Rumbles of Thunder in the West as OKC have the Playoffs in their sights

waiters

NBA All Star Weekend has just appeared in the rearview mirror as we enter the part of the season when teams begin to get realistic about expectations.  Forget what is mathematically possible, we already know which cellar dwellers are thinking about the lottery.  We also know which teams are trying to creep into the playoff race, those that have their sights set on a title, and the one team in between: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Reigning MVP Kevin Durant suffered a Jones fracture in mid-October and, as a result, has played just 26 games so far this season.  Add to that the 14 games missed by star point guard Russell Westbrook, and you have the reason why the Thunder have already lost more games than they did all of last year.  Now OKC are aiming to become the first Western Conference team since the Phoenix Suns in 1997 to make the playoffs after starting 3-12.  What makes this team intriguing though, is that should they make the playoffs, they would enter April with a much different mindset to the average 7th or 8th seed.

The Thunder parted for the All Star break on a three-game winning streak, and crucially within half a game of the 8th playoff spot in the West.  Both Durant and Westbrook made headlines in New York for different reasons, but coach Scott Brooks and OKC will be encouraged nonetheless.  In response to questions critical of Brooks, Durant launched a scathing tirade against the media in defence of his coach, who will hope that KD can take advantage of this chip on his shoulder.  After all, he’s a bad motha*****r when he wants to be.  On Sunday night, Westbrook stole the show with his performance on the court.  He set a new record for points in a half and finished with 41 en route to being crowned All Star Game MVP.  Both players will need to hit the ground running again, beginning on Thursday night with the visit of the Dallas Mavericks (36-19).

 

Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder Betting Odds:

Mavericks win +180

Thunder win -220

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change).

 

Though Westbrook and Durant are top-10 players in the league, other players in the Thunder rotation will have to step up and provide them with the necessary support to make this run.  Chief among these is defensive ace Serge Ibaka, though he would be better served blocking shots and sticking to midrange jumpers instead of chucking up the maddening amount of 3pt attempts witnessed in recent months.   Another player who is no stranger to maddening is the recently acquired Dion Waiters.  Waiters has been unsurprisingly inconsistent since arriving from Cleveland as apparent insurance in case existing sparkplug Reggie Jackson bolts in free agency.  Nevertheless, Waiters or Jackson could yet prove pivotal in swinging a game or two down the stretch if either can get a hot hand.  The youth and energy of young bigs Steven Adams and rookie Mitch McGary have proven to be welcome alternatives to trotting out the corpse of Kendrick Perkins.  McGary in particular was impressive in a pair of games before the break, and such play will again be needed as Adams faces a three-week layoff.

One other thing the Thunder have in their favour is their fixture list.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, the final third of OKC’s season compares favourably to those of the Phoenix Suns (currently occupying 8th) and the New Orleans Pelicans (1 1/2 games back at the time of writing).  It has been noted in more than one place that the West’s most impressive team thus far, the Golden State Warriors, will be watching the bottom seeds with bated breath.  The prospect of working so hard and playing consistently well all year, only to be rewarded with a first round series against OKC would be gut-wrenching.  Seldom does a potential 8th seed instill so much trepidation in the teams above it, so now might be the time to put some money on the Thunder.  Come playoff time, all bets are off.

Betting Instinct tip – Now could be the time to back the Thunder to win the NBA Championship at +1200 with Intertops.eu

 

Cathal avatar CATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in Paris.  He  writes about  college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct. Follow him on Twitter.

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Miami Heat proving that there is life after LeBron

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

Dwyane Wade has kept things ticking over for Miami in the post-LeBron era, but how long will it last?

With Friday’s line-up of games looking about as appealing as any Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore, we’ll take a look at the 2 that might, just might, be passable viewing. And no, Kobe vs his urge to kill his teammates is not one.

Heat @ Hawks:

The Heat count as a surprise team this year mainly because everyone assumed D-Wade was done and that Bosh had forgotten how to play basketball but this team has looked really good so far. They’re 4th in Offensive Rating and though their defence isn’t quite there, with a coach like Spoelstra at the helm they should form a coherent strategy before too long. This team would be a prime candidate for dark horse Eastern Conference finalists with a little luck but it’s always hard to make such calls this early, especially when the Heat are reliant on Wade staying healthy and big contributions from the corpse of Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton (your guess is as good as mine). The Heat will just be happy to prove that there is life after LeBron.

The Hawks were fun last year, with Coach Budenholzer bringing the Spurs’ ways on board with some beautiful ball movement. That was without Al Horford, the Hawks’ franchise guy, and making the Playoffs without your best player is always a great sign, East or not. Again, there’s a problem with making calls too early but the Hawks haven’t quite meshed yet. To be 3-3 without playing your best is never a bad thing but there always remains the threat of the Hawks being stuck in that corridor of mediocrity in the NBA. Their defence has been fine but their offense hasn’t quite worked out yet. However, in Teague, Korver, Millsap and Horford they have four really good offensive starters and this team on paper looks like it’ll make the Playoffs with little bother. The main question is whether this team’s ceiling is a first round exit.

