There are some really interesting lines tonight and just as interesting are some of the trends too. As the Knight of the Templar told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely.”
Detroit (+2) at Charlotte (O/U 191.5) – The Pistons were playing so well following the dismissal of Josh Smith and then Brandon Jennings went down with his season-ending injury. D.J. Augustin has actually played pretty well in his absence averaging over ten points and almost five assists per game. Still, the Pistons are two games out of the final playoff spot and it’s not going to be easy.
The Hornets are in the seventh seed but have lost two straight despite winning six of their last ten. With Kemba Walker out indefinitely and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist day-to-day, Hornets could be in trouble.
Trends: The total has gone OVER in four of Detroit’s last five games… The total has gone UNDER in six of Charlotte’s last seven games… The Pistons are 5-1 straight up in their last six games at Charlotte… The Hornets are 1-7 against the spread in their last eight games at home versus Detroit.
The Pick: Take Detroit and the OVER.
Brooklyn (+11.5) at Memphis (O/U 190) – The Nets are dead even with the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but would lose the tie-breaker if the season ended today. Brooklyn has actually been better on the road than they have been at home but I’m not sure that will help here.
Memphis continues to put pressure on Golden State in the West. Right now, the Grizzlies are three games back. What’s gone in Memphis has been impressive and I don’t see this team going away any time soon.
Trends: The Grizzlies have won nine of their last ten games… The Nets have lost six of their last ten games.
The Pick: Take the Nets getting those points and the OVER.
Houston (+2) at Phoenix (O/U 214.5) – The Rockets come to the desert six games out of the first seed in the Western Conference but they have teams breathing down their necks. Portland, Dallas, the LA Clippers and the defending champion Spurs are all within three games of Houston.
The Suns find themselves currently hanging on to the final playoff spot by the skin of their teeth. New Orleans is a game back and Oklahoma City is two games behind. Phoenix must win games at home and needs to try and beat teams ahead of them in the standings.
Trends: The Suns have won four of their last ten games… The Rockets have won seven of their last ten games…
The Pick: Take the Rockets getting the points and the OVER.
Denver (+2) at LA Lakers (O/U 198.5) – These two teams have combined to lose nine straight games and they’ve also combined to win just two games in their last 20. The Nuggets are just 7-19 on the road this season and they are a full eight games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. In other words, they aren’t making the playoffs.
The Lakers are a mess on and off the court as disgruntled players have started to speak out a little more than the Lakers’ front office would like. Between injuries and an overall lack of talent, this has just not been a good run for the purple and gold.
Trends: The Lakers have lost four in a row and nine of their last ten… Denver has lost five straight and has lost nine of their last ten.
The Pick: I’ll take the Nuggets getting the points and the UNDER.
The Los Angeles Lakers finally have their coach in Byron Scott. After three separate interviews and months of wavering, the Lakers finally decided on Scott. In the past couple of days, speculation had been growing that the Lakers were dragging their feet intentionally because there seemed to be a chance that Doc Rivers could be available.
While we might not ever know if there was that type of interest, it was thought that if Donald Sterling continued to drag out the Clippers’ saga then Rivers would quit. Whether the NBA would have allowed him to become immediately available is unknown but it would have been a very interesting situation.
As far as Scott is concerned, the former Laker is good coach but I can’t help but wonder if this has the touches of Kobe Bryant on it. Scott appears to be the perfect guy for Bryant to have influence over in his final few years. It’s a safe pick because Kobe can’t have much left so when he is gone Scott is a good enough coach to move forward.
Training Camp Injuries Already
Training Camps across the National Football League have only been in full swing a few days but already the injury bug has bitten several teams hard. Baltimore lost defensive back Aaron Ross to an Achilles’ injury while he was just running, noting else. He is gone for the season.
The 49ers lost back-up running back Kendall Hunter with an ACL tear on Friday and the Colts lost running back Vick Ballard to an Achilles’ tear as well. Also taking a hit in the backfield were the Carolina Panthers who have lost rookie running back Tyler Gaffney to a knee injury. He is expected to miss the season.
These injuries follow the season-ending ones to linebackers Kiko Alonso of Buffalo and Sean Weatherspoon of Atlanta. Sadly, I guarantee we’ll see more of these injuries as the preseason unfolds.
