The NBA is invading. Slowly but surely, they’re striving to take down the NFL, likely counting on some internal cannibalism from pro football to aid the cause. Between concussions and other injuries in addition to the rule changes being instituted to help curb the problem aggravating purists, we’re getting there.
Check out the calendar. This is the earliest the NBA will open a season in decades, beating last year by a day. They’re taking care of players by continuing to limit back-to-backs, which are down 31 percent since the initiative to trim them began in 2014 under commissioner Adam Silver. As handicappers and bettors, we can no longer count on fading a team playing for the fourth time in five nights.
Once again, Golden State is heavily favored according to Monday’s latest odds, opening the season at 1-to-2, which implies a win probability of 66.6 percent. The 2017-18 odds were 5-to-12, which implies a win probability of 70.6 percent. Similarly, the Warriors are 5-to-13 (-325, 76.5%) were 1-to-4 (80%) to win the Western Conference, which means you were betting a dollar to win a quarter for every buck you bet on Golden State to open the season.
I can understand the public’s position in seeking out a better return if you’re betting NBA futures, but bookmakers are absolutely right to ride the best team of all-time, especially this season upon adding DeMarcus Cousins.
Last season, after dropping Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, the Rockets were still 5-to-9 (-180, 64.3%) to win the NBA title and they only slipped to 5-to-6 (-120, 54.5%) when facing a 3-2 series deficit. Even facing elimination, the fact Chris Paul’s hamstring was likely to keep him out for the remainder of the series still made the Warriors favorites. While it sounds strange, they then went out and proved why that was the right call.
Similarly, there will likely be a moment this season when the odds to make money off Golden State’s supremacy will be better than they are now. It may be a fleeting opportunity, but that’s when to strike for you to be happy when the NBA crowns a champion in 2019. The Warriors are the one team that can survive a season-ending injury to their best player. If you were to pull any other team’s top player, you couldn’t say they would still be a viable threat to win the NBA title as you could for the Dubs if they ever lost Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry.
Two is another story. The Warriors can’t win without Durant and Curry, but could still prevail if one of them is leading the charge come May and June.
Late in the season, hopefully healthy with all of their superstars in the mix, you can count on Golden State dropping a few games since guys will be resting their bodies and DeMarcus Cousins should be working the rust off and getting himself acclimated to a new system.
If you’re banking on his surly demeanor disrupting chemistry, understand that he’ll be playing on a winning team for the first time in his career and is performing damage control for his reputation by joining the Warriors at a discounted rate. He’s going to smile even if unhappy coming off the bench. Once the postseason rolls around, once he’s familiar with what his role we’ll be, Cousins will play x-factor.
The four-time All-Star center gives the Warriors the one ingredient they’ve lacked, an elite post-up threat who commands double-teams and can free up shooters. He’s a defensive liability, but Kerr can pick and choose when to utilize him. Against teams like Houston, Utah and Oklahoma City, all of which feature standout defenders in the middle, Cousins will serve as an option who can come in and make those guys work to avoid foul trouble.
The Warriors will win a fourth championship in five seasons in their final run before moving from Oakland to San Francisco. Then we’ll see who sticks around. Cousins almost certainly won’t. Durant will explore his options before deciding what suits him best, as he should. If you’ve watched him cash your Warriors’ ticket through another effort worthy of Finals MVP, hopefully you can find it in you to wish him regardless of his decision despite “ruining the game.”
Western Conference champion: If the Warriors (4/13) are going to win a championship, they’ve got to get another one of these. If you’re into throwing money down the toilet, the Thunder (16/1) is the best way to do it since they’ve surpassed the Rockets (7/2) as the team that can best defend Golden State while also being able to hang offensively. The Lakers (17/2) are enticing, but the only way we see LeBron James at the Finals this season will be if they do a special edition of his fantastic HBO talk show, “The Shop” live on location from Staples. Since I don’t believe they’ll leave the barber shop, that’s unlikely. There would be awesome value with the Jazz (50/1) if I believed Golden State can be beaten, which I don’t.
Eastern Conference champion: In honor of James’ annual haunting of East being over, the basketball gods are going to bestow a seven-game classic series between America’s all-time winningest basketball franchise and the group representing all of Canada. Book it. The Celtics (4/5) will edge the Raptors (5/2) on a clutch shot by either Kyrie Irving or Jaylen Brown, each of whom you can count on when all the chips are on the table. The 76ers (7/2) aren’t ready yet, while the Bucks (14/1), Wizards (25/1) and Pacers (25/1) will threaten but fall short. The Heat at 100/1 in Dwyane Wade’s final season is disrespectful of greatness and could be worth the lottery ticket if you’re so inclined. The chase for Jimmy Butler may not be over.
Atlantic Division champion: The regular-season is a different animal and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raptors (2/1) defend their title since they’ll be a better team with Kawhi Leonard than DeMar DeRozan. The Celtics (5/7) and 76ers (4/1) are viable options, though I believe Philly’s free-throw shooting woes will cost them victories. The Nets (300/1) and Knicks (500/1) will continue to stink up New York city by design as they continue youth movements.
