any in the league.
What could hold them back? With so much emphasis on Nikola Jokic, his health is the number one priority for this team. Injury to him would spell disaster, while they can also ill-afford to lose Jamal Murray, as they have for various points throughout the early stages of the season.
Injury report. Like the favourites in the East, the Nuggets have been pretty fortunate with injury for the most part so far this season, and at the time of writing have nothing significant to worry about on that front.
The Bucks have been there or thereabouts for a number of years now, but with the addition of Damian Lillard in the offseason they are now as talented as they have ever been. That addition did, of course, come with the significant loss of Jrue Holiday and a blow to their defence as a result, but few could argue with their decision to pair one of the best point guards in the league with Giannis Antetokounmpo. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing; Lillard hasn’t been at his most efficient so far this season while Khris Middleton has been nursed through the season, but despite that they’ve still won more than twice as many games as they have lost and still have a whole lot of room for improvement. In terms of competition in the East, there is no doubt that they don’t have the five-man quality of the Celtics, but equally their top two is as good as any in the Conference and arguably the league. With more than 30 games still to go in the season there remains plenty of time for them to continue to hone their cohesion, and the Lillard/Antetokounmpo pick and roll which has to this point been relatively sparsely utilised may very well be unleashed to potentially devastating effect in the playoffs. This team has been good enough to challenge for many years now and this season they have the potential to be better than the team which won the 2021 championship, so while they have some extremely good teams to overcome, they are more than capable of winning a second in the Giannis-era this season.
What brings them here? The Bucks have two of the best players in the league as well as a couple of other very, very good ones, and with four players of that quality and years of playoff experience behind them, they were always going to be one of the teams to beat.
What could hold them back? Fitting Lillard and Giannis together was always going to pose some challenges – they’ve done a pretty good job of it so far, but Lillard in particular still has scope to play better as the second fiddle for the first time in many, many years.
Injury report. The Bucks have had a few injury concerns this season; Middleton has been the main one and they have been extremely careful with his knee issue, while Lillard has also had a couple of problems pop up and Giannis too. For Lillard and Giannis, however, those injuries have only been minor, while Middleton is gearing up to full fitness too, so for the time being they are looking pretty good on the injury front.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been by far the biggest bolters in this market over the course of the season. When this page was last updated a month ago that was the case too, after they had come in to around $13 with most NBA betting sites; now they’re down to $7.50. After entering the season looking likely to again be a playoff side but not a genuine championship contender, they added James Harden to their squad, and for the first few games looked nowhere near it. The man himself, however, asked for patience, and as it has turned out, he was right. After those early growing pains, the Clippers have become one of the best teams in the league, and no longer is it just a flash in the pan. In December and January they lost just five games, winning 24 in that time, and flew their way up the standings as a result. Harden has been a fantastic facilitator for them, Kawhi Leonard is putting together an absurdly efficient season, Paul George has been a menace particularly from the outside, while Russell Westbrook has voluntarily taken on a reduced role and been brilliant off the bench. Add to that the perpetual scoring threat that is Norman Powell, the improvement of Ivica Zubac and the consistent performances of a couple of others, and you have got a seriously good team. A couple of the names on this team – ahem, Harden – have previously sunken like a heavy stone in the postseason, and that prospect will follow them around until they prove otherwise. But others – ahem, Leonard – have a proven track record on the biggest stage. This team clearly has what it takes to beat anyone, and if they can continue to play the way that they have for a couple of months now in the postseason, they can win this season’s title.
What brings them here? With three former MVPs and a third-place finisher, the talent on this team is clearly very high.
What could hold them back? Can they keep performing at this level in the playoffs? It’s an interestingly constructed team and one which has both proven playoff performers and players who have consistently struggled on the big stage, so how their regular season form translates to the postseason will be interesting to see.
Injury report. Ivica Zubac missed a number of games through the early stages of 2024, but he is slowly gearing back up to full playing time. Him aside, they have a clean bill of health.