As for this match-up, I like the Heat – the Hawks have question marks over two key pieces, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott, and the Heat are playing pissed off this year. This is probably the tightest game of the night to call: if the Hawks have those two guys fit, it should be a great game but the Heat’s extra rest could prove key.

Betting Instinct tip – Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division is +185 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Cavs @ Celtics:

The Cavs could pretty much have come out and won every game by 30 and we’d still probably criticise them for not fulfilling expectations, but in the early season they have undoubtedly had problems. They’re .500 but their wins have come over an awful Nuggets side, a Bulls team without Jimmy Butler and finally a picture of what we all expected from them against Anthony Davis and Co. Let’s face it – what we saw against New Orleans is what will surely become the norm for this team but the picture is far from perfect.

Dion Waiters isn’t a great fit with the Cavs’ starters and even with Marion starting, they’re still starting two pretty awful defensive players, two good defenders in Marion and LeBron who aren’t what they were on that end and a big question mark on Varejao and his health. The bench doesn’t hold much hope for them either, Waiters should keep running that unit whether he likes it or not but even with him, the bench unit doesn’t have much going for it.

When Matthew Dellavedova’s injury is a problem, you have a depth issue, but Erik Spoelstra showed with the Heat that a good scheme can cover up many problems defensively and this is a potentially historic team on the offensive end. The Cavs will be in the Eastern Finals unless they get some serious bad luck with injuries but my bet would be on a healthy Bulls team to best them – though betting on Derrick Rose to be healthy is never too safe…

The Celtics are going to be entertaining this year. Rajon Rondo is playing like national TV Rondo right now and that means he’s a great bet to lead the league in triple-doubles and between he, Avery Bradley and Mahcus “Wicked” Smaht (if that makes no sense to you, you are fortunate to have never come into contact with a Boston accent) they have the potential for the best defensive 1-3 (the Celtics have ran the 3 together with Bradley at Small Forward) in the league. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are talented big men and Jeff Green will either be LeBron or D-Leaguer depending on the night and Brad Stevens is a legit NBA coach. We all know the Celtics aren’t going to storm the Eastern Conference but grabbing the 8th seed wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened. There will come a point where they have to decide how dedicated they are to tanking and a Rondo trade remains the most likely scenario but there are the makings of a bright future here for Boston.

For all the criticism of the Cavs and the positivity surrounding the Celtics, this game really shouldn’t be in question. We might get Rondo guarding LeBron which is one of the most entertaining defensive match-ups in the league but no matter how good Bradley and Rondo are on D (Smart will miss the game through injury), the Celtics lack of rim protection will cost them against two of the best finishers at the rim in the league. If the Cavs manage to play at 75% of their second half against the Pelicans, this game will go to them.

Betting Instinct tip – With a few question marks over them at present, now could be a good time to snap up the +100 price on the Cavs to win the Eastern Conference with Intertops.eu

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

NBA Finals – Spurs injury doubts could open the door for Miami

Manu Ginobili (right) will hope to inspire a reverse of last year's series defeat against LeBron James and Miami

Manu Ginobili (right) will hope to inspire a reverse of last year’s series defeat against LeBron James and Miami

They say the journey is more important than the destination, but in basketball it’s all about the destination.

Background

The next 4-7 games will define this season, at least in terms of basketball, for the 2014 Playoffs thus far are most likely to be remembered because of one odious old racist. Though it should not be forgotten that basketball stood strong, persevered, and invigorated its loyal spectators who witnessed some truly marvellous matchups. The San Antonio Spurs were tested from Day One in a seven-game all-Texas series against the Dallas Mavericks, and this continued against the surprise package Trail Blazers and the miracle of Serge Ibaka. The Miami Heat’s route was somewhat more straightforward, waltzing past Charlotte before seeing off the Brooklyn Nets after a one-game scare. In the Eastern Conference Finals they advanced past the Pacers (and the buffoonery of Lance Stephenson) and will now face the same foe they bested in seven games last year.

The last time two teams played each other in consecutive NBA Finals, it was Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls facing off against John Stockton and the Utah Jazz. The first of these meetings tipped off mere weeks before one Timothy Theodore Duncan was selected by the Spurs with the first pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Since then, Timmy and coach Gregg Popovich have been crowned NBA champions four times, and were five seconds and a Ray Allen 3-pointer from making it five last year. Instead, LeBron James and the Miami Heat won their second straight title and now have their sights set on a ‘three-peat’.

