Wednesday has been one of the newsiest days in NBA history, including two head coaches being fired. However, the double-whammy of shocking news was that Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard might be out for the rest of the playoffs with a potential ACL injury and that Suns superstar guard Chris Paul is in the league's COVID protocols. We will try to sort all this out, but the clear winner immediately is the Utah Jazz, who are now betting favorites at William Hill Sportsbook to win the Western Conference.
Early Wednesday morning, the Suns were +130 favorites to win the Western Conference; they already are through to the West Finals after sweeping Denver and remain +130. The Jazz had been +210 second favorites and the Clippers +230. Now Utah is the +120 West favorite – it has home-court advantage throughout the playoffs -- and Los Angeles is +380.
Those two play Game 5 of their semifinal series in Salt Lake City tonight. Utah had been a 3-point favorite but that has jumped to -7 with the news that Leonard would not play due to a knee injury; as of this writing, we still don't know if Utah point guard Mike Conley will return tonight.
Kawhi's injury is being called a knee sprain for now, but the Clippers reportedly believe it could be an ACL injury, which would end Leonard's season and, frankly, end L.A.'s season probably in Game 6. Leonard's player efficiency rating of 30.4 is tops of any player in the 2021 postseason. In the first round vs. Dallas, he became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 to both score 200 points and shoot 60 percent or better in a single series. Kawhi also is one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders.
Prior to the Kawhi news, the Jazz had been -120 to win the series against the Clippers, who were even money. Now, Utah is -310 and L.A. +250. That it ends in six is a +140 favorite.
As for Paul, who is playing as well as ever at age 36, he has been placed in COVID-19 protocols ahead of the Western Conference Finals. How long Paul could miss is completely up in the air, but that the Jazz-Clippers will go at least six games helps Phoenix out immensely. The earliest the West Finals could start would be Sunday. If Jazz-Clippers goes to Game 7, that would be Sunday and the West Finals would likely start next Tuesday.
For what it's worth, Jalen Rose went on ESPN this morning to declare that Paul is vaccinated, and that's important if true because it could hugely shorten his time in the protocols. Rose said Paul would miss at most one game of the West Finals, but obviously there's no official word yet if Paul tested positive (reportedly he did), was a close contact of someone who did, etc.
Brooklyn is back to the +180 NBA title favorite after its comeback win in Game 5 vs. Milwaukee on Tuesday. Utah is +280 (up from +450) with Phoenix +475 and the Clippers now +1200 longer shots (from +550).
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