This is somewhat premature, but in the past several days, 2021 championship odds have begun to circulate. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers are the early favorite, and with the 2020 championship now likely in hand, it’s never too early to start thinking about future profits. So here’s something to ruminate on as the Lakers fight to win their 17th championship: if LeBron James plays at this level next season (a big “if”), the Lakers will almost certainly be better next season than they are now. 

Unlike most of their fellow contenders, there is a good chance they’ll be able to use the full Mid-Level exception in free agency. Given the lack of cap space around the league, that should net them a quality starter. Almost all of their leftover salary is expiring, so if they want to package a few players with either Kyle Kuzma or some draft picks, they could add another meaningful piece. Minimum contracts will be more valuable than ever for contenders this summer. Who wouldn’t want to play with the defending champions in Los Angeles? 

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. The Lakers could still lose this thing. But there isn’t much value left to be milked out of this year’s group. Next season’s? That might be another story. Take your winnings from today’s best bets and set them aside for the 2021 championship market. 

Lakers -7

Only three of the past 12 Finals clinchers failed to cover this spread. Two of the ones that didn’t came in Game 7s. Generally speaking, championship finales in uneven series tend not to be particularly close. More often, we get games like Boston’s clincher in 2008, or Miami’s in 2012, where the winning team pulls away, the underdog is demoralized, and the series ends in a blowout. 

Obviously, no two series are alike, and the Heat have given no reason to doubt its mental toughness, but if they fall behind early in Game 5, nobody would blame them for feeling demoralized. That’s just what usually happens when a champion pulls away in its crowning moment. The Heat have put up a better fight than they’ve had any right to, but if you expect the Lakers to clinch the championship on Friday, you should assume that they’re going to do it in style. 

Over 216

This pick is far harder than the spread was. On the one hand, Game 4 went far under the projected point total with Bam Adebayo back in the lineup. The overall quality of defense in that game on both sides was spectacular, and given the stakes, there is no reason to believe the effort won’t be replicated here. 

But neither side shot particularly well (and frankly, both are due for some positive regression in this series as a whole), and if we follow the line of logic that the Lakers are likely to win this game comfortably, there should be some garbage time at the end that will either feature intentional fouling and free-throws or relaxed defensive effort as the Lakers celebrate a likely championship. This one is a coin flip, but we’ll go with the over. 

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