 

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat Game 1 Betting Odds:

Miami Heat +170

San Antonio Spurs -200

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

What to Watch

Big 3s – Power trios were certainly not unheard of in the NBA before the summer of 2010, but when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh convened in South Beach the phrase took on new significance and expectations. This wasn’t least because of the now-infamous “not five, not six, not seven…” prediction that James boldly made at their unveiling. Hyperbole or not, the Heat strove for multiple championships, a feat which had already been achieved by another ‘Big 3’ in South Texas. Now, as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili hope to add to their tally at the expense of the James and co., it is undoubtedly these six men who will have the greatest say in crowning the 2014 NBA Champions.

LeBron James is the most dominant player on the planet and the tide sets its watch by Tim Duncan – there is only so much that can be said about greatness.

 

Perhaps the biggest variable in this series will be the left ankle of Tony Parker. The Spurs will need the Frenchman not just to play, but to play at his best, if they are to take down the two-time defending champs, though Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Parker “should be ready” to go in Game 1. Meanwhile, the conservative strategy Miami adopted to preserve Dwyane Wade’s knees during the regular season appears to have paid dividends in the playoffs. Wade described Game 7 of last year’s series as “hell”, as he was forced to have fluid drained from one knee in order to play, but this year he appears to be fighting fit – a huge boost to the Heat’s title aspirations.

It would be unfair to call Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili the ‘forgotten men’ of the Big 3s, even if they don’t command the spotlight as much as their teammates. Bosh went from underrated to overrated, before finally settling at appreciated, in his spell in Miami. He will again be tested by the Spurs’ bigs as the center in coach Eric Spolestra’s favoured ‘small ball’ lineups, but Bosh has shown he can bang when he has to, and his improved outside shot has given the Heat another weapon this season. Ginobili did just about everything in the final two games of the Western Conference Finals. In last year’s Finals he did very little. San Antonio already has an advantage over the Heat in terms of roster depth, so in coming off the bench Ginobli himself could very easily determine whether or not he wins a fourth ring.

 

The Supporting Cast

This year, the Spurs’ depth is one of the main reasons why they have been installed as slight favourites. It is unlikely that anyone will steal the show in its entirety from the host of superstars on display, but the other starters and bench contributors could swing the balance one way or the other. The Heat’s wing rotation currently leaves a lot to be desired, with Rashard Lewis getting the starting nod in the last few games due to Udonis Haslem’s injury. These ‘small ball’ line-ups are a lot riskier against the Spurs, however, given the presence of Duncan, Boris Diaw, and Tiago Splitter. Such size will require the Heat’s wings to help inside, leaving the likes of Danny Green and Marco Belinelli free to drain 3-pointers all night long.

This is why Chris Andersen is so important to Miami; ‘Birdman’ provides the Heat with invaluable size and hustle for eighteen minutes a night, and affords Spolestra an extra degree of versatility with his line-ups. Eighteen months ago one could have been forgiven for laughing at the notion of Birdman ever having a potential impact on a Finals series, while the prospect of the Spurs’ Boris Diaw being involved would have seemed almost as unlikely, though for very different reasons. Before landing in San Antonio in 2012, Diaw was a figure of ridicule in NBA circles; as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats he was overweight, overpaid, and presumed over the hill. Yet as part of the Spurs’ rotation he enjoyed a resurgence of form that Pop has managed to extract from many a so-called ‘has been’. Now Diaw and third-year stud Kawhi Leonard are charged with the unenviable task of guarding the Chosen One, something which Diaw has proven surprisingly capable of in the past.

 

Advantage Spurs?

Another interesting aside sees a reversion to the old 2-2-1-1-1 format after 29 years of playing 2-3-2. The Spurs will enjoy the home-court advantage that Miami held last year, something which may prove decisive as the regular season series was split between the sides, with the home team winning on each occasion. Overall this postseason, Greg Popovich’s squad boast a 12-6 record (.666), going 9-1 (.900) at home. And, after being one of the most miserly outfits in the league this season, you can bet that the Alamo will be well-defended when the Heat come to town.

The San Antonio Spurs are favourites, but only slightly, given that they have home court advantage and greater depth in a series that could easily go the distance. My money is on the Heat, though, because in my eyes a Spurs victory is dependent on too many variables. We can’t be certain that Parker will be or stay fit, we don’t know which Ginobili will show up, and it would be unwise to depend on Diaw’s defensive capabilities. We do know, of course, that LeBron James will be playing for the Miami Heat, so write them off at your peril.

 

Betting Instinct tip Miami Heat to win in 6 is +350 with Intertops.eu

 

Cathal avatar CATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in London.  He  writes about college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

NBA Conference Finals: Momentum Swinging in Spurs’ Favour

Tony Parker's return to fitness comes at the perfect time

Tony Parker’s return to fitness comes at the perfect time for the Spurs

And so, after all the shouting and the noise about “the best playoffs ever”, we’re left with the 1 and 2 seeds in each conference. These will be two hard fought series, two slogs and we may well be in it for the long haul.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs Series Betting Odds:

OKC to win series +180

Spurs to win series -220

(All odds provided by intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

On the 16th May, this series took a seismic shift in the Spurs’ favour.