MLB Races Staying Tight
At the All-Star Break, five of the six divisions in Major League Baseball were extremely tight. As we get ready to head into the month of August even that one lone division has tightened a bit. The American League Central has the Tigers leading by five games over Kansas City who has won six of ten. This division is the tightest in baseball.
The AL East has Baltimore leading both Toronto and the New York Yankees by three games and now Tampa has closed to within 6.5 following a nine-game winning streak. The Rays streak may cause them to re-think trading David Price.
Over in the AL West, the Oakland A’s lead the LA Angels by just two games. While Seattle is 10.5 behind the Athletics, they are in prime contention for the wild-card so keep an eye on them too.
In the National League, the East Division has seen the Washington Nationals re-take first as they lead Atlanta by 1.5 games. The NL Central is the most fascinating division in baseball because of the race going on there. Milwaukee has a three game lead over St. Louis, a four game lead over Pittsburgh and a six game lead over Cincinnati.
The Reds find themselves in a situation where they need to decide if they are going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline this week. The same could also be said for the Pirates who need to add a bat or arm desperately.
The NL West is the tightest race in baseball. The Dodgers are just a half game up on the Giants who seem to have survived their earlier swoon although they’ve lost three in a row.
Stay tuned because I don’t see these races changing much.
While certainly the attention of the National Basketball Association was focused squarely on the Kobe Bryant season-ending injury, there still remains some to be decided and that ‘some’ involves Bryant’s Lakers. With a one game lead heading into last night’s action (see update below), over the Utah Jazz, the Lakers still need help.
(LA defeated San Antonio 91-86 last night. They have a 1.5 game lead over Utah)
The Lakers have one game remaining and that one is at home on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets. The good news for the Kobe-less Lakers is that they will know exactly what they need to do at tip-off. The Jazz start their season finale at 8pm ET in Memphis while the Lakers won’t crank things up until 1030pm PT.
Of course it all could be a moot point because the Jazz hold the tie-breaker should the two finish with the exact same record. The interesting thing here is that even though Houston and the Grizzlies are both securely into the playoffs, they are both also playing for key positioning. Neither of these teams are just going to lay down unless things break the wrong ways heading into the respective games.
For Houston, they have a shot of moving out of the seventh spot and into the sixth. That’s huge considering they’d be forced to play either the Spurs or Thunder in the opening round. In the case of Memphis, they are locked in a three-way tussle with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers for the third playoff spot. One game could mean the difference between being a three-seed or a fifth and that means match-up issues for all teams involved for both the first and potentially second round match-ups.
In the Eastern Conference, we know who all eight playoff teams are going to be and the match-ups are nearly set. In the one-eight series, Miami will take on Milwaukee who couldn’t quite catch the Celtics to avoid playing the Heat. Regardless, I fully expect a Heat sweep in this one.
The two-seed is New York and more than likely they’ll be playing the Celtics in a series that very well could be the most entertaining of the first round. Obviously there is tremendous rivalry there so clearly the Celtics would love to derail the Knicks trip to the conference finals against the Heat.
Indiana and Brooklyn are still deciding the three/four seeds and Atlanta and Chicago are still battling for the five/six seeds in the Eastern Conference. I would expect that regardless of how these two match-ups end up, they’ll both be physical series relying on solid defense and clutch shooting.
Games to play in the final Days
Utah at Minnesota – The Jazz are in a must-win situation and while playing on the road isn’t ideal, I still expect a victory in the land of 10,000 lakes and so should you.
Toronto at Atlanta – You’d think this one would be a simple task for the Hawks with Toronto playing for nothing right? Not so fast because the Raptors have played well lately and I like an upset in Georgia.
Atlanta at New York – This one has a very slim chance of being a first round match-up but either way I don’t expect you’ll see the stars too long. Take the Knicks at home in Madison Square Garden.
Utah at Memphis – There is of course a chance this one could mean absolutely nothing but here’s hoping that it means a ton for both squads. If that’s the case, the urgency of the Jazz should prevail over the Grizzlies who just must start resting some guys one way or the other. What the heck, take the Jazz.
