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As contenders retool, quiet Warriors rise to NBA title favorites

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While the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks were burning phone lines and generating debate Thursday with naked sprints toward the NBA trade deadline, the Warriors took a quiet ride to the top of the league.

Minutes after the 76ers and Nets completed a deal swapping disgruntled three-time All-Star Ben Simmons for peripatetic nine-time All-Star and one-time MVP James Harden, oddsmakers turned away from Brooklyn and toward the Bay Area.

And installed the Warriors as favorites to win the NBA Finals.

In odds provided by our partner, PointsBet, the Warriors now stand alone at +450 favorites to win the title, meaning a $100 bet would win you $450. The Warriors are followed by the Nets and Phoenix Suns at +500, the 76ers at +550 and the Bucks at +600.

Though we all know odds can change in a snap, there are valid reasons for the Warriors coming out of the pack.

Here is a team-by-team look at the top five championship contenders, according to PointsBet: Bucks, Nets, 76ers, Suns and Warriors:

Bucks

The presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo makes the defending champions a serious threat to repeat. In Giannis We Trust. We also love the two-way game of Jrue Holiday and the cold-blooded shooting of Khris Middleton.

But the Bucks, aside from an eight-game win streak in November, have yet to post an extended stretch of excellence. Going into their game Thursday night against the Suns in Phoenix, Milwaukee is 6-5 against the top eight teams (by record) in the league.

Some of the issues can be blamed on injuries, but the Bucks were uneasy enough about the potential of their roster to make a deadline trade for center Serge Ibaka.

Nets

The addition of Simmons gives them a marvelous defensive presence and, if used properly, as a small-ball, point-center, with some pick-and-roll, this could work. Could.

But there is legitimate uncertainty about Simmons’ ability to be effective in the heat of fourth-quarter playoff games. Where is his confidence? Is he mentally ready to accept that challenge? Can he flourish? Lack of faith in such conditions is one of the reasons the Warriors didn’t pursue Ben when the Sixers pinned a "Trade Wanted" sign on his forehead.

RELATED: Winners, losers from NBA trade deadline

Kevin Durant is platinum. If he’s healthy, the Nets are a force. He also is surrounded by questions. If Kyrie Irving is available to play full-time, and this could happen in the coming weeks, they might be onto something.

76ers

Joel Embiid is the most devastating inside/outside big man in the league. Nikola Jokic has a broader set of skills, but a healthy Jojo can get whatever he wants on The Joker.

We do not, however, trust Harden to thrive in the postseason, mostly because he rarely does. Too many games with too many turnovers, some of them simply puzzling. Such little effort to adjust his game to the circumstances that we don’t believe he’s capable. Defensively, he’s a negative. Can’t help thinking that the loss of Seth Curry is going to haunt them.

If Embiid is able to form an effective alliance with Harden – something no previous big man has done – Philly can make some noise in May. June? Unlikely.

Suns

Chris Paul has a long list of enemies, with good reason, but his skill is elite and his leadership commendable. The young Suns followed him last season, and he guided them to reach The Finals. Devin Booker, a top-10 scorer, is a perfect backcourt partner.

With Mikal Bridges as a marvelous 3-and-D wing and Deandre Ayton as an imposing two-way beast benefiting from the Paul-Booker backcourt, Phoenix is built for the long run. There was no need for a significant deal, so they made a trade for Torrey Craig – who can back up either forward spot – to add quality depth.

Can’t imagine the Suns not gliding through the first two rounds on the way to the Western Conference finals.

Warriors

Considered in the preseason as a potential top-four seed in the West, the Warriors used an 18-2 start – anchored by a magnificent Stephen Curry and a revivified Draymond Green – to enter the championship race.

And now, even with Green out indefinitely and Curry playing below his standard, they have climbed past the Nets and Bucks and Lakers to be the leading contender. Without making a trade. Why? How?

Well, their biggest weakness, lack of size, will be addressed when James Wiseman returns, likely before March 1. Klay Thompson, after his layoff, looks fantastic. There is belief that Draymond will be back sometime next month – and that Curry will look like himself at any minute.

The buyout market remains a possibility, but why trade with so many good reasons to look forward?

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.

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