NBA Season Preview: Spurs Old Guard Poised for a Final Shot at Glory

Does Tim Duncan have another year at the top left in him?

Does Tim Duncan have another year at the top left in him?

With less than a week until the new NBA season tips off, it’s prediction time again and the two conferences are intriguing for very different reasons.

Out West, the same old question has taken on new significance after the Spurs triumphed in the Finals last season: “Are they too old to contend?”  Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have an average age of almost 36, but the evergreen band is back together along with most of last year’s supporting cast.  Kawhi Leonard has another season’s experience, as the Finals MVP no less, and rookie Kyle Anderson may just have landed in the best place to utilise his unique talents.  Write off Gregg Popovich at your peril, and the Spurs are the likely favourites to come out of the West in May.  But surely this is the last time.

 

NBA Western Conference Betting Odds:

San Antonio Spurs +225

Oklahoma City Thunder +260

Los Angeles Clippers +450

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

 

The two teams best placed to dethrone the Spurs have questions of their own to answer.  The Oklahoma City Thunder must find a way to manage without reigning MVP Kevin Durant for the first two months of the season while he recovers from a Jones fracture.  Expect to see Russell Westbrook in full gunslinger mode, while sparkplug Reggie Jackson will get more touches early on to prove he deserves a contract extension.  Even then, the Thunder may struggle without the 32ppg Durant averaged last year, but it’s better to be without them in November and December than in April and May.  The Thunder will stay afloat without KD early on, and he will have enough time to play himself into form before the postseason, where he and Westbrook will have renewed aspirations of their first title.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Clippers, free from the drama that marred last season, must finally decide if they are ready to take the next step in their transformation and compete for a championship.  Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are entering their third season together in “Lob City”, but have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs.  Last year Paul was the best passer in the league, Jordan led the NBA in rebounding and Griffin finished third in the MVP voting – if each can build on their individual games and play as the team we know they can, the Western Conference crown could belong to the “other team” in LA.

 

Things are a lot easier to predict in the Eastern Conference, where two superstars will take to their home floors again with the NBA title in their sights.  LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland shook up the landscape of the NBA even more than most of us could have predicted it might.  Depending on who you choose to believe, the Cavs, at the request of James, brokered a deal with the Timberwolves that would bring All Star forward Kevin Love to Ohio for a package centred around this year’s heralded No. 1 pick, Andrew Wiggins.  Kyrie Irving completed Cleveland’s new “Big Three”, which immediately made them the bookies’ favourite to represent the East in the Finals.

The only team with a reasonable chance of upsetting these odds is the Chicago Bulls.  Former MVP Derek Rose appears to have done everything right in his latest recovery from a serious injury, impressing at the FIBA World Championships and the preseason.  And while Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls have always been known for their prowess on the defensive end of the floor, this offseason they surrounded Rose with more firepower to ease his scoring burden as he returns.  Pau Gasol remains as skilled as ever, and should still have plenty in the tank, especially as he will play fewer minutes in a strong frontcourt rotation that includes Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Rookie Doug McDermott’s shooting and size on the wing will prove a valuable weapon, and if former Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic can adapt to the life in the NBA the Bulls may be the most well-rounded team in the conference.

 

The rest of the playoff seeds are where it gets really interesting, as young and emerging teams battle for their place against old heads who are desperate for one last shot at glory.  The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors made great strides last season, and noises coming out of both organisations suggest that neither will be shy in trying to go one step further this time around.  An injury to Washington’s Bradley Beal will hurt Washington in the first eight weeks of the season, though they re-signed Marcin Gortat and added Paul Pierce, veteran influences that will definitely help come playoff time.  The Raptors did well to keep the young core of last season’s impressive squad together, and as they continue to grow as a unit this could be the team to make a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It is unlikely that either of last year’s finalists will be there again, due to the loss of both their star players.  The Miami Heat, of course, lost James, but re-signed Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.  Any chance of success returning to South Beach depends on the notorious knees of the latter, but they will likely retain a playoff berth by default in the weaker East.  The Heat’s opponents in last year’s ECF, the Indiana Pacers, were dealt a cruel blow when Paul George suffered a horrific injury in a scrimmage with Team USA at the beginning of August.  This further weakened a roster that had already lost Lance Stephenson to the renamed Charlotte Hornets, and will now struggle to make even the lower seeds.

 

Betting Instinct tip – don’t underestimate the impact of the returning LeBron James. Back Cleveland to win the Eastern Conference at +110 with Intertops.eu

 

With a number of new-look teams going into the new campaign optimistic of a playoff berth, who do you see meeting in the finals next June? Have your say in the comments section below.

 

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.

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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

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.