NBA Championship Spicy Contenders
After the above four teams there is a fairly hefty drop off in the betting odds, but there are still teams that are more than capable of challenging for the championship this season, and the Suns are chief among them. As far as offensive firepower goes, they are right up there with the best in the league. Kevin Durant joining Devin Booker late last season already made for an incredible offensive duo, and when Bradley Beal joined the party during the offseason it completed a trio which, all going well, will prove nearly impossible to slow down. Add to the mix the best shooter in the league this season in Grayson Allen and you’ve got a seriously potent team from a scoring perspective. That wasn’t evident throughout the early stages of the season, but they had injury after injury after injury – primarily to Beal but also in the form of shorter absences for both Durant and Booker – which prevented us seeing what they are truly capable of. But with Beal back in the fray and a little bit of continuity at long last, the Suns are beginning to play like the offensive juggernaut they are capable of being. Starting a week or two into January they went on a seven-game winning streak, and after a couple of losses in a row following that they have since won three of four to take their record to 10-3 over a span of nearly a month. Their offence is unusual in that a lot of those wins have been on the back of 40+ point games from one of their big three, a model which doesn’t seem particularly sustainable. But with Durant, Booker and Beal on the floor, the prospect of one of them getting hot each night is pretty high, and the others seem more than happy to let them cook. The relative lack of egos from players as talented as they are may prove to be pivotal to their championship run, though it is not likely to be at the offensive end of the floor where they struggle. Their defence was a concern since this team was constructed and those worries have proven to be pretty valid, and if they want to do real damage they will need to tighten things up at that end of the floor. If they do, however, this is a team with enough talent to win the championship, and at $13 they look like good value to me.
What brings them here? A trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal reads like a nightmare for opposing teams, and with names like Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon helping out, they should have enough pieces around their stars to compete – though that trio could probably put up plenty of points even with you and I out there alongside them.
What could hold them back? Injury has been a big concern for the Suns throughout the first half of the season, while defence is also something that they need to be better at to take it up to the best of the best in a seven game series.
Injury report. At long last, the Suns are actually pretty healthy. Given the recent history in particular of their three stars, there are certainly no guarantees that things stay that way, but for the time being they are looking good on the injury front.
The 76ers entered the 2023-24 season battling plenty of turmoil, but they have actually managed to make a decent fist of things. The trade of a disgruntled James Harden opened the door for Tyrese Maxey to take a big step forward, and he has embraced the opportunity with open arms, becoming a 26-point, 6.4-assist per game player and rocketing into clear favouritism for the Most Improved Player Award. Oh, and Joel Embiid has been pretty good too. Last year’s MVP has been even better this season, scoring – incredibly – more than a point per minute while shooting well over 50% from the field. He is a one-man offensive wrecking ball and just so happens to be one of the league’s dominant defenders too, so it’s no surprise that he has managed to drag the Sixers into at least the edge of championship contention. Unfortunately, the injuries which have plagued his career have again reared their ugly head this season, the latest of those is an at this point undisclosed injury to his meniscus which will keep him out for an extended period of time. Without him, this team isn’t good enough to do any damage in the postseason, but they’ve done enough so far to put themselves in with a chance to finish in the top three in the East, from which point they’ll get at least one series with home court advantage and will probably have the best player in any series in which they play. All of this isn’t to completely denigrate the rest of their roster; Maxey aside, they also have the ever reliable Tobias Harris, the potential sparkplug that is Kelly Oubre Jr, and a couple of other decent pieces. Realistically though, if this team is to have any chance of competing, it will take a mighty effort from Joel Embiid and some pretty damn good back up from Maxey. To me, they aren’t as capable of winning this year’s championship as the Suns so at the same odds probably aren’t great value, but given they do have arguably the most dominant player in the world at their disposal, they are capable of causing plenty of problems.
What brings them here? Joel Embiid is the major reason that they are anywhere near this conversation, while Tyrese Maxey’s significant improvement has helped plenty, too.
What could hold them back? Like with the Nuggets, an injury to the Sixers big man and best player would be a disaster and rule them out of championship contention.
Injury report. Joel Embiid has a meniscus injury which will no doubt slow down the Sixers plenty while he recovers, and there are a few other injury concerns too. Robert Covington is the forgotten man with a long term injury while De’Anthony Melton has also been dealing with a back complaint and Nicholas Batum a hamstring, though the latter two of those, at least, shouldn’t be too long-term.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Rounding out the list of championship favourites are the two most surprising members of the upper echelons of either Conference’s standings, kicking off with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ever since they traded Paul George for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a first round pick for what feels like every season for the rest of eternity, the Thunder’s potential to develop into a contender was clear. But few would have expected it to happen so quickly. Gilgeous-Alexander has this year continued his ascent from a talented young player to a genuine superstar, and the in excess of 31 points he scores per night on nearly 55% shooting have made him one of the favourites to take out the MVP award. He alone, however, is not the solitary reason this team is so good. Chet Holmgren has been able to get on the court after missing the entirety of his first season and has wasted no time showing why he was so highly rated coming into the league, with an efficiency which belies his lack of experience at the offensive end of the floor complemented by an otherworldly defensive ability courtesy of his insane length. And Jalen Williams, the 12th pick from Holmgren’s draft, has shown that he is not just a third wheeler; he is good, really good, shooting 54% from the field, 45% from long range and averaging 18.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in just his second season. Add to that Coach of the Year favourite Mark Daigneault, as well as guys like Isaiah Joe, Lu Dort, and Josh Giddey bringing up the rear, and you’ve got a seriously formidable outfit. Giddey’s inability to get more than 25 minutes a night is testament to their quality and depth, two traits which should hold them in great stead come playoff time. They find themselves right up the top of the Western Conference standings and don’t appear likely to be going anywhere anytime soon, but their youth invariably means question marks will remain about their ability to beat seasoned teams like the Nuggets until, well, they actually do it. Maybe this is a year too early for them, but based purely on the way they’ve played so far this year, this team will be really hard to beat.
