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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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

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