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After break, 3-team race in NBA

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

The Lakers and Clippers return from the NBA All-Star break as virtual co-favorites to win the league championship, along with prohibitive Eastern Conference choice Milwaukee. 

The Bucks top most futures boards at about + 250 on the moneyline across a spectrum of global sportsbooks (risk $100 to earn $250). The Lakers are more commonly in the + 270 to + 300 range, the Clippers + 300 to + 330. But the Bucks lead now only because they have an easier path to the NBA Finals. Essentially, the Lakers and Clippers are expected to play a coin-flip series to see who will be favored over the Bucks. 

How do we know this? It’s a matter of percentages. 

Ignoring the sportsbooks’ house edge for a moment, those moneylines equate to about 29% for the Bucks, 26% for the Lakers and 24% for the Clippers. So it’s 50% that a team from LA will win, only 29% for Milwaukee. Whoever survives the West will gobble up the win likelihoods of its victim. 

Note that sportsbooks build a universe larger than 100% to create an advantage over bettors. The real-world win percentages are slightly below those tallies. Here’s a quick example using current championship odds from Circa Sports in Las Vegas:

— Milwaukee + 260 (28% win equivalent), Lakers + 270 (27%), Clippers + 305 (25%), Houston + 1000 (9%), Denver + 2000 (5%), Boston + 2400 (4%), Miami + 2400 (4%), Toronto + 2800 (3%), Philadelphia + 2800 (3%), Utah + 3000 (3%).

Those add up to 111%, and we left out a few 1% long shots that will fill out the 16-team bracket. 

For a West-to-East comparison of top threats, the Western teams listed here add up to 69%, Eastern teams just 42%. It’s a bit counterintuitive. But the eventual champion is still expected to come from the West, even if Milwaukee currently tops the charts. 

The Lakers return from the break Friday against Memphis at Staples Center. The Clippers are off until hosting Sacramento on Saturday afternoon. 

College Notes

— USC and UCLA enter a new week of Pac-12 play just one game out of first place and with chances to make nationally televised statements on the road against No. 18-ranked Colorado, which is tied for the conference lead. 

The Trojans visit the Buffaloes on Thursday (9 p.m., ESPN2). The Bruins must wait until Saturday (4 p.m., CBS). USC and UCLA are 8-5 in league play, and Colorado is tied atop the ladder with Oregon at 9-4. 

Both Los Angeles entries have been great bets in recent weeks. USC has covered four straight and is 9-2 against the spread in its last 11 games. UCLA is 6-3 ATS in its last nine games, including outright wins over Arizona and Colorado. 

Postseason outlook: At Circa Sports, USC is 300/1 to win the national title, and UCLA is 750/1. Circa is the only outlet that offers odds to win the NIT. UCLA has surged to 16/1 in that event based on recent form. USC is only 100/1 to win the NIT because it’s still expected to make the NCAA.

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