What brings them here? The Thunder have a very bright future courtesy of a number of high draft picks which look like being excellent selections, but with guys like Holmgren and Jalen Williams already very good players, their time may come sooner than anticipated.
What could hold them back? A lack of experience will be their major concern. They seem like a bunch of kids who will handle pressure with aplomb, but until they are put under the bright lights of the postseason it’s hard to know how they will deal with it.
Injury report. The Thunder have a few injuries to deal with at the moment, some to key players including Jalen Williams, but none of them are expected to last for more than a handful of games.
Like the Thunder, few expected the Timberwolves to be in this conversation this season, but also like the Thunder they have found themselves right at the pointy end of the Western Conference standings well over halfway into the season. This isn’t a team which screams championship contender on paper, but behind the continued development of Anthony Edwards and a league-leading defensive headed by Rudy Gobert, who is likely on his way to a fourth Defensive Player of the Year Award, they are at the very least putting themselves in the mix. Edwards has a hell of a lot on his shoulders, and at only 22 years of age it’s probably a little early for him to be leading a legitimate title contender, but from all reports he has an unquenchable appetite to learn, and with guys like Mike Conley showing the way he has only continued to grow in what is his best season in the league to date. Karl-Anthony Towns looks better suited to the role he is now in as a second offensive option, Conley himself continues to provide some value while Naz Reid has been electric off the bench. Without their defence, though, this side would not be where they are now. A defensive rating of 108.6 is relatively comfortably the best in the league, with Gobert, as mentioned, leading the charge in that regard. In essence, this is a solid albeit unspectacular offensive team and a brilliant defensive one, and as the old adage goes, it’s defence that wins championships. Usually, of course, that is accompanied by at least a good offence, and the Timberwolves might not be quite there just yet. But they’re en route to a potential top two finish in the Western Conference, and while there are no doubt a few teams ahead of them, if they finish that high then these relatively long odds could be juicy.
What brings them here? As mentioned, defence is the clear mantra of this Timberwolves team, while Anthony Edwards’ continual growth has helped them to at least be a middling team on offence.
What could hold them back? That aforementioned offence, as well as a lack of experience. They are nowhere near as potent with ball in hand as other more fancied contenders, while a lot of their players don’t have a whole lot of experience under the bright lights of the playoffs either
Injury report. The Wolves have benefited from a relatively clean bill of health throughout much of the year to date, and that is holding true at the time of writing as well.
A clear top four has separated itself from the pack in the race for the 2024 NBA championship, headed by one of the most talented starting fives we’ve seen in a long time in the Boston Celtics. Along with the Bucks they are clearly the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, while the Nuggets and the Clippers are going to be extremely difficult to beat in the Western Conference too, and for good reason those teams are clearly the shortest in the betting markets. To me, however, there is some good value to be found elsewhere. As difficult as those teams will be to beat, the Suns are trending upwards and if they can stay healthy, there is no reason to think that they won’t continue to do so. They have so much offensive talent on their roster and can comfortably beat any team in the league on their day – it’s just a matter of having that day four times over the course of a seven game series. There are more well-rounded teams than Phoenix in the league, but they are also nearly double the odds of most of those top four teams and triple that of the Celtics. That, to me, presents the best value of all the above teams, and makes them my best bet for the 2024 NBA championship at this point in the season.
NBA Finals Stats
|NBA Finals Winner
|Golden State Warriors
|Los Angeles Lakers
|Golden State Warriors
|Golden State Warriors
|Golden State Warriors
|Golden State Warriors
|Golden State Warriors
|San Antonio Spurs
|San Antonio Spurs
Most NBA Championships
|Los Angeles Lakers
|Golden State Warriors
|San Antonio Spurs
|New York Knicks
James is a sports writer from Melbourne, and has contributed to a variety of publications covering a range of sports including basketball, cricket, Australian Rules, golf and surfing to name a few. An avid fan of all of the above and more, James’ downtime is spent falling ungracefully off his surfboard, turning over footies and playing an out of tune guitar.
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