Here's something you don't see, well, maybe ever in the NBA playoffs: A team seeded seventh is a betting favorite to beat a team seeded second in a series. That's the case for the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns with L.A. opening as a -270 series favorite at William Hill Sportsbook and Phoenix at +220 even though the Suns finished nine games better than Los Angeles in the Western Conference regular-season standings and have home-court advantage. Phoenix is a 3-point favorite for Sunday's Game 1 in the desert.
It's the first time a No. 7 seed has been favored to win a Round 1 series since at least 1988. Over the last five non-bubble postseasons, teams with home-court advantage won 74 percent of those series.
The Lakers did not look particularly good Wednesday night in edging the visiting Golden State Warriors 103-100 to win the play-in tournament game and earn the No. 7 seed in the West. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined to shoot 3-for-19 in the first half with Los Angeles trailing 55-42 at intermission. However, the All-Stars shot a combined 14-for-22 in the second half and James hit a clutch late three-pointer.
LeBron's club remains the +200 favorite to win the Western Conference – Phoenix is +800 – and a +300 second favorite behind Brooklyn (-110) to win the NBA title. The past nine times a LeBron-led team made the playoffs (the 2018-19 Lakers didn't as LeBron was injured), it reached the NBA Finals.
Alas, teams seeded seventh and eighth have not fared well in the playoffs. Since 1984, only the 1998-99 Knicks and 1986-87 SuperSonics reached the conference finals, with only New York reaching the Finals in a lockout-shortened season. The worst-seeded team to win a title was the 1985 Houston Rockets, who were a No. 6 in the West.
The last time a team outside the top two was favored to win a conference when the playoffs began was the LeBron-led 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, who were the No. 4 seed East. There have been just three conference finals since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams featuring neither top two seed and the last non-bubble one (Celtics-Heat happened last year in Orlando) was in 2011 when Dallas faced Oklahoma City in the West Finals.
Phoenix was 2-1 vs. the Lakers this season but lost the most recent meeting 123-110 in Los Angeles on May 9. LeBron didn't play in that game. The SportsLine Projection Model (below) largely agrees with oddsmakers, as the Lakers win this series in 59.3 percent of simulations.
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