The NBA preseason may be of little note in terms of winners and losers, but the warm up schedule does mean one very important thing: the season is nearly here.
Tipoff is just three weeks away (October 30) and unlike last year, this year we’re guaranteed games. The preseason schedule kicked off proper this week with a key focus on international flavor. The Clippers and Heat are in China. Boston and Dallas are in Europe. Orlando and New Orleans are preparing for Mexico. New York, Minnesota and Detroit will take their game to Canada (Montreal and Winnipeg) alongside Toronto.
To get you in the mood for what will surely be an intriguing NBA season, here’s our guide to this season’s Western Conference.
(Fear not fans on the right coast; we’ll have an Eastern Conference preview for you on Thursday)
The Best in the West
Since August 9, there has been just one name at the top of oddsmakers’ lists of favorites in the Western Conference. The arrival of Dwight Howard immediately shot the Lakers up the rankings, stepping over an Oklahoma City team that had previously been favored to make a return trip to the finals.
In one move the Lakers’ odds of winning a 17th NBA championship went from 10/1 to 3/1. Now, as the season gets closer, these odds have taken another fall, currently standing at 5/2.
The Lakers are favorites to win the west at 7/5 with the Oklahoma City Thunder following close at 9/5. Even before the Lakers signed Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, many predicted these two sides would meet in the Western Conference Finals but bettors should beware. There are still questions looming over both sides.
For the Lakers, chemistry is an issue. Can the superstar players get along, and can they work together? How will the team cope with another new offensive scheme (this time the Princeton offense)? Does Mike Brown have the ability to coach this bunch? Will Howard’s health stand up? Will Bryant and Nash show their age?
The Thunder might not have as many questions to answer, but they have one very important one: how will James Harden cope under the strain of contract negotiations? It’s unlikely the super-sub will get the contract he deserves due to the OKC front office signing Serge Ibaka to a long-term deal on the back of Durant and Westbrook’s big contracts. If he feels slighted, team morale could take a hit, and that’s never helped any team.
With such questions still in the air, bettors may do well to ponder the whole situation before throwing cash at their bookie.
South Texas Represent
Oddsmakers may be certain the Lakers and Thunder are headed for a showdown in June but that’s certainly not a forgone conclusion for one simple reason: the Spurs.
The record may sound broken but San Antonio still has a shot to win a championship this year. The Spurs finished with the best record in the league last year (50-16) and have done little to alter the core of this year’s team. Other than resign Tim Duncan (for a veritable bargain nonetheless) that is.
The Spurs are third favorites to take the west, with odds currently standing at 9/1, which are quite a few steps behind the leading two. Now would anybody really be so sure the Spurs aren’t going to succeed this year? Probably, but they shouldn’t because the Spurs are perennial contenders and have what it takes to beat anybody come the postseason. And that includes OKC who picked them off last year.
The Spurs are 18/1 to win the NBA championship, tied with Boston and behind the Heat, Lakers, Thunder and Bulls. The Bulls? Those are some odds that will interest more than a few bettors out there.
Rounding Out the Top Five
Dallas and the Clippers follow up the ‘Big Three’ with Western Conference odds of 12/1 each. The Mavericks had an offseason that might not have been disastrous but certainly wasn’t up to the standards we’re used to from Mark Cuban’s team. Kidd, Terry, Mahinmi, all Haywood all gone. No Deron Williams. Kaman, Mayo, Collison and Brand in. Dallas could have a tough time of it.
The Clippers meanwhile added some wily veterans (Grant Hill, Lamar Odom) to put around all that young talent. Matt Barnes’ move across the hallway at Staples may be a bust though. Now the team has to put it all together and prove they can move even further in the playoffs, or Chris Paul won’t be there next year. That’s a question that should be asked as well: how will the Clippers cope as they try to woo the point guard into signing a long term contract?
After the top five, things get a little murky in the west. Offseason moves seem to have weakened the conference, with Denver, Phoenix and Houston not looking as strong as last campaign. Memphis is currently 16/1 to take the west, which is a longshot that almost certainly won’t pay out but is a good indication of where the Grizzlies’ are right now.
Minnesota could be better than 50/1 odds sound as could Portland at 60/1. Golden State (60/1) potentially has the roster to get to the postseason (and save Mark Jackson’s job?) but the Warriors have always been flaky. The less said about Sacramento (11/1) the better. Bettors would do better to put their money on the team moving before making the playoffs again.
Western Conference Odds
L.A. Lakers 7/5 | Oklahoma City 9/5 | San Antonio 9/1 | Dallas 12/1 | L.A. Clippers 12/1 | Memphis 16/1 | Denver 33/1 | Houston 33/1 | Utah 40/1 | Minnesota 50/1 | Golden State 60/1 | Phoenix 60/1 | Portland 60/1 | New Orleans 80/1 | Sacramento 100/1
NBA Championship Odds
Miami 9/4 | L.A. Lakers 5/2 | Oklahoma City 5/1 | Chicago 12/1 | Boston 18/1 | San Antonio 18/1 | L.A. Clippers 22/1 | Brooklyn 30/1 | Dallas 30/1 | Indiana 35/1 | Memphis 35/1 | New York 40/1 | Philadelphia 40/1 | Denver 66/1 | Atlanta 75/1 | Houston 75/1 | Minnesota 90/1 | Golden State 100/1 | Orlando 100/1 | Phoenix 100/1 | Portland 100/1 | Utah 100/1 | Milwaukee 125/1 | New Orleans 150/1 | Cleveland 200/1 | Sacramento 200/1 | Toronto 200/1 | Washington 200/1 | Detroit 250/1 | Charlotte 300/1
*Odds correct as of October 9, 2012, provided by Bovada.
Return on Thursday to read CasinoReview’s preview of the NBA Eastern Conference.