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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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 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+.

Spurs set to solve the Thunder!

Who will win the NBA Western Conference?

Manu Ginobli and the Spurs are confident of a second straight NBA Finals appearance.

For the second time in three years it is the Spurs and the Thunder battling it out for the NBA’s Western Conference crown. The series gets underway on Monday when the number one seeds host the Conference’s number two team at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. The regular season saw coach Gregg Popovich’s Texans pick up three more wins than their rivals, but it was MVP Kevin Durant and co. who owned the direct duels. OKC won all four matchups this season so far and so there will be no lack of confidence in the visiting team ahead of Game 1.

Bad news for the Thunder, however, is the injury to power forward Serge Ibaka which has ended his season just when it matters most. Ibaka, who played more minutes than any other teammate other than Durant of course, will be a hard act to follow. OKC coach Scott Brooks has several alternatives, including moving Durant to power forward, but Ibaka’s absence is likely have a major effect of his team’s rhythm.

San Antonio’s veterans, however, once again showed their real class by overawing a talented Portland team in the last round. The likes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan have seen it all many times before and know just what is required when the season heads down the home stretch. This experience, coupled with Ibaka’s injury, should be enough to see them turn the tables on their foe and progress to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.

To Win The Western Conference Series, odds

San Antonio Spurs              1.45
Oklahoma City Thunder    2.80

To Win Game 1, odds

San Antonio Spurs             1.43
Oklahoma City Thunder   2.95

Odds provided by http://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

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