The Los Angeles Clippers are not going to earn the number one seed in the Western Conference Playoffs as that ship has more than sailed away now, but they have accomplished something they’ve never done in their franchise history. Sunday in Staples’ Center, the ‘other’ team in the City of Angels not only swept the season series with their roommates, the LA Lakers, but also won the team’s first division title since arriving in Los Angeles.
In clinching their first Pacific Division title, the Clippers also dealt a blow to the Lakers who slipped out of the eighth seed in the West. The Lakers are a half a game back of Utah right now with five games remaining. Chances are good the Lakers will somehow manage to get into the playoffs as David Stern would never allow otherwise….
This is about the Clippers though and deservedly so. LA will be one of five teams in the Western Conference to win 50 games or more this season and they’ve shown great maturity and growth in doing so. Do I believe the Clippers will come out of the West to challenge the Heat, errrrr, Eastern Conference Champion? No I do not, but that doesn’t dismiss them as a threat nor does it discount what they’ve done this season.
Paul should garner serious MVP consideration although he won’t win it.
Led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have not only continued their offensive prowess but they’ve also paid some attention to the defensive end as well. They are 4th in the NBA in points allowed with just 94.8 points per game and have rebounded the basketball better too. As of right now, the Clippers could play one of three teams in the first round of the playoffs. With roughly five games remaining for most NBA teams, the Clippers can expect to see the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets in the opening round.
The Clips are 1-2 against Denver, 1-3 against Golden State and 2-1 with a game remaining against Memphis. That doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence heading into a seven-game series against any of those teams but the playoffs are a different animal.
Regardless of what happens with the Clippers in the playoffs, a division title has been a long-time coming and will be a step in the right direction. With the Lakers and Spurs aging, the next few years could mean bigger things for the Clippers in the Western Conference.
Games Coming Up Tonight With Playoff Implications
Washington at New York – The Knicks are going for 13 in a row but a win will also give them the outright Atlantic Division title. The bigger catch will be the second seed in the East. I love the Knicks at home tonight.
Oklahoma City at Utah – The Thunder are stinging from a rare home loss to the Knicks and are one game behind the Spurs for the top seed in the West. Utah is playing for its’ playoff life. In a tight game, the Thunder put a nail in Utah’s coffin.
New Orleans at LA Lakers – Kobe and company will know the outcome of the Utah game long before their game is over with and if that doesn’t serve as motivation for this team nothing will. Toss in the fact that New Orleans isn’t a real good team and you have a game the Lakers cannot lose. Take the Lakers tonight.
Toronto at Chicago – The Bulls need a win not so much to move up in the standings as they do to keep from falling. They are one and two and a half games ahead of Atlanta and Boston right now for the fifth spot. The Raptors will not be an easy out, but the Bulls win.
Most teams in the National Basketball Association have 14 games remaining on their respective schedules give or take a couple. While there are already several things locked up at the moment such as the Miami Heat being the one seed in the Eastern Conference, there are also a number of ‘ifs ands or buts’ as well.
Putting the Heat in Perspective
Miami now holds the NBA’s second-longest winning streak in league history with 25-straight victories. The Heat hosted Charlotte last evening (update below) and I have every expectation the string will go to 26 straight. I found a stat very interesting that may speak volumes or more say nothing at all about the competition in the Eastern Conference.
Miami defeated Charlotte last night to extend the streak to 26 straight games.
While the Heat obviously had another 10-0 week over their last 10 games, only two other Eastern Conference teams (Washington and Brooklyn) had winning stretches (6-4) over the same period of time. Everyone else was .500 or below. Compare that to the Western Conference where the current top eight seeds in the playoff race all had records of 6-4 or better over their last ten games.
What does this mean? As I said, it could say a lot or very little. Anyone would lay money on the Heat right now to win the NBA Championship but will the Eastern Conference Playoffs offer them enough of a challenge to prepare them for San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Clippers or even Denver? Right now, my money is still on Miami but it’s something to look for down the stretch.
What We Know in the East
Miami is currently 12 games up on current second-seed New York and will clearly enter the playoffs with home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs at the very least. Milwaukee has an eight game advantage over Philadelphia in the race for the final playoff spot. In other words, we already know the eight teams who will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference because it would literally be a miracle for Philly to catch the Bucks at this point.