Both teams awaited news on key players – Tony Parker and Serge Ibaka. Whilst the Spurs expect Parker to be fine and play in Game 1, the Thunder haven’t got quite so lucky. They expect Ibaka to miss the entirety of the post season and that is massive. Ibaka did a great job on Blake Griffin and presumably would have got the Tim Duncan match-up. Kendrick Perkins is a really good post defender but he’s not very good at much else and the Thunder haven’t played him all that much (21 MPG for a starter) so it leaves him as a black hole on offense, especially galling when we take into account the Nick Collison will be the likely starter in Ibaka’s spot. Collison is a really under-rated player, another great post defender and a sneakily good passer but again, his offense leaves something to desire. When 2 of that pair and Steven Adams are on the court, the Thunder’s offense descends into hero ball with whichever of their superstars they have out. Well, slightly moreso.

This Thunder team leaves a real feeling of having another rung to go to, one that might never be reached with Scott Brooks. Durant and Westbrook are two top of 5-7 players in the league depending on who you ask and that means they are a threat. But a Clippers team with an injury hampered Chris Paul took the Thunder 6 games and might well have got them to a game 7 if it weren’t for a couple of bone headed plays from Paul and some poor officiating. The Spurs are a step above the Clippers. They are a joy to watch when they have it going and vitally, in Kawhi Leonard, they have a superb perimeter defender, vying with Paul George and Tony Allen as the best in the league. Kevin Durant averages 26.3 PPG against the Spurs, less than against anyone else (as an aside, how damn good do you have to be that over 26 PPG is disappointing?). Tony Parker is in the LeBron category of finishers at the rim, a supremely gifted scorer who will get his points. They have two 3 point threats in Kawhi and Danny Green and then one of the league’s best big pairings, the forever young Duncan and Tiago Splitter who is a great defensive presence and a really nice finisher in the pick and roll. The team doesn’t leap off you on paper but it works, in no small thanks to Coach Popovich who is arguably the best ever. Add in the best bench in the league, led by a resurgent Manu Ginobili and the Spurs are scary. OKC has been a really bad match-up for the Spurs, who have struggled to cope with their athleticism, but with no Ibaka drawing a defender from the rim with his great mid-range game, the Spurs may well just pack the paint and dare Westbrook to try.

This is a series that is tough to call but I personally would go for the Spurs in 6 due to Ibaka’s absence. The Thunder need to take advantage of some nice little wrinkles like Perry Jones and heavy small ball minutes to keep the Spurs guessing and I don’t think they will have enough in them. Durant and Westbrook will not go down without a fight and it is tough to bet against them but the Spurs are just a juggernaut that looks even scarier than usual.

Betting Instinct tip – Spurs in 6 is +450 with intertops.eu

 

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Series Betting Odds:

Heat to win series -189

Pacers to win series +165

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

These two team’s paths to this stage could hardly have been more different. The Heat have barely been mentioned as they obliterated the Charlotte Bobcats and then came up against the team that had been mentioned as “Heat killers” for months – the Nets, who were handily dispatched. The Heat have D-Wade who still isn’t quite himself but you can almost feel him coming to the boil at the right time. They have Chris Bosh, a great third option to have, not just on offense but on D. And then there is the small matter of the best player on the planet. LeBron has stomped all before him this postseason, and has handily been the best player in the Playoffs. But this Heat team is far from perfect. The Greg Oden experiment was made for this match-up but right now, it looks like the gamble won’t pay off, Oden hasn’t been seen in the post season. Mario Chalmers has played fine, just what the Heat need from the PG spot, but aside from he and the Big 3, there are legitimate concerns here. Ray Allen is still as clutch as they come but his shot still isn’t falling consistently. Shane Battier looks more and more like a man who should have retired last year and their only 3 point bomber comes from James Jones who is a walking neon sign saying “Iso on me”. There is a sense that this team has got a little lucky thus far but it remains that they have breezed through these Playoffs so far.

Then there are the Pacers. Taken 7 games by a Hawks team without their best player and scared by the Wizards, this has been legitimately 3 months of scarily bad 1 seed basketball. Yet here they are. This team is built to scare the Heat. In Paul George they have a player who looks like a superstar in the post season and who can guard LeBron as well as anyone, including in the post. Then front court pairing of David West and Roy Hibbert is enough to give the Heat nightmares if Hibbert plays like he has done the past few games. Hibbert is the key to this series. If he plays like the Defensive Player of the Year as he was for the first half of the season, the Heat will not have a good time – LeBron will be limited and D-Wade almost ineffective. But that’s a mighty big if. It’s hard to shake the form of this Pacers team of late and it’s slightly frightening how reliant they are on Lance Stephenson when the paint is being protected.

