Bettors are flocking to the Bulls in the NBA championship futures market, but not so much the Grizzlies. Some of that has to do with market size, some with lack of respect.
LeBron James celebrated his 37th birthday on Thursday, and perhaps the best thing about it for Lakers fans is that it deflected attention from what happened in Memphis, where Ja Morant and the Grizzlies defeated the Lakers to drop them two games below .500.
The Grizz now have a five-game lead over Dallas in the Southwest Division, and Morant appears to be well on his way to an All-Star nod — and perhaps a Most Improved Player Award.
But is that the ceiling for him and his team?
It is a question worth asking as December winds down, because the Grizzlies in the West and the Chicago Bulls in the East have become championship-caliber material. No one would mistake them for title favorites, but both are outperforming preseason expectations and will be high seeds in the playoffs.
And in case you forgot, not many people saw the Suns making it all the way through the West last season, nor the Miami Heat making it all the way through the East in “Pandemic Season 1,” also known as 2019-20. So there is a wagering opportunity that folks in Illinois and elsewhere around the United States are latching onto with the Bulls. Oddly, the same isn’t happening with the Grizzlies.
On Thursday afternoon, FanDuel Sportsbook listed Chicago at 30-1 to win the championship and 12-1 to win the East. The Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers all have shorter odds to come out of the East, while the Grizzlies were the 30-1 eighth choice to win the West and are listed at 70-1 to win the championship.
The Lakers, despite their losing record, are +550 (11-2) to win the West and 12-1 to win the championship. Some of that is the books keeping the odds short to protect themselves, given the volume of wagers placed on the Lakers, who are the NBA’s most popular team. But some of it is also just plain mystifying, especially given what we are seeing through the first two months of the NBA season.
Memphis has gone 1-1 against Phoenix, Golden State, and the Lakers; 1-0 against the Utah Jazz and 2-0 against the Denver Nuggets. The Grizzlies will play 11 of their first 21 games of 2022 against Eastern Conference opponents and do not really have a signature “test game” on their schedule until Jan. 11 when Golden State pays them a visit. After that, they have a teensy-weensy chance to make a move up to third before playing three of their final six regular games against Utah, Phoenix, and Golden State.
The Grizzlies are only 18th in championship bet count at FanDuel, spokesman Kevin Hennessy said, whereas the Bulls are No. 2 (with odds of 30-1).
At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Grizzlies are 18th in total bet count, behind lesser teams, including the Clippers, Celtics, Hawks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Knicks, and Mavericks. They account for only 0.4% of NBA championship futures tickets and 0.6% of handle (money wagered), according to spokesman Stephen Miraglia. Their odds at DK have dropped from +15000 preseason to +7000 currently.
At BetMGM, the Grizzlies are listed at 80-1 to win the championship and have taken only 1.4% of tickets and 0.8% of handle. They have accounted for just 1% of handle (and 3.4% of tickets) to win the West despite the enticing odds of +4000, down only slightly from their preseason opening of +5000 (50-1), spokesman John Ewing said.
At PointsBet, which is more active than other sportsbooks in Illinois, the Bulls have taken 43.4% of the handle and 51.4% of the tickets to win the Eastern Conference, and a league-high 21.3% of tickets and 28.1% of handle to win the 2022 NBA championship. That makes PointsBet much more exposed than any of the other major U.S. sportsbooks.
Of course, the Bulls (and the Grizzlies) have a long way to realize their championship dreams.
And there are teams at full strength (yes, maybe even including the Lakers) that will be much harder outs in May and June than they are in December.
Still, it is fun to peer into a crystal ball and see whether anyone else is seeing the same things. And let’s just say there are more of those people wearing Bulls gear than there are folks wearing Grizzlies gear.
We’ll learn something about how all that holds up as the new year arrives.