What we don’t know is just how the seeding will break down other than the top spot. Indiana and the Knicks will probably take the race for the second spot right down to the wire and Atlanta and Brooklyn could conceivably make a run the two-spot as well although a longer shot indeed. Milwaukee is a game and a half behind Boston and would desperately like to catch the Celtics in order to avoid the Heat in round one.
What We Know in the West
Denver has 15 straight games and has closed to within five of conference leading San Antonio. That may be a tough task to catch the Spurs, but they are just three back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second spot which could pay huge dividends later in the playoffs. OKC has goals of their own as they are 2.5 games behind the Spurs for the one-seed.
Near the bottom, the LA Lakers actually have some breathing room simply because teams below them keep losing. LA has moved to two and ahlf games ahead of Utah and three games ahead of Dallas and Portland for the eighth seed in the West. Don’t count out the Mavs who are on a 7-3 stretch in their last ten and might be playing their best basketball.
What we don’t know in the West is just is how seeds three, four and five will shake out. The Nuggets, Clippers and Grizzlies could see plenty of movement in and around each other over the next three weeks and that means going from perhaps playing each other to having to play the Thunder or Spurs if they aren’t careful.
What I am confident in telling you is don’t bet the farm on the Lakers like many have suggested. They look like shoo-ins for the playoffs now, but they lack any real consistency to hang with the big dogs out West.
I get it. You came here looking for advice on just who to take in your NCAA office bracket pool aren’t you? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow until I give you my Final Four picks because today I’m focusing on the ‘Forgotten.’
You may know the ‘Forgotten’ better as the National Basketball Association. During the month of March the NBA becomes like Allen Iverson these days. They desperately want to be relevant but there are far more important things to discuss.
The exception here is the Miami Heat and their 22-game winning streak that went into Boston last night. The exception is also the fact that Kobe tried to play, but the ankle just isn’t responding. Oh, he has the flu now too. The exception is that the playoff race is starting to take shape in both conferences.
Miami entered play last night in Boston having pretty much wrapped up the one seed in the Eastern Conference. They lead second-place Indiana by 11.5 games after all. Kevin Garnett was a game-time decision going into the game which means he is less than 100%. Assuming the Heat won, I still have reservations that they will get to the record of 33 simply because they still have the Knicks and Spurs on the schedule.
Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been excellent during this run, but they are getting big contributions from guys like Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and veteran Ray Allen.
When Miami decides that it wants to play defense they are downright unbeatable. The question right now is will they be able to stay interested and motivated enough to get themselves ready for the playoffs? This streak should do it and the fact Boston was the team that ended Houston’s 22-games streak a few years ago.
Update: Miami defeated Boston 105-103 last night to make it 23 wins in a row.
If there was ever a good time for Kobe Bryant to be laid up with an ankle injury and the flu, then this is certainly it. After knocking off Sacramento Sunday Night, they played at woeful Phoenix and then host the Washington Wizards on Friday. That should give Bryant time to both get healthy and heal.
While many have suggested that maybe the Lakers would play better without Bryant on the floor, that probably isn’t the case. Kobe will never be known as a ‘good sharer’ of the ball but he understands at this point in his career what it takes to win games and be successful long-term. LA continues to cling to the 8th seed in the West by one game over Utah.
Update: The Lakers were beaten in Phoenix 99-76.
Keep an eye on the Denver Nuggets. Dwarfed by the Heat’s impressive streak, Denver has won 11 straight and is just one game back of the LA Clippers for the third seed and five back of Oklahoma City for the second. Catching the Thunder may be a stretch but, but I can easily see them grabbing the three spot.
The Eastern Conference is really intriguing. Spots two through seven are separated by just 3.5 games which means teams could go from a solid two or three seed down to a six or seven in short order.
Denver at Oklahoma City – If the Nuggets have any hope of catching the Thunder in the West then this is a must-win game. OKC is just too tough at home though for me not to take the Thunder.
LA Clippers at Sacramento – The Clippers are actually 7-3 over their last ten but are in serious jeopardy of slipping into the fourth or fifth seed if they aren’t careful. Winning game like this one are a must. Take Lob City in this one.
