As luck would have it, the NBA season is just about ready to tip off. And while I’m feeling lucky and thankful for the bountiful hardwood goodness about to unfold, there are some other parties who would just assume that “luck” be left out of the equation.
Say what you want about Doc Rivers, but he has found a way to be in the center of just about every controversial story; real or manufactured, throughout the NBA’s eventful off season. First there was the DeAndre Jordan fiasco. Next we had a little tete a’ tete with Mark Cuban (that became a little more public), and finally most recently, Doc ruffled some feathers attributing the Warriors championship to “good luck.” Suffice it to say, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did not appreciate the remark. All had some comments (laced with new-generation sarcasm as opposed to straight-90’s NBA venom) that were as pointed as they were entertaining.
But does Doc have a point?? Here are the facts on both sides of the aisle. I’ll let you, the trusted reader, concoct your own conclusion. Oklahoma City was decimated by injuries. Eliminate one prime contender. The Clippers and Spurs get matched up in the first round due to some bogus (and now antiquated) NBA seeding rules. Eliminate another prime contender. The Clippers gag up a series to the Rockets, who have Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverly injured by the time they get to Golden State. Meanwhile, the Warriors face Memphis without Conley, Houston without Beverly (and underrated and tenacious defender – and appropriately rated irritant), and then the Cavs without Kyrie and Love in the Finals. That sounds like good fortune at the very least if we are splitting semantics.
Now the counter argument. And be warned, it is laced with a lot of incontrovertible data. Last season the Warriors turned in one of the ten best seasons in the HISTORY of the NBA. They ran roughshod through a loaded Western Conference, racking up a 67-15 record en route to the NBA title. Their point differential was greater than ten points a game – and they often took their foot off the gas pedal in blowouts. For me, it is a matter of asking the five reporter questions: who, what, when, where and why. And the answers are, everyone, beaten badly, often, home and on the road… and the best part is the “why” is more a factor THIS year than last – because they want to PROVE they are not a fluke and are super-pissed about hearing about ‘luck’.
So, were the Warriors “lucky”? Well, it is undeniable that some good fortune befell them, as it does most champions. The venerable expression is “I’d rather be lucky than good”, right? Fortunately, the Warriors don’t have to choose between the two. This team caught some breaks, but they are damn good too, and I expect them to be right in the mix come May.
The Title Contenders – OVER/UNDER:
Their division is the worst in the West, with only the Clippers legit playoff contenders. Plus, they seem pretty focused and are not yet to the stage of their individual careers where a Coach Pop puts the speed governor on during the regular season. They are young, brash, explosive, deep and talented and poised to win 60-plus games yet again this year.
Los Angeles Clippers – UNDER 57.5
This is my vote for team disaster 2015-2016. I am not convinced you can add Lance Stevenson, Paul Pierce and Josh Smith to a veteran core (who ALREADY has some dysfunction) and NOT have major disruptions. Could this experiment work? Sure. But their weakness was their bench production. Lance Stevenson was statistically the WORST shooter in the NBA, but certainly not among the more bashful. Is this really an upgrade over the minutes Austin Rivers was getting? This season will be hella entertaining, but I don’t see it yielding 60 wins.
This is my favorite wager in the entire column. The Cavs are winning 60. They should win 65-plus. This is SO EASILY the best team in the Eastern Conference it isn’t even close. Injury concerns? Ok, fine. DO those same concerns exist in Chicago, Miami, Toronto and Washington as well? This team is going blow 56.5 out of the water. Easy money.
NBA Title Odds:
Cleveland Cavaliers (+280) – This is the best value on the board, because worst case scenario, you can hedge when they get to the finals against whomever emerges from the Western Conference gauntlet. The Cavs are going to be awesome with a year of chemistry under their belts. Look for Kevin Love to be 18/9 all season long (and happy) and Kyrie to emerge as the second best point guard in the East.
Oh yeah. And LeBron.
Golden State Warriors (+500) – The reigning champs, fully intact, at 5:1? Yes please. Why can they win it all again? Because they have the exact same team that turned in an all-time classic great season. The Roaricle is one of the best home arenas in sports, and even with Steve Kerr’s back injury, I expect this team to be JUST FINE.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+800) – Tempting, but no thanks. I love Durant and Westbrook and do not buy for a second any issues with them co-existing. I DO however sell the notion that you can win a title with the worst statistical defensive center in the NBA weighing down your rim protection. Plus, there is still something lacking with this overall roster. Too many ball-centric pieces and too little athleticism at backup perimeter positions.