Even before the Pacers took the first game, there were far too many saying this would be a sweep. Beforehand my prediction would have been the Heat in 6, and that may well still happen. The Heat might get their first real test here, particularly given the Pacers slow starts earlier in the playoffs, and this could end up going to game seven.

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter or Google+.

Nets know how to cool the Heat!

Can the Nets beat the Heat?

Will the Nets be laughing after their series with the Heat?

After trading for experienced NBA stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013, the Brooklyn Nets set their stall out for a run deep into the playoffs this year and things are now starting to look good as they go into their Eastern Conference semi-final series with the Heat on Tuesday.

After losing out to Toronto in the Atlantic Division title race, Brooklyn took revenge on the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs in seven exciting games. Indeed, the series went down to the wire in Game 7 before a big Paul Pierce block secured a place in the East’s final four. Miami, who are two-time defending NBA champions, cruised past the upstart Bobcats in the first round and have had their feet up for several days as their opponents have been toiling. They will, however, surely have been using the time to fathom out a Nets team that swept them 4:0 during the regular season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Co. are without a doubt the team to beat in the Conference again, but their negative run against the Nets could well weigh on their minds as the action begins.

Pierce and Garnett have all the experience in the world after years of service with the Boston Celtics and know all about playoff duels with James, the best player in basketball. The old guard will once again give it their all as they attempt to reach another NBA Finals series, but if the defending champs can overcome any possible mental blockage, there is little doubt in most experts’ minds that they will prevail and move on to the Eastern Conference final series.

Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets, Game 1 odds

Heat                      1.31
Nets                      3.6

Odds provided by www.allyoubet.ag are correct of today, but subject to change.

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI.

Western Conference is wide open as NBA Playoffs begin

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

Chris Paul needs to be on form for the Clippers to stand a chance

While the Eastern Conference may be easier to predict on paper, there are a number of big stories that could emerge as we prepare for the Western Conference Playoffs to begin.

The Miami Heat might be championship favorites, but of the six franchises with the shortest odds, four are from the West. One thing’s for sure, there’s plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.

 

NBA Western Conference – Outright Betting Odds:

San Antonio Spurs +140

Oklahoma City Thunder +165

Los Angeles Clippers +450

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

1) Who is favourite – the Spurs or OKC?

It seems utterly bizarre to ask this question when the Spurs have won 62 games despite no player playing over 30 minutes per game. The fact remains that this team is really, really good. They have had an obscene amount of injuries, got a year older and were written off yet again. But here they are again. They face Dallas in the first round, a team they swept in the regular season and even with Dirk being Dirk, it’s hard to see that series go beyond 5. Then it gets interesting.

Their next 2 series’ would be against two teams that swept them in the regular season. Obviously this is all ifs and buts, the Rockets face a very good Portland side and it’s hard to take too much from the Spurs in the regular season given how often they sit big players. But the fact remains, it is two really tough match-ups for the Spurs on paper. They struggle with athleticism and Houston match up very well with them. Howard can do a job on Timmy and Patrick Beverley is a great perimeter defender for Tony Parker. Smart money would still be on the Spurs but that series could be a long slog. Not what they want going into the seemingly inevitable Conference final with OKC.

This is a big problem for the Spurs. No-one can stop Kevin Durant. He will get 30 points 9 nights out of 10 and often much more than that. Durant on his own will need to be doubled and with Westbrook and Ibaka, the Thunder have the best 3 pronged attack in the league. I would back the Thunder in this series and honestly, I’d also back them to do it in 6. There is one minor problem for the Thunder. Though the Grizzlies are an awesome team, a sleeper team, the one match-up they didn’t want was this one.

Still, Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. I reckon he could average about 35 for this series. His presence alone makes OKC instant contenders but an athletic roster and two superb back-up stars in Westbrook and Ibaka arguably makes them favourites. They will just pray they can stay healthy.

 

2) The Clippers – are they for real?

The Clippers have been superb this season, no doubt. Doc Rivers has done a great job, the leap in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is testament to that. They have 2 of the best 5 players in the league right now. It all seems awfully rosy for the Clippers. But this team has fundamental flaws.

The other contenders all have one thing in common – a perimeter stopper. The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as a bonus. The Thunder have Thabo Sefolosha and Durant, tall, rangy and under-rated on the defensive end. The Heat have LeBron, the best perimeter defender in the game when he wants to be. Wade is also a fine defender when fit, though that is a big if. And the Pacers have Paul George, right up there with LeBron and Kawhi Leonard as the best stoppers around.

The Clippers have two options – Matt Barnes, a severely underrated player and defender but not quick enough and with a notably short temper, and Danny Granger, a really good defender… 2 seasons ago. He is due to return in game 1 but he hasn’t looked healthy yet. Having no-one to stop scorers is a big problem when out West and, if by some miracle they get to the Finals, in the toughest series in basketball.

