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As the NBA prepares to go back to work, the trading team at Cloudbet, the leading crypto sportsbook and casino, assesses the latest market movers and shakers

The wait is almost over: The NBA is ready to go again, just two months after Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers trounced the Miami Heat in last season’s finals. The victory put an emphatic exclamation mark on the Covid-19 iteration of America’s premier basketball competition, which played out its final months in the league’s Disney World bubble in Florida.

Since then, there have been a flurry of draft and free-agency dealings, along with a few superstars returning to injury, which promise yet another humdinger of a season – all with the spectre of Covid looming in the background.

Cloudbet takes this opportunity to preview the action, with the first games tipping off on December 22. Buckle up, folks!

The West – A Lakers dynasty in the making

Champs get stronger

If last season made just one thing clear, it’s that the Lakers are back for good – and ominously, they’ve had probably the best off-season in the league, making all the right moves to improve in all positions over last year.

First of all, they re-signed Anthony Davis to a five-year, $190 million contract, a move that confirms that nothing less than a repeat this year is acceptable.

Trading Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder, while adding depth to the Center position through free agents Marc Gasol and reigning sixth man Montrezl Harrell has stacked the roster even further. Wesley Matthews taking Danny Green’s spot is the last piece of the puzzle.

They remain the team to beat in 2021 and are deservedly the No.1 title favourites. Cloudbet is offering odds of 2.88/+188 on the Lakers lifting the title and 1.85/-177 to take the Western Conference.

Clippers to contend

The Lakers’ cross-town rivals are looking to reboot their fortunes after their huge summer letdown, giving up a 3-1 series lead in the Western semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.

The Clips have a new head coach in Tyronn Lue and the team has locked in Paul George until 2025 with a contract extension. Meanwhile, the gap at center created by Harrell’s departure has been filled with Serge Ibaka – who has now been reunited with Kawhi Leonard: The two both shared a championship title with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

The Clips will be looking for Ibaka’s defensive game to better contain players like Anthony Davis and the Nugget’s Nikola Jokic more effectively, especially in the post-season.

The Clips are currently at 8.18/+718 to take the title and you can get odds of 2.12/+112 that they end the regular season with a greater than 67% win percentage.

A nod to the Nuggets

While the hunt for the six remaining Western Conference playoff spots includes several teams in the mix-up, one looks to stand out from that group.

The Denver Nuggets seem to be a few steps (or years) away from going all the way, with a great young core by way of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Under the guidance of Head Coach Mike Malone, the Nuggets have built on strong foundations and will be a force to be reckoned for the foreseeable future. Denver is 20.9/+1996 to win it all this season.

The East – up for grabs

In the Eastern Conference, things look a bit more fluid.

The Milwaukee Bucks seem to have found a way of killing it during the regular season – and played some great basketball before the March shutdown – but still lack the knack of transforming these home-court advantages into deeper postseason quests for glory.

Giannis Antetokounmpo joined the elite company of only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon by winning both MVP (his second in a row) and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season last year. The Greek Freak looks hungry as ever to make the leap into the finals.

The most notable move made by the front office saw Jrue Holiday join from the New Orleans Pelicans in the off-season, while the waiting game around Giannis is over – on Wednesday he signed the full five-year, $228 million supermax contract. He’s committed to Milwaukee now for a long time.

Milwaukee’s title odds are currently 6.36/+536.

It was the Miami Heat (23.0/+2201 for the title) that knocked Milwaukee out in the bubble. The Bucks had no answer for the Heat’s physical and tactical approach, led by alpha dogs Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Butler’s unquestionable fighter mentality and work ethic is paired by a unique two-way talent. Bam was dominant in the paint while young sharpshooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson set the tone for a balanced offence that sets the bar high for 2021.

This season’s Brooklyn Nets (7.55/+655 for the crown) are perhaps the most intriguing entity in the East. The return of Kevin Durant (10.5/+959 for regular season MVP) and Kyrie Irving (92.9/+9192 for the same) at full strength automatically flips the switch on the Nets to contender status, while Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert should again play integral roles having had their best professional seasons in 2020.

The arrival of Steve Nash as head coach was the story of the off-season. The hiring of the former Suns two-time MVP has been met with some skepticism though, mainly due to his lack of experience in the position. No doubt both fans and pundits will be watching closely.

The Covid elephant in the room

We can’t end any major competition preview without a generous nod of the head to the bogeyman du jour. The NBA’s solution to covid last season – the Disney World bubble – was an enormous undertaking and an undeniable success. Building on that experience, the league now has strict protocols and a slightly rejigged playing schedule in place this season.

Perhaps the biggest change for players, aside from the relative isolation, will be road-trip restrictions and playing matches back-to-back while visiting. It’ll be interesting to see how teams (and betting odds) respond to sudden line-up and venue adjustments if Covid rears its ugly head.