Biggest Underdog NBA Champions: Can Recent Trend Hold?

Biggest Underdog NBA Champions: Can Recent Trend Hold?
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

The days of one-team dominance in the NBA appear to have come and gone, for the time being. Each of the past three league champs entered the postseason with title odds of +850 or higher, speaking to the newfound parity in the 30-team association. It’s a trend to watch for folks using the best US betting sites to place an NBA futures wager as this year’s playoffs loom. wanted to know which teams were the 10 biggest underdogs (according to their odds at the beginning of the playoffs) to win an NBA title in the past 40 years. This data was pulled from

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10 Biggest Underdog NBA Champs Since 1985

Year Team Odds
1995 Houston Rockets +1800
2011 Dallas Mavericks +1800
2022 Golden State Warriors +1000
2023 Denver Nuggets +1000
2019 Toronto Raptors +975
2021 Milwaukee Bucks +850
2004 Detroit Pistons +700
1994 Houston Rockets +600
2006 Miami Heat +500
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers +475

Several Recent Champions Defied Odds

Will mobile sports betting apps once again see a team overturn the odds and pay out big tickets for their backers in the 2024 NBA playoffs?

If so, that would continue a trend: Four of the top six biggest underdogs to win an NBA title in the past 40 years have happened since 2019.

The 2022 Golden State Warriors and 2023 Denver Nuggets each entered the playoffs with +1000 title odds. The 2021 Milwaukee Bucks were at +850 and the 2019 Toronto Raptors sat at +975 when they began their title run.

This year, oddsmakers at Fanatics Sportsbook list all remaining teams at +1000 or higher entering the postseason, except for the Boston Celtics (+160) and Nuggets (+300) below that threshold. The Los Angeles Clippers (+1200) are the next closest entering the first round.

To put those odds in perspective, the longest of longshots to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy since 1985 were the 1995 Houston Rockets and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, who were both sitting at +1800 to win it all when the playoffs began.

The only other team since 1985 to enter the postseason with odds in the four-digit range came in the past two years, pointing out to customers at US sports betting apps that this trend might be the exception more than the new rule.

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Which Team Really Was Biggest Underdog?

Again, Houston in 1995 and Dallas in 2011 share the distinction of having the longest pre-playoff odds for any NBA champion. But you could argue that neither was a true “underdog” winner. The Rockets had won the title in 1994; the Mavericks lost in the NBA Finals in 2006 and had reached the postseason in each of the 10 seasons before they finally won it all in 2011.

The Warriors’ 2022 team was also a bit of an abnormality, coming on the heels of three NBA championships in seven years under Steve Kerr’s leadership.

That leaves the 2023 Nuggets as perhaps the league’s most unlikely (or underdog) champion at NBA betting sites.

Denver had never made it to the NBA Finals before the team’s run last season. The Nuggets lost the Western Conference final in 2009 and 2020 and were ousted in the West semifinals several times, most recently in 2021.

That was until Michael Malone’s bunch ran the table a year ago, knocking off the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat on the way. The Nuggets had a combined record of 16-4 in those postseason contests.

Many might argue about which NBA team was the “biggest underdog” in league history since 1985 to win it all, but one can definitely make an argument that Malone and company fit the bill. That gives credence to the hope that this year’s underdogs have as the playoffs tip off this week. BetMGM Sportsbook has +1600 odds on the top seed in the West this year, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

USA Today photo by Isaiah J. Downing



Christopher Boan is a lead writer at specializing in covering sports betting issues. He has covered sports and sports betting in Arizona for more than seven years, including stops at, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.