Then there is offense. It seems crazy to question the best offense of the regular season but in Playoff basketball the game slows down and two things become crucial – a go-to scorer and 3 point shooting for when that player gets double teamed. The Clippers have got a scorer in theory – Blake Griffin is insanely good. But his jumper does not fall enough to make it a consistent weapon in the playoffs. The Thunder let Griffin have his jumper against them and it worked well. Blake is one of the best post players in the league and will get points there if left one on one. Therein lies the problem, he won’t be. He needs players to kick out to. Chris Paul’s 3 pointer is starting to fall and this is great news for the Clippers. If he shoots the 3 at over 40%, they look a lot scarier. But this season, they are 22nd in the league in 3 point shooting, with only two playoff teams (the Bulls and the Bobcats) below them. It will take big, big contributions from CP3, the returning JJ Redick and Matt Barnes from outside for the Clippers to top the Thunder. And that’s assuming they get through round 1. On that note…

 

3) Who are we sleeping on?

So we know the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers are supposedly our contenders. But there are two teams getting very little coverage who will be just fine keeping it that way.

It seems bizarre to single out only one team from a 4 vs 5 match-up that could go 7 as a sleeper and not the other but the Houston Rockets have 2 players in or around the top 10 of the league and two really good perimeter defenders in Beverley and Parsons, as well as the fascinating wrinkle of the Asik – Howard twin towers. This Houston team is just one of those match-ups that teams hate. If they top Portland, they have a shot against the Spurs as mentioned earlier. They have a player in Harden who can get hot and win games and an elite inside presence in Dwight Howard. This might come one season too early for the Rockets, especially with the unconvincing Kevin McHale in charge, but keep an eye on them.

A team with an awful lot in common with the Rockets is my other sleeper for very similar reasons. Golden State have Steph Curry, one man heat check and perfectly capable of winning games on his own. They have Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala (here is their Kawhi / LeBron / George) on the perimeter to guard tough assignments. They look like a nightmare for any team.

The problem comes with Andrew Bogut. Bogut is kind of Dwight-lite. He isn’t anywhere near as good on offense but both are elite inside forces. The problem is, he’s injured, and it becomes clear an injury is bad when Bogut won’t play through it. There is no schedule for his return as of yet and this is what might well decide the series against the Clippers.

Without Bogut the Warriors lack rim protection but may become even deadlier on offense. All logic points towards a Clippers win in this series but it’s probably the most reluctant I’d be to put money on of the first round match-ups even with Houston-Portland seemingly geared for a long one. Of these teams, the Rockets are perhaps the better bet but people aren’t so much sleeping on the Warriors as they are forgetting them completely. That’s an ill-advised strategy when Steph Curry is around.

 

Betting Instinct tip – OKC are +165 with Intertops.eu to win in the west, and that represents good value with Kevin Durant in his current form

 

  DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes  about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both.  Follow  him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill

Three big questions heading into the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs

Can Joakim Noah help the Bulls spring a surprise?

Can Joakim Noah help the Bulls spring a surprise?

The NBA playoffs are one of the highlights of the sporting year: six weeks of non-stop, meaningful basketball games between the best teams in the world, and it doesn’t get better than the opening weekend, with eight back-to-back games dominating Saturday and Sunday’s TV schedules.

While the Western Conference has looked wide open all season, it’s Eastern counterpart has been dominated by the two teams who met in the Eastern final last spring – but will the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers return to face off?  Let’s have a look at three huge questions in the East.

 

NBA Eastern Conference Outright Betting Odds:

Miami Heat -143

Indiana Pacers +140

Brooklyn Nets +1200

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Can the Heat go back-to-back-to-back?

Since the end of the Celtics-dominated 60s, only two teams have managed to ‘three-peat’ and win three titles in a row. Jordan’s Bulls did it twice in the 90s and the Shaq and Kobe-era Lakers did it at the start of this millennium. As if that wasn’t enough history weighing on the shoulders of the two-time defending champions, only once since 1966 has a team made four finals in a row (the mid-80s Lakers). If King James is to lead the Heat to glory again, he’s not only got to beat the best of the NBA, he’s also got history to contend with.  With home advantage in the East going to Indiana, a tired, aging Heat team may need their best postseason of the ‘big three’-era to go all the way.

 

What’s up with the Pacers?

Since starting the season like the best team in the league, the Indiana Pacers have had a massive wobble since the All-Star break. It’s hard to put an exact finger on their problems. Roy Hibbert has lost some of that Gandalf ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS’ ethic which saw him dominate the paint early on, Paul George’s breakout party got shut down and Lance Stephenson began to believe his own hype. Despite this, they’ve secured top spot in the East, and will fancy themselves to make it to the Eastern title game and host Miami. Their seven game series last year went the whole way, and if it does the same this time, Indiana will hold home advantage. If the Pacers from the first half of the season turn up, they’ll be very tough to beat.

 

Can anyone challenge the big two in the East?

