Inside the sportsbook: Who are NBA bettors buying after 1st half of season?
Jeff Swinger / National Basketball Association / Getty

We're just approaching the halfway point of the 2020-21 NBA season, and we've already witnessed one superstar trade, two coaches fired, and a run against the spread rivaling the best we've seen in decades.

We caught up with Jay Rood, Bet.Works' chief risk officer and theScore Bet's head trader, to discuss who bettors are targeting through the first half of the season and which teams could see their prices shift down the stretch.

Lakers, Nets drawing most action

To nobody's surprise, the Lakers (+160) and Nets (+250) are among the most popular title bets as the top two favorites on the board. They're also the two biggest liabilities for bookmakers, who are hoping for anything but chalk come playoff time.

"We look pretty good to everybody except the top two dogs right now," Rood said.

Los Angeles has drawn steady action all year and was getting bet as short as +200 to win it all before Monday's adjustment to +160. That's stopped the activity for now, Rood says, but don't expect this price to move much even if the Lakers keep losing with Anthony Davis sidelined.

It's a similar story with the Nets, who were as high as 12-1 in the offseason before seeing their price slashed to +250 after trading for James Harden. That's where it rests as of Tuesday, though Kevin Durant's looming return could tighten these odds even more if Brooklyn can build on its success without him.

Bettors buying into Jazz's run

The only other team posing trouble for books right now is the Jazz, who own the NBA's best record (27-8) and have raked ATS since the start of the calendar year.

Utah has covered in 22 of its last 27 games with an incredible plus-12.2 net rating since Jan. 8, which was shortly after the team opened as a 30-1 long shot to win the title. The Jazz hovered around 15-1 for most of February before dropping to 12-1 a few weeks ago and 8-1 on Monday.

They were shortened again to 6-1 on Tuesday afternoon, and they've been drawing activity in conference and division markets, too. You likely won't get much better value if you haven't hopped on Utah's bandwagon by now, with oddsmakers hoping to avoid adding another liability to the ledger.

"We're going to try to control the Jazz a little bit better," Rood said of Monday's adjustment. "We've got to try to manage that down to a spot where we can make them a small winner for us."

Which long shots do bettors like?

Outside of Utah's dramatic shift from preseason dark horse to legitimate contender, there hasn't been a ton of in-season movement nor long-shot upside in this year's field. That hasn't kept some bettors from trying to find some, anyway.

The most costly long shot didn't start that way - the Warriors are technically a liability after drawing activity at their opening price of 5-1, but Klay Thompson's injury and a so-so start to the season have pushed their title price to 80-1 as of Tuesday. The Mavericks are in a similar boat, having seen plenty of bet slips at 25-1 before an adjustment to 50-1.

At least one bettor targeted the Wizards to win the Eastern Conference (70-1, with 150-1 odds to win the title) in recent weeks, while Rood thinks the Raptors (40-1 to win the championship) could turn it on in the second half after a 10-5 run dating back to Jan. 31. Still, it's been quiet outside of the top few teams.

One potential concern is the 76ers, who opened at 22-1 in the title market and are priced at 16-1 as of Tuesday. They've won 80% of their games this year when Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are both active, and they could make oddsmakers sweat in July.

"We're a little bit of a winner to them at this point," Rood said. "But if they start to rally and put something together, they could be one that people start betting quite a bit."

(Odds source: theScore Bet)

C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.

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Inside the sportsbook: Who are NBA bettors buying after 1st half of season?
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