NBA

NBA Betting: The West may be done and dusted but it’s all to play for in the Eastern Conference

March 22, 2019January 6th, 2022

LET’S presume – cautiously but with ample evidence – that the Golden State Warriors are rolling all the way to the Western Conference Finals, and probably to the title?

But who do they meet for the right to face one of the myriad contenders from out East?

With a month of the NBA’s regular season remaining, the answer remains baffling and unpredictable.

This cyber-space illustrated last week how the Denver Nuggets are perfectly legitimate. Their lone deficiency is experience.

Plenty of perfectly admirable squads have run and gunned from October to May but been unable to close out when it mattered. Pressure does strange things. 

Yet all season long – if we remove the desperately disappointing Lakers – there has been a presumption that either the Houston Rockets or the Oklahoma City Thunder would each parlay the presence of two Grade-A superstars into a title swing.

But while one was on a roll, the other is threatening to fall off the map.

Houston sustained only a second loss in their last 14 in an overtime reverse to Memphis on Wednesday but will look to rebound into Friday’s Texas Two-Step against the San Antonio Spurs, whose nine-game victorious streak – which all but ensured their generation-long playoff streak continues – was curtailed by Miami in mid-week.

The Rockets are living and dying by two variables: scoring and rebounding. When they (and by they, we mean James Harden and some help) put 100 points on the board, they are 42-19, 4th in the whole NBA. And when they out-rebound opponents, they have only lost three times all season, better than anyone else. With the significant caveat that they’ve managed that advantage only 25 times all season.

The Spurs have throttled some very good foes of late and it’s worth looking under 217 total points as a consequence. Nevertheless, Houston are a league-best 14-3 since All Star break, and with recent defeats of Golden State, Philly, Toronto and Boston, they’ve proven it’s not solely Harden propping them up (strangely, his MVP odds are now back out to 2.30 with Giannis Antetokounmpo returning to top spot at 1.50 … how fickle folk are).

The Thunder, by contrast, have seen clouds gather with a 5-10 mark since All Star, capped by a crushing overtime loss to the Raptors on Wednesday. Answers have been hard to find. A crushing reverse to the Warriors aside, losses to Miami and Indiana are not the stuff of champions.

In three of their last four – all reverses – they’ve scored below 107 points, toxic for a team including Russell Westbrook and Paul George that sits sixth in the NBA in scoring average with 114.4 per night.

And on Friday, a schedule quirk takes them to Toronto – and once again, OKC are leaning heavily on their shooting for victories with the Thunder’s true shooting percentage the worst in the West.

Troubling times when execution is precious in the post-season, even though George is now 1.40 favourite for Defensive Player of the Year.

All of which will provide cheer to Denver, and to the Portland Trail Blazers whose recent cooling doesn’t wipe out their ambitions, even if they are only 24-22 against their own Conference.

Yet with the members of the Elite Eight all but cemented, these last dozen or so games – and the home advantage lost or gained – will count for so much.

Best bets: Take Houston at -3.5 over San Antonio or back Toronto at – 5.5 over Oklahoma City

 

Sunday’s early starter brings the LA Clippers to New York to face the risible Knicks.

The hosts seem intent on tanking to the bottom and entered Thursday with a 1-10 record at the outset of this month to under-underwhelm the Suns to earn the worst record in the NBA.

The impressively over-achieving Clippers could still very easily cap a stunning year by moving up a high as fourth seed with nine wins out of ten to start off March and the boost of Doc Rivers contract extension.

After walloping New York 128-107 recently in LA, expect another rotten core in the Big Apple with the Clippers value even at –13.