It seems like the top two seeds in the East have been secured since before Christmas, and despite their problems no one has come close to matching the Heat and Pacers. But it’s a different looking lineup in the Eastern playoffs than in recent years. The Wizards have finally made good on their promise and have a young, exciting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal; the Raptors have possibly the best guard in the East (Kyle Lowry), scoring talent and a fearsome home court, and Big Al Jefferson has led MJ and his Charlotte Bobcats into the playoffs. But the two toughest challenges will come from the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls are (probably) without Derrick Rose but the combination of coach Tom Thibodeau and centre, and genuine MVP candidate Joakim Noah mean that the Bulls are going to be tough for anyone to beat. The Nets had a nightmare start to the year, but have pulled themselves together to make the post-season, and go into it with a 4-0 record against Miami over the season.

 

 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Western playoffs may look sexier, but sexiness comes in many forms. Oh, great, now I’m imaging Chris Bosh in a mankini.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – If you’re looking at an outsider to tip, the Bulls are +1800 to win the Eastern Conference with AllYouBet.ag

 

Jamie avatar JAMIE CUTTERIDGE (jamiecutteridge) is a journalist for a real magazine, but spends an inordinate  amount of time writing about NFL. He’s the editor-in-chief of anygivensundaynight.co.uk and its associated  twitter feed @UKNFL

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers: Crunch Time in the NBA brings more questions than answers.

The fitness of Dwyane Wade could be crucial in determining top spot in the East

The fitness of Dwyane Wade could be crucial in determining top spot in the East

It’s the time of year in the NBA again – there are as many NBA GMs watching March Madness and scouting  and salivating as there are sweating over Playoff position. It’s been a season ridden with injury, tanking and teams running hot and cold but here we are, the final stretch as some tantalising West match-ups are taking shape and everyone is cursing the fact that the Suns and the T-Wolves aren’t Eastern conference teams. In spite of many of the lesser teams trying to out-suck each other, some fascinating storylines have emerged and many will be on show on March 26th with a great set of games, led by one in particular…

 

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Betting Odds:

Heat win +125

Pacers win -145

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

These are two teams who are coasting. People may not like this phrase but it’s the truth. As of time of writing the Pacers are 5-5 last 10 and the Heat are 4-6. The Heat remain 3 games behind the Pacers and it seems reasonable to say this game is a must win if the Heat want to grab the top seed.

Both teams have question marks over their heads – we’ll start with the reigning champs. The first problem is their starting 5. Mr Reliable Shane Battier hasn’t been all that reliable, shooting 33% from 3 and struggling on defence on occasion. Those are two pretty big problems for a 3 and D specialist. Coach Spoelstra has responded by declaring Greg  Oden will start at centre for the team from now on. It’s an interesting move – Oden won’t play any more than 10minutes even if he is starting but he remains an interesting X-Factor.

 

Perhaps the bigger impact on the Heat is how it affects LeBron. Last year, the self-proclaimed King played most of his minutes as a power forward in spite of being listed as a small forward. This was feasible because Battier could guard quicker players, one of the most under-rated defenders in the league and the master of taking the charge. With Battier struggling, it will be interesting to see if his minutes are cut and if so, what do the Heat do with LeBron?

One situation to watch is Dwyane Wade. LeBron is incredible, he’s possibly the second best basketball player ever depending on who you ask. He will not win the title without Wade, even with the massively under-rated Chris Bosh. Wade has looked very nice when he has played but concern is still growing. Will he be able to handle such intensive series over such short spells?

 

The Heat certainly have issues but in happier news, Ray Allen appears to be leaving his slump. It was a big concern for the Heat. Two of their major issues are the trouble with great offensive rebounding teams and the lack of shooters and with Battier cold, Allen’s 35% from deep was a major concern. However, since the ASG, Allen has found his touch, shooting a much more impressive 41%. A man of RayRay’s talents has to be in that ballpark as he was last year.

There’s a tendency to ignore the Heat struggling because we know how good they are, but there are one or two little doubts creeping in. The push for a Threepeat will be brutal. The minutes will take their toll (are they already?). There’s a reason only an Mikan led Lakers in a diluted league, Russell’s Celtics, MJ’s Bulls (twice) and the Shaq and Kobe Lakers are the only teams to do it – it’s really hard. But this is a team capable of it, and in spite of the questions, if it was my money to put on the Champions this year, it’d be on this Heat team or the Spurs.

 

The Pacers, meanwhile, came out crushing every team in their path. They’ve been excellent this year, but much like the Heat there are nagging questions. The problem for the Pacers is that they don’t have the last two titles to fall back on as an excuse.

This Pacers team is built on defense. In most positions they have an above average defender, they have toughness and they have a centre allowing a shade over 41% at the rim. They lead the league in Defensive Rating, which means the concerns come on the other side of the court.

