Teamwork will make the dream work for Golden State

NBA Golden State Seth CurryBasketball and statistics have forever been bedfellows. For decades, box scores showed each player’s basic stats: minutes, field goals attempted (and made), free throws attempted (and made), fouls, rebounds, assists and points. Those numbers, while almost entirely focused on the offensive end of the court, were able to give a rudimentary overview of a player’s basketball efficiency. Nowadays, as befits our modern sporting landscape, statistical evaluation of a player is suitably advanced and wide-ranging. Rather than cold, hard numbers, tallied by someone sitting at the side of the court, equations and algorithms conspire to give a more analytical, mathematical assessment of the production of NBA players and teams.

Such analytics will tell you that the 2014/15 Golden State Warriors are one of the best NBA teams of all time, and heavy favourites to win the NBA Finals against the narrative-laden Cleveland Cavaliers. They are accurate assessments that reflect the strength of this team, and they are more than enough to persuade someone to bet on the Warriors to win the title (as I did in January with the price still 6-1). But ultimately, this team must be seen to be believed, and that’s why I insist that anyone reading watches the NBA Finals, especially those who have perhaps seen a bit of NBA action but ‘didn’t think it was for them’.

The Warriors are led by the league’s MVP Steph Curry, as exhilarating on the court as Lionel Messi is on the pitch, while equally as humble (and much more entertaining) off it. The comparisons continue: like Messi, Curry is no maverick, privileging team ethic and hard work over individual glory or ego. Yet crucially, and just like the mesmerising Messi, Curry has both the remit and the ability to blow the minds of spectators and boggle those of opponents, to make blink veteran viewers who think they have seen it all, and, this season more than ever, the skinny kid with the weak ankles (who must also be known as the Greatest Shooter of All Time) has done so again and again. It’s not just about Curry. The Warriors have wheeled, dealed and drafted their way into just about the strongest, deepest roster that is feasibly possible in a salary-capped league. They have two former All Stars coming off the bench, for goodness sake.

Of course, since LeBron James hit the peak of his powers in 2007, his mere presence on a team has been enough to take it to the NBA Finals on six out of nine occasions. The best player since Michael Jordan, LeBron is still operating at a completely transcendent level in all aspects of the game, and the ridiculously simple advantage of ‘having LeBron’ cannot be under-estimated, nor perhaps quantified. Unfortunately, with a supporting cast of teammates that often seem to find themselves wearing casts, LeBron’s current level of basketball – which both basic and advanced statistics will tell you represents potentially the best NBA post-season performance of all-time – will still not be enough to take himself, and his hometown team, to glory. LeBron’s unrivalled set of skills and will to win should be enough to avoid a sweep, but despite the cult of the individual often taking precedence within the media, basketball is, of course, a team game, and as one of the best teams of all time, I expect the Golden State Warriors to win the series either 4-1, or 4-2.

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Ali Maxwell sports betting blogger

ALI MAXWELL is about to graduate with a degree in French, and is looking to enter the world of Broadcasting and Sports Media, specifically focusing on basketball and English and European football (soccer). 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 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.