The Value Plays:
Memphis Grizzlies (+3500) – I don’t think Memphis is winning a title, but if the age FINALLY catches up with San Antonio (and I have REAL concerns about Tony Parker at point guard and don’t think Patty Mills can get them past Chris Paul/Steph Curry/Mike Conley) and there are some concerns with the Clippers, and believe like I do that Houston is not legit – then Memphis becomes a real contender to sneak into the Western Conference Finals. If you’ve watched hoops in the past five years, you already know this lineup. So let’s call this what it is – a last stand for the Grizz with this core group of Conley, Gasol, Tony Allen and Z-Bo. I’ll take a value flyer on them finally staying healthy and being a throw-back to physical hoops and beating up a few of these new-look offenses in May.
Miami Heat (+4000) – I would bet the UNDER on win total on Miami simply because of health issues (as well as a total lack of perimeter shooting). But if Spoelstra can coax and manage minutes, develop Justice Winslow as a capable rotation player and see a healthy Wade, Bosh and Dragic on the floor together in the Playoffs, this becomes the second-best team in the East. I wouldn’t bet my life this happens, but at 40:1 I would bet a couple of dollars.
The Long Shots:
For the record, I like long shot plays as much for hedging opportunities more than a genuine belief they are going to cash in on the title. For example, if a Washington or Toronto got to the Eastern Conference Finals, you could hedge up on the remaining three teams and lock in some profits. So… here’s my three faves.
Toronto Raptors (+7500) – LOVE this play. A slimmed down Kyle Lowry could be a fringe MVP candidate and he and DeMarr DeRozan are the best backcourt in the East when totally healthy (yep, I’ll take them over Wall and Beal narrowly). Miami is so unlikely to be healthy all year, especially in April, and I’m over the Bulls. Why can’t Toronto sneak into that second Eastern Conference Finals spot? They can’t beat Cleveland without a miracle, but at 75:1 we can hedge like maniacs.
Sacramento Kings (+30000) – Um. Why the hell not?? This one is ridiculous. The Kings are NOT winning a title. Of course. But the team that the sharps love could be a surprise playoff team. Their Vegas win total opened at 30.5 and the sharp money pushed it all the way up to 35.5. When properly focused, Boogie Cousins is the best true big in the NBA (counting Anthony Davis as a stretch four now that he can shoot). This is placing a ton of faith in George Carl and a ton of ‘look-the-other-way’ at all the recent history of Rajon Rondo, but at a staggering +30000 when the Lakers, Nets, Timberwolves, Pistons and Nuggets all have leaner odds, is the best value of a glut of miracle long shots.
The Race for MVP:
This is an interesting race this year. Does Anthony Davis take the final evolutionary step in fulfilling his destiny as the future of basketball? Can LeBron at age 30 continue his reign as undisputed Best Player on the Planet? Does Harden return with a vengeance and claim the prize he (and the players) believed was rightly his? Can Steph Curry keep the hardware? Or a resurgent Durant making a triumphant return or even his teammate showing he can flourish even alongside Durant?
This might be the most interesting MVP race since the old Jordan/Barkley/David Robinson/Karl Malone races (or since last year… the wackiest in recent memory). Here’s my two favorite value plays and a miracle long shot.
Anthony Davis (+475) – The media is ready to crown a new MVP and Davis, if he can push the Pels to the playoffs in a decent seed, upsetting the Western power nucleus, he could take some hardware.
James Harden (+800) – I’m not super-wild about the Rockets and don’t love Harden’s game. But his production and respect from his peers is unquestioned. He is a good value after last year’s perceived slight at +800.
DeMarcus Cousins (+10000) – a long, long, long shot. But if the Kings make the leap some predict it will be because of Boogie. He is insanely talented. Some have also claimed he is slightly insane. Who better to calm him down that George Karl, a noted players coach… oh wait…
I like the value in Cleveland, Golden State and Toronto. I’m wary of San Antonio at such a slim price and such an aging core, L.A. addition notwithstanding. I am also wary of Miami in the regular season but like them as a postseason flyer if healthy as the only team that can legitimately match talent with Cleveland. Look for another big step forward from Anthony Davis and the Pels. And watch the Clippers. Not in a good way or bad way – just WATCH them. It is a bountiful cauldron of potential craziness and easily the most insane roster in a league that also pairs Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins
In my crystal ball, I see the Cavs cutting down the nets in an easy Eastern Conference and the West being wild and competitive once again. I’ll lean Warriors again in the Finals with the Cavs getting some revenge and giving Cleveland it’s long awaited championship.
It’s gonna be a fantastic season and I can’t wait. Strap up everyone! I’ll be here all year, so let’s make it another profitable NBA season!