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+.

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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.

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+.

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

NBA All-star weekend: Time for a midseason recap

Kevin Durant had one of the best months in living memory in January

Kevin Durant had one of the best months in living memory in January

The NBA All-star weekend is the beginning of the end of the NBA season. By the time you read this the stars of the association will have decamped to New Orleans for a weekend of dunks, three pointers, and dunks AND three pointers. With a weekend away from the main action, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the season thus far, and look ahead to the rest of the season.

NBA Championship Outright Winner Betting Odds

Miami Heat +210

Indiana Pacers +250

Oklahoma City Thunder +375

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

We’re about 50 games into every team’s season and the gulf between the Eastern and Western Conferences is bigger than it has been in a long, long time. The Eastern conference is simple – there are two good teams and they’re heading towards an inevitable, almighty showdown in the conference finals. It’s unsurprising that one of those teams is the two-time defending champions Miami Heat, led by all-world LeBron James (who hit a last-second dagger on Wednesday night to beat the Warriors in spectacular fashion – well worth a visit to NBA.com) and ably assisted by a ‘getting-older-by-the-second’ Dwyane Wade and Chris ‘Photobomb’ Bosh, who’s having his best season in a few years. The Heat have taken their foot off the gas at times in the last couple of months, but they’ve won eight of their last ten, and have a ten game lead over Toronto in third.

The surprise package in the East are the Indiana Pacers. It’s no shock to see them up there – they gave us a taste of what was to come in their seven-game loss to the Heat in last season’s playoffs, but the way they took those performances into this season caught a few people off guard. Paul George has elevated his game to put himself in the upper echelons of NBA stars and has earned a place as an All-star starter, while Roy Hibbert remains a fearsome rim protector and Lance Stephenson has developed into the biggest x-factor in the league. The Pacers look set to be number one seed in the East and have lost just three games at home this season. If they secure the first seed, it will be tough for even the Heat to get past that test and into their fourth straight finals.

Betting Instinct Tip – The Pacers are +100 at allyoubet.ag to win the Eastern Conference.

As for the Western Conference, well, it’s a mess. Out in front are the Oklahoma City Thunder, spearheaded by man of the moment Kevin Durant. The Slim Reaper had one of the all-time great months in January, scoring a heap of points in an incredibly economic way, more than making up for the continued injury problems faced by Durant’s partner-in-OKC Russell ‘Hipster’ Westbrook. The supporting cast around Durant has continued to grow this year – Serge Ibaka might be the best third wheel in the league, while Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Stevan Adams are exciting young pieces coming into their own. Their win over Miami in January showed they could go small-ball and match the Heat- that could be crucial come the playoffs.

Betting Instinct Tip OKC are +375 to win the NBA title at Intertops.eu

The rest of the West is wide open. The Spurs will be there or thereabouts, neither Houston nor Golden State have quite clicked this term while Portland are fading after a fast start. The two teams worth keeping an eye on are recovering from huge injury losses to get back to winning ways. The LA Clippers lost point guard Chris Paul for the last six weeks, but Blake Griffin hugely stepped up in his absence, ensuring they remain in the hunt for the top four seed. If Doc Rivers can get the team playoff ready, Paul’s nous, and Griffin’s form could be terrifying. The other side to keep an eye are the Memphis Grizzlies. Marc Gasol missed a lot of time, but their interior of Gasol and Zac Randolph will cause just about any side problems. They could still emerge from the West as contenders.

Betting Instinct Tip – LA Clippers are +600 to win the Western Conference, while Memphis are +2500, both at allyoubet.ag

Jamie avatarJAMIE 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