Central Division champion: The Bucks (10/11) are a slight favorite over the Pacers (5/4) since Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the division now that the King is wearing his crown elsewhere. The Pistons (8/1), Cavs (50/1) and Bulls (60/1) all have a chance to challenge if everything breaks right, but the value in place for young Chicago makes them interesting to me. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen must prove they can co-exist as the driving forces, but there’s a ton of talent in place for Fred Hoiberg to work with.
Southeast Division champion: Dwight Howard’s back issues could haunt the Wizards (2/3)since the arrival of him, Jeff Green and Austin Rivers was expected to help foster a breakthrough, finally giving Scott Brooks some depth in D.C. John Wall and Bradley Beal remain one of the league’s top backcourts and should help deliver Washington’s second division title in three years after finishing one game behind the Heat (7/5) last season. Erik Spoelstra’s guiding touch does make a difference over the course of 82 games, but he’ll need a Butler-type to come in and stir things up to repeat. The Hornets (12/1) have to start fast to avoid a fire sale, making them too risky a play, while the Magic (50/1) and Hawks (100/1) will vie to stay out of last place.
Southwest Division champion: Even though they’re likely to come through, the Rockets (1/10) aren’t offering up much of a return when you consider the risk involved. If James Harden goes down, do Chris Paul, Clint Capela and Carmelo Anthony hold off the Pelicans (9/1), Spurs (12/1), Mavs (60/1) and Grizzlies (60/1)? That’s a great question, but not one I can answer with enough certainty to authorize dropping a dime to win a C note, especially since most who would read this and think to do it would likely do so to win multiple dimes. No me gusta. Anthony Davis is determined to take his next step and has enough around him to really emerge as the MVP candidate he rightfully feels he is. San Antonio should never be written off and the two teams who brought up the rear last season both figure to be significantly improved if they stay healthy.
Northwest Division champion: This is the league’s most competitive division and arguably carries that distinction throughout every league. The Jazz (8/5), Thunder (2/1), Nuggets (3/1), Timberwolves (12/1) and Trail Blazers (12/1) could all win 55 games and take the title if everything breaks right, but I do think Utah and Oklahoma City have the best two-way blends of the five. Since I’ve got OKC reaching the West finals, I’ll stick with them here to double my money.
Pacific Division champion: The Warriors (1/50) are certainly the play here, but unless Warren Buffett is out there reading this for some advice and how to bring in guaranteed coin, I’d stay away from this mortal lock. The Lakers (10/1), Clippers (80/1), Suns (200/1) and Kings (500/1) really have no shot to pry the Pacific from Golden State and if I were to play contrarian here, I’d want more than 10 times my investment since we’d be playing fantasy land. Maybe Doc Rivers can get “Heart and Hustle, Part II” out of the Clips the way he did out of the Orlando Magic back in 2000. That’s just as reasonable as thinking anyone will finish ahead of the Dubs, who would have to find new levels for complacency or awful luck with injuries not to win for the fifth straight season.
MVP: LeBron James (+400); Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450); James Harden (+700), Kevin Durant (+1000); Kawhi Leonard (+1200), Joel Embiid, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry (+1600); Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving (+2000); Karl-Anthony Towns (+2500); DeMar DeRozan, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler (+3300); Damian Lillard (+4000); Victor Oladipo, John Wall (+5000)
Analysis: LeBron getting a 50-plus win season out of the Lakers would definitely give him a huge edge, but I love a familiar face in a new place for a more lucrative payout here. There’s no evidence that Leonard isn’t 100 percent and there’s no way he doesn’t play at an extremely high level if he’s able to remain healthy. The Raptors are going to do a lot of winning with him leading the way, so my call is that an Eastern Conference top seed will get him this regular-season award for a really nice return on 12/1.
Scoring title: Anthony Davis (+275); James Harden (+300); Giannis Antetokounmpo (+700), LeBron James (+800); Devin Booker (+1200); Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, (+1400); Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving (+2000); DeMar DeRozan, Victor Oladipo (+2500); Kawhi Leonard (+3300)
Analysis: Greek Freak has vowed to be more aggressive this season, trading in his desire to improve his jump shot for a more aggressive approach of attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line more often. Mike Budenholzer’s system should generate more possessions and better looks for everyone, so don’t be surprised to see Antentokounmpo’s long name atop the points-per-game leaderboard.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic (+250); Deandre Ayton (+275); Kevin Knox, Collin Sexton (+700); Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young (+1000); Jaren Jackson, Jr. (+1400); Wendell Carter, Jr. (+1600); Mo Bamba, Michael Porter, Jr. (+2000); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+2500); Harry Giles (+2800); Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker (+3300); Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Zhaire Smith, Robert Williams (+5000)
Analysis: Doncic has put his excellence on display early, stuffing the stat sheet in China. Ayton and Young also enjoyed really promising starts to their careers in the preseason, producing special moments and numbers out of the gate. My money is on Ayton, but love Gilgeous-Alexander as a super sleeper, especially if Rivers is able to push the right buttons to surprisingly vie for a playoff spot. Porter, Walker, Mikal Bridges and Zhaire Smith are all out for extended periods, so stay away from those guys the way you would setting a DFS lineup where they still list injured players.