Are the Houston Rockets a Viable Bet to Win the 2020 NBA Championship?

NBA Finals Logo, Houston Rockets Logo, Houston Rockets Game
The 2019-20 NBA season is wide-open. Now that football season is over, we can expect the NBA to move to the front and center of the American sports betting landscape. The Golden State Warriors, who have ruled the league for the last half-decade, saw their 2020 championship hopes dashed when the roster was essentially dismantled over the summer.

The dissolution of the Warriors has led to some fresh NBA betting opportunities. Let’s not forget that Golden State spent the entirety of last season as a minus-money favorite to win the title. The championship ultimately didn’t come to fruition for the Warriors, but their odds of getting back to the top of the mountain were dashed when Kevin Durant decided to leave for Brooklyn in July. That combined with injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have resulted in Golden State plunging to the bottom of the Western Conference.

So, we’re going to have a new Western representative in the NBA Finals. The prevailing assumption for months has been that one of the two Los Angeles teams will take Golden State’s spot atop the conference.

So far, those prognostications are looking smart. As of this writing, the Lakers (38-11) and Clippers (35-15) are occupying the top-two spots in the West.

A title isn’t a foregone conclusion for either team, though. The Western Conference has been deep for years, and there are a few other teams out there capable of making some noise in the playoffs. The team that gave Golden State the most trouble over the past few seasons is among them. That would be the Houston Rockets, who are sitting at 32-18 and in the No. 5 spot as of now.

Houston is basically all-in on this season. The Rockets would have been good enough to win a title back in 2018 were it not for the Warriors, and this season likely represents Houston’s best shot of winning a title with James Harden still in his prime.

Late Tuesday night, Houston reportedly swung a deal that sent center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in a 4-team trade that landed Robert Covington with the Rockets. After the trade, the Rockets saw their odds of winning the 2020 NBA at most basketball betting sites title improve to +1400. Does Houston make for a viable betting option to win it all?

NBA Title Betting Odds

Houston’s roster shakeup improved their odds, but the Rockets are still quite a ways behind the top-3. The teams with the best odds of winning the championship this season at BetOnline are listed as follows:

Team NBA Title Odds
Los Angeles Lakers +200
Milwaukee Bucks +300
Los Angeles Clippers +375
Houston Rockets +1400
Philadelphia 76ers +1400
Denver Nuggets +1600
Utah Jazz +1600
Boston Celtics +1800
Toronto Raptors +1800
Dallas Mavericks +2500
Miami Heat +2500

As you can see, the Rockets share their +1400 odds with the Philadelphia 76ers. Denver and Utah aren’t far behind at +1600 apiece, while Boston and Toronto are both at +1800.

Still, there is a very clear gap between the field and the top-3. The Lakers (LeBron James), Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Clippers (Kawhi Leonard) arguably feature the 3 best players in the league. Basketball is a team game, but star power tends to reign supreme in the NBA.

Can Houston Get Past Denver and Utah?

A trip to the NBA Finals has eluded the Rockets since the mid-1990s when they won back-to-back titles. Houston has come close during the James Harden era, but the Warriors have thwarted the Rockets’ title dreams on multiple occasions.

The Rockets have been in wobbly form of late, but Houston is still a lock to make the playoffs. Their chances of making it to the Conference Finals likely depend on which seed they wind up with.

As mentioned, Houston is currently fifth. However, the Rockets are just 3 games behind the Clippers for the No. 2 seed, 2.5 games behind Denver for No. 3 and a half-game adrift of Utah for the No. 4 spot.

Denver Nuggets, Logo, Utah Jazz Logo

It’s worth mentioning that Denver and Utah have had almost zero success against the Rockets during Harden’s tenure. The Jazz were easily beaten in 5 games by the Rockets in the first round of last year’s playoffs. 2 years ago, they lost to Houston in 5 games in the conference semis.

Since drafting Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have gone just 5-11 against the Rockets. Denver does have a 2-2 head-to-head record against Houston this season, but Harden sat out of the Nuggets’ second victory due to injury.

How the Rockets fare without a true center in Capela remains to be seen. Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic have struggled to defend Capela in the Rockets’ screen-and-roll offense over the years. That component missing from Houston’s offense could play into the hands of both Denver and Utah.

NBA Western Conference Title Odds

By trading Capela, the Rockets are fully embracing center-less basketball. The team has been playing the 6’5″ PJ Tucker at the 5 during Capela’s recent injury absence. While Houston is still widely expected to add another center before the trade deadline, one would imagine the Capela trade is a sign that Tucker will be the team’s starting center moving forward.

How that works against teams with legitimate bigs (Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers) remains to be seen. The Rockets have won each of their last 3 games despite having no player over 6’6″ (other than 3 minutes of Isaiah Hartenstein) play a single minute.

Houston has the third-best odds to win the West despite being behind Denver and Utah in the current standings:

Team Western Conference Title Odds
Los Angeles Lakers +125
Los Angeles Clippers +250
Houston Rockets +700
Utah Jazz +900
Denver Nuggets +1000
Dallas Mavericks +1200

The Rockets are going to try and barrage teams with 3-pointers. For all intents and purposes, Russell Westbrook may wind up being the team’s biggest rim-running threat now that Capela is gone. Guys like Tucker, Covington, Danuel House and Ben McLemore are going to have all sorts of open looks with defenses keying in on stopping Harden and Russ.

The tiny Rockets may be better-equipped to deal with the Clippers in a playoff series than anybody else. Covington gives the Rockets another wing defender with the size and athleticism to bother the likes of Leonard or Paul George in a playoff series. Covington, Tucker, House, McLemore and Austin Rivers have shown capable defensive chops, while Harden has proven to be an underrated post defender.

Betting Value is There in Houston

Houston may have the fourth-best title odds of any team, but getting through the deep Western Conference before even having to potentially face a dangerous Bucks team in the Finals is an awful lot to ask.

Time will tell if the Rockets have enough firepower beyond Harden offensively. Some teams have opted to throw an extra defender Harden’s way, essentially daring the rest of the Rockets to try and beat them.

Westbrook has been in phenomenal form of late, but teams like Denver, Utah and the Lakers can pack the paint and try to keep him from getting to the bucket at will.

At the very least, I would be willing to take a low-dollar flier on the Rockets’ current +1400 odds. We have never seen a team try to play center-less basketball quite this boldly, and I do think the small-ball could prove to be a difficult matchup for a more slow-paced team like the Lakers over the course of a long series.

The Lakers, Bucks and Clippers are understandable favorites, and all 3 make for solid value bets themselves. If you want more profit potential in your NBA title bet, though, I don’t think it’s crazy to look to the new-look Rockets at +1400.