 

The general rule of thumb for contenders is that the team should be in the top 8 or 9 in both Offense and Defence. Three teams fall in these parameters – the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers. Notable by their absence are the Heat and the Pacers. The difference is, as previously mentioned, we know that the Heat can turn on their defence when it matters (their offense leads the league). The Pacers’ offense is a bigger question.

Paul George has been tremendous this year, improving on both sides of the ball. Earlier in the season, he was playing great basketball – making 48% from the field and 41% from deep. He put up 28PPG in October. However, since the All Star Game, George is shooting under 42% from the field and in March, he has made under 30% of his 3s. His PPG have fallen to a hair over 20.

 

The Pacers made their move on trade deadline trying to acquire another scorer but Evan Turner has thus far failed to pan out. Seen as a Jamal Crawford / Nick Young offensive spark, he has averaged under 9 points (not awful given the minutes he plays but more concerning when his usage rate is taken into account). The Pacers don’t need to be the Clippers and score 110 a night, they are a far superior defensive team but their offense needs to be better than it is. They rolled past two good teams in the Hawks and Knicks last year and held the Heat below 95 points per game in their series. But their offence let them down again against the Heat. Having a go-to scorer is essential and that is where my doubts lie. Make no mistake about it, this Pacers team will not be easy to beat. They will give the Heat a hell of a series should they meet but the smart money goes with the Heat.

 

Wednesday’s match-up will be easier to call when the health of Wade is known. For now, smart money goes to a tight spread. These games rarely have more than 3-8 points between them due to the defence played and I can see Coach Spoelstra experimenting with his line-ups as usual in the regular season before rotations tighten. My tip would be Pacers with the aforementioned tight spread.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – Pacers -2.5 is -110 with AllYouBet.ag

 

 DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes about  them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both. Follow  him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill

Pacers and Heat battle to stay out of the NBA Bull-fight

Phil Jackson's return to Madison Square Garden can help the Knicks end the Pacers' winning run

Phil Jackson’s return to Madison Square Garden can help the Knicks end the Pacers’ winning run

Getting this close to the postseason means the main story is not just how much of a stench the Philadelphia 76ers have been throwing up in trying to get the first draft pick and more about the races that are still yet to fully play out across the NBA ahead of the playoffs next month.

One of the most intriguing narratives that is still playing out over in the Eastern Conference involves the race to see which of the conference’s two leading lights can take top spot and thus miss out on a conference semi final meeting with the gritty defence of the Chicago Bulls led by Joakim Noah. It means a straight out fight between the Indiana Pacers and reigning champion Miami Heat that has all the hallmarks of one that will go down to the wire.

2014 NBA Eastern Conference – To Win Outright

Miami Heat -111

Indiana Pacers +110

Brooklyn Nets +1600

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

For those readers in the UK not completely enamoured to the sport, the Heat have been tearing it up ever since LeBron James arrived in South Beach 2010 with three trips to the NBA finals and two of those ending in championships. The Pacers, on the other hand, have been threatening to break out for a number of years and after making the conference finals against the Heat last time out, have been riding the Paul George and Lance Stephenson bus to the top in 2014.

The Heat are a couple of games back on the Pacers in the race for the top spot and have arguably the easier assignment on Wednesday night when they head into Beantown to face the ailing Boston Celtics.

The Celtics were hit hard by the departure of 90 per cent of the zimmer-frame wielding championship calibre side of season’s past and franchise corner-stone Rajon Rondo has been out for much of the season. His return hasn’t seen a marked improvement in the side’s fortunes and the team is currently in the midst of a five game skid that won’t be remedied by having to face LeBron, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade…and the returning-to-Boston Ray Allen.

Indiana faces a far tougher trip to a New York Knicks ball club that has multiple championship winning Phil Jackson as its new el jefe. The Pacers are in the middle of a four game win streak but do not be fooled by this statistic. When two of the four games are against the 21-game losing streak clad 76ers it can in no way be considered a winning run. That’s even before you account for the fact the other two games were against the Celtics and Detroit Pistons who, when you combine their wins, don’t even reach the 50 that Indiana already has.

The New York Knicks, meanwhile, have been on a run of their own ever since Jackson’s name started began being banded around inside the confines of Madison Square Garden. The Knicks run has again been punctuated by the obligatory win against the 76ers as well as some equally simple assignments against the Utah Jazz, Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks. The difference here is that the team is only four games behind Atlanta for the eighth playoff place in the East and is playing some good ball compared to the dross regularly trotted out by the Celtics.

In almost all sports the arrival of a new head honcho gives that momentary bump to the team and Jackson’s bump will see them past the Pacers and eventually into the NBA Playoffs, and will make them a solid pick this Wednesday night.

Betting Instinct Tip – back the Knicks to beat the Pacers at +110 with Intertops.eu

b134431a32f9f238467cd75e1b0b3454JAMIE HINKS (jamiehinks) is an experienced content writer who has focused on the gambling industry and technology, and has an obsession with football and all US sports. You can follow him on Twitter here.