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Oddsmaker sets Heat as preseason title favorites; Bulls, Thunder are top challengers

Miami Heat Miami enters the 2013 preseason as the 2014 title favorites. (Heinz Kluetemier/SI)

The Heat are strong favorites to win the 2014 NBA title, according to one oddsmaker, with the Bulls and Thunder seen as the leading candidates to thwart a three-peat.

Oddsmaking service Bovada released its early championship odds Tuesday, and Miami, the two-time defending champions, led the way at 2-1. Derrick Rose's return from a season-long knee injury vaulted Chicago into a tie with Oklahoma City, who will begin the season without Russell Westbrook, at 8-1.  The Clippers (9-1), Rockets, (10-1), Pacers (10-1) and Nets (10-1) rounded out the pack of top challengers.

This is a familiar position for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company, as they opened the 2012-13 season as 11-5 favorites, topping the Lakers (5-2), Thunder (9-2), Bulls (14-1), Celtics (18-1) and Spurs (18-1). Miami also entered the 2013 playoffs as heavy favorites after winning 27 consecutive regular season games last season.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bobcats and Magic were both listed at 500-1 to win the championship, making them the longest of the long shots. The Sixers, Suns and Kings (all 300-1) made up the league's bottom-feeders.

Bovada also pegged the Heat, Nets, Bulls, Thunder, Clippers and Rockets as the early favorites to win their respective divisions.

Surprises dot this year's list. Without question, the Spurs are likely the most underrated, checking in at 12-1 odds (eighth-best in the league) even though they bring back virtually the entire roster from a team that came within seconds of unseating the Heat in the 2013 Finals. After claiming the East's No. 2 seed with 54 wins, the Knicks hold the tenth-best odds overall at 22-1. The Grizzlies are in a similar boat: a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals only merited 28-1 odds (eleventh-best in the league) even though Memphis suffered no major offseason defections.

Meanwhile, the Lakers, who lost Dwight Howard in free agency, used the amnesty clause on Metta World Peace and are awaiting the return of Kobe Bryant from an Achilles injury, are pegged at 33-1. Those odds are good for seventh-best among Western Conference teams, even though a trip to the 2014 playoffs seems highly unlikely. Howard's Rockets also appear a bit overrated: winning the offseason doesn't always translate into immediate title contention, and it's hard to envision Houston making the leap from fringe playoff team to the conference's third-best team, especially given how crowded things are at the top of the West.

Here's the full list of championship odds.

Odds to win 2014 NBA Championship 

Miami Heat                               2/1

Chicago Bulls                            8/1

Oklahoma City Thunder       8/1

Los Angeles Clippers              9/1

Houston Rockets                   10/1

Indiana Pacers                         10/1

Brooklyn Nets                          10/1

San Antonio Spurs                  12/1

Golden State Warriors           16/1

New York Knicks                      22/1

Memphis Grizzlies                   28/1

Los Angeles Lakers                 33/1

Dallas Mavericks                      50/1

Denver Nuggets                       50/1

Cleveland Cavaliers                 66/1

Detroit Pistons                         75/1

Minnesota Timberwolves    100/1

New Orleans Pelicans            100/1

Washington Wizards              100/1

Atlanta Hawks                         150/1

Boston Celtics                          150/1

Portland Trail Blazers            150/1

Toronto Raptors                     150/1

Utah Jazz                                    150/1

Milwaukee Bucks                    250/1

Philadelphia 76ers                  300/1

Phoenix Suns                           300/1

Sacramento Kings                  300/1

Charlotte Bobcats                  500/1

Orlando Magic                          500/1
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