It’s getting cozy in the NBA’s Western Conference just in time for the winter season to arrive.
What was expected to be a two-team race between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets – and maybe a third if some team exploded – has now become an unbelievably tight race as the teams pass the quarter mark of the season.
Here’s what the standings look like as of Friday morning:
|1. LA Clippers||15-6|
|2. Denver Nuggets||14-7|
|3. Golden State Warriors||15-8|
|4. Oklahoma City Thunder||13-7|
|5. Portland Trail Blazers||13-8|
|6. Memphis Grizzlies||12-8|
|7. LA Lakers||12-9|
|8. Dallas Mavericks||10-9|
|9. Minnesota Timberwolves||11-11|
|10. New Orleans Pelicans||11-11|
|11. Sacramento Kings||10-11|
|12. San Antonio Spurs||10-11|
|13. Utah Jazz||10-12|
|14. Houston Rockets||9-11|
|15. Phoenix Suns||4-12|
For those attempting to do the math at home, the top six teams in the West are separated by just 2.5 games. The difference between the top seed in the West and being out of the postseason is just 4.5 games, and the Houston Rockets have the second worst record in the conference and yet are just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot and 5.5 back of the conference-leading Clippers.
Also, the current top eight includes an unthinkable five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season (LA, Denver, Memphis, Los Angeles, Dallas). The West is gridlocked at the moment. Here’s how bettors can benefit from these tight races all across the Western part of the country.
Of the three divisions in the West (Northwest, Pacific, Southwest), the third place team is 0.5 games, 1 game and 1.5 games back, respectively. Eleven of the 15 teams are within three games of their division lead. There are races everywhere not even close to being determined.
As much fun as we’re having watching the L.A. teams put in work, the Warriors are still a very safe play at -5000 to win the Pacific. Steph Curry and Draymond Green are on their way back to the lineup, the Clippers don’t feel like they can hang for 82 games and the Lakers are still figuring everything about with LeBron.
We don’t have as much faith in the Rockets to do the same at -225 on 888Sport. Yes, they will ultimately make the postseason. But this division looks tough. Memphis is finally healthy behind Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and is locked in as a top 5 defense. Dallas looks like the offseason winners after signing a rejuvenated DeAndre Jordan and trading up for likely Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, and Anthony Davis and the Pelicans have shown flashes of greatness. It’d be an upset, but few teams are playing better than Memphis, and getting them at +800 on 888Sport is excellent value.
We’ve written on the Northwest before, and it’ll be the Nuggets’ division to lose. Then again, the Thunder have the league’s best defense and will soon get First Team All-Defense forward Andre Roberson back at some point. The Thunder made serious, serious investments this offseason and it’s paying off. They’re going for it right now and there’s a reason they’re the favorites at +225. Still, Denver’s +300 odds on 888Sport look best here.
The challenge in the West isn’t being better than the Warriors on a given night, it’s being better than the Warriors four times in a seven-game series. When considering which teams could upset Golden State, that’s critical. It’s also, of course, difficult. Despite Golden State’s recent slide they’re still -286 to win the West. It’ll take a mighty effort to dethrone them, but we’ve got three teams that could do it.
The Rockets are mired in a huge slump. But it’d be foolish to think they won’t turn things around once Chris Paul returns and gets on the same page as James Harden. They’re also likely to make a trade at some point that will bolster a roster that lost some significant role pieces in the offseason. Again, it’s about teams that can hang in a seven-game series with the Warriors. That feels like Houston, which took Golden State to seven games just a year ago. +600 on 888sport and won’t be that high for much longer.
Fight fire with fire. And fight superstars with superstars. The Thunder match up with the Warriors in the sense that Russell Westbrook and Paul George aren’t backing down from a challenge and won’t be intimidated by Steph and Co. Steven Adams is having a career year and the defense is as good as ever. If they can put the clamps on the Warriors offense and Russ and PG13 get hot, there’s upset potential. +1500 odds on 888Sport are juicy.
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