We’ve reached NBA All-Star Weekend, with the festivities going down in New Orleans and building to Sunday night’s All-Star Game (8 PM ET, TNT). Regular season play resumes again on Tuesday, and TheSportsNotebook has spent this week running a series of articles looking at the big picture and the strengths and weaknesses of the contenders. This post has all those articles consolidated into a single place for your convenience.
With the Olympics going right now, and the sports world having just come off the Super Bowl and looking ahead to March Madness, a lot of fans don’t have time for the NBA. If you’re one of those, the Cliff’s Notes Version of the 2014 season reads thusly—
*The champion is highly likely to be one of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers or Oklahoma City Thunder and there’s not huge separation among the three.
*There are five other teams with at least a puncher’s chance at June glory, and they are all in the Western Conference—the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.
*Kevin Durant has put himself in command to be the MVP
If you don’t feel the need to go any further, knowing these three points will get you to the playoffs in late April. But if you’re a little curious about some of the hows and whys, here are the posts that we’ve run here at TheSportsNotebook on the Road To New Orleans and All-Star Weekend over the past several days…
TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary has broken down the first-round playoff matchups for both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The games start Saturday, with all eight Game 1s taking place this the weekend. In this article, we’ll tie it all together into round-by-round predictions and look at the betting odds associated with each team.
It’s a strange year in the playoffs due to injuries. There are the ones that have been season-long dramas (Derrick Rose). There are the ones we’ve known about for some time (Rajon Rondo). There are the ones that just happened (Kobe Bryant). In addition to these big-time stars, we can add in key players like Denver’s Danilo Gallinari and Atlanta’s Lou Williams, both absences that can swing a first-round series and certainly prevent their teams from at least reaching the conference finals.
Two teams that aren’t afflicted by the injury bug are Miami and Oklahoma City. LeBron and Durant, D-Wade and Westbrook, are healthy and ready to roll. The Heat and Thunder are both #1 seeds and the betting line favorites to meet again in a rematch of last year’s Finals, Miami overwhelmingly so. Here are the odds on teams just to reach the championship round…
New York (8-1)
I don’ t think there are any good betting options. Mainly, because to wager on anyone except the Heat is to throw your money away, regardless of how good the odds might be. And the 1-6 price tag on Miami is prohibitive—you’d have to bet a substantial amount to make it worth your while and then spend the next several weeks praying LeBron doesn’t tweak a hammy—which you may recall he did briefly in last year’s Finals, so you can’t rule it out.
If you’re not sold on Miami, you may as well load up on everyone else—at least New York and Indiana, and then toss in one other team, as the odds are good enough that if any of them won, you would still profit. But I’m staying away here.
TheSportsNotebook tabbed Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana and Boston to win first-round series in the Eastern Conference previews. I’ve got Miami beating Brooklyn and Indiana ousting Boston in the second round. Then the Heat eliminate the Pacers in five games. I don’t see any of these series after the first round going further than five games.
Oklahoma City (11-10)
San Antonio (16-5)
LA Clippers/Denver (6-1)
Golden State/LA Lakers (30-1)
My first-round winners in the West were Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, Denver and San Antonio. I’ve got the Thunder and Nuggets moving to the conference finals, with Oklahoma City again winning the West. I like OkC enough to feel that the 11-10 price tag is a bargain. San Antonio is banged up and if that’s the conference final matchup, the Spurs would likely be in worse shape by that point in the bracket (think of how tired Boston was last year against Miami).
The Clippers can give Oklahoma City a good run in the second round, and I certainly don’t see it as a sure thing. But I consider the Thunder at least even money in the West and the fact I’m getting slightly better than that at the betting window. I would lay 27 Units on Oklahoma City (the value of a unit being whatever your imagination or bankroll wants to make it). My rationale for that number is that I lost 29 Units in my futures strategy in the NCAA Tournament, and 27 Units at 11-10 would make that back plus a bit more.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
This leaves us set up with another LeBron-Durant battle for a ring. Miami is a 1-2 bet to win the whole thing, with Oklahoma City at 5-1. Here again, I think the Thunder are a worthwhile play. Keep in mind, this team won 60 games, does pretty much everything on a basketball court well, is well-coached, has a star who’s played like he’s a little angry and has something to prove and now has some championship round experience under their belt.
The flip argument is that Miami is better than they were last year, looser and more confident now that the monkey is off their back, and would have homecourt advantage. I’d agree with the first two points and the latter is simple fact. But are the Heat that much better to justify the disparity in those championship odds? Now some of that undoubtedly comes from the fact that Oklahoma City has a tougher road just to get to this round, and if the matchup were staring us in the face, I’m sure the Thunder’s odds wouldn’t be so generous.
I believe Oklahoma City will win at least three games in a Finals matchup with Miami, and that the series would go to South Beach for Games 6 & 7 with the Heat needing to win both. I picked Oklahoma City at the start of the year, and though I’m not confident enough to actually bet them at 5-1, I’ll at least do the superficial thing of saying nice things and picking them to find a way to close out the championship.
Here are some other odds to win the NBA title…
San Antonio (12-1)
New York (15-1)
LA Clippers/Denver (25-1)
LA Lakers/Golden State (75-1)
TheSportsNotebook’s official prediction is Oklahoma City to win the NBA crown. And the spot I’m really ready to put my money where my mouth is would be to load up on the Thunder to win the West, so long as you can get odds slightly better than even.