It wasn’t easy, but the Miami Heat have now won 20 games in a row in the National Basketball Association with a 98-94 win over Philadelphia Wednesday night in Philly. The Heat are now just the fourth team in NBA history to have a winning streak of 20 or more games in a season.
Wade has been excellent over the Heat’s 20-game winning streak.
LeBron James had 27 points but it was teammate Dwyane Wade who tipped in a James’ miss to preserve the lead and the victory. Wade had 21 for the Heat who actually trailed by 3 with less than four minutes to go.
The Heat have four straight road games before returning home. They’ll play at Milwaukee tonight, at Toronto at Boston and then at Cleveland before returning to South Beach. There, they will have winnable games against Detroit and Charlotte. While Milwaukee could pose a threat, I see only Boston as truly potential road block.
If you want to look far ahead, their record-tying 33rd straight win would ironically be against the Sixers in South Florida. There are a couple of very dangerous games between now and then however. On Easter Sunday, the Heat travel to San Antonio for a potential NBA Finals match-up. The only other game I’d be concerned about is a visit from the New York Knicks on April 2nd.
I have contended all along that Miami will stumble but it won’t be against a top team. They tend to play down to their competition at times as they did Wednesday evening and I think that’s where they get caught up.
Due South of the Keystone State, the Los Angeles Lakers were playing in Atlanta and not only did they lose the game but they may have lost Kobe Bryant for an extended period of time as well. On what Bryant has deemed a ‘dirty play,’ Atlanta’s Dahntay Jones got his feet underneath Bryant as he contended the jump shot along the baseline.
While it was clear Jones got up close and personal to Kobe, to call the play dirty is a bit of a stretch. I see this happen routinely in NBA games. Had Jones turned and put his rear end into Bryant before coming down in order to box him out it then that could have been called a foul so what would you have him do?
At this time, the Lakers are saying the Bryant is out indefinitely with a sprained left ankle. With less than 20 games remaining, what will this do to the fortunes of the Lakers who finally clawed back into the eight playoff spot? They lead Utah by a mere half game. Any way you spin it, this can’t be good for LA.
Games to Wager this Week
LA Lakers at Indiana – The Pacers bombed in their big match-up with the Heat last week and now have a chance for redemption against Kobe-less LA. The Pacers are very good at home so I love them in this one.
Memphis at Utah – The Jazz have slipped out of the playoff race and can make a huge statement in winning against the Grizzlies. Memphis has actually climbed in to the three-spot as of today and certainly has a shot at the two as well. Utah desperate and at home. Take the Jazz.
Golden State at Houston – The Warriors are currently 6th in the Western Conference while the Rockets are in 7th. With pressure off momentarily because of the Kobe injury behind them, I like Houston at home.
Detroit at Portland – The two teams I thought for sure would make runs at the last playoff spot in their respective conferences have disappointed greatly. The Pistons are a lost cause, but the Blazers still have a breath. Take Portland at home.
Did you notice the NBA prize some of the limelight away from the NFL this past weekend? Mike Brown’s exit in Los Angeles certainly caused more than a few pairs of eyes to glance away from football in the direction of the soap opera that was – emphasis on the was – the search for a new Lakers head coach.
Tuesday night there’ll be more eyes on the Association as it hits television screens across the country almost unimpeded – there is the small matter of a 24-hour NCAA basketball marathon – and sure enough, those headline-grabbing, attention-seeking Lakers are on the bill.
Here’s a look at some of Tuesday’s notable match-ups and how they may well pan out.
New York Knicks @ Orlando Magic
First up, New York (4-0, 1-0 road) puts its undefeated streak on the line with a trip to Orlando (2-4, 2-1 home).
Since starting the season a surprising 2-0, Orlando has shown its true colors with a four-game losing streak, including a home-and-away series with Brooklyn this past weekend. Magic fans need to get comfortable now; long losing streaks are going to be a trend this season.
New York meanwhile has performed better than expected. This isn’t a case of beating league doormats either; the Knicks have played solid teams. The Knicks look to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1993-94 and for only the third time in franchise history. Both teams that previously hit that mark went to the Finals, with the 1969-70 Knicks winning the title.
Odds: New York enters the game as favorites (-7) with the over/under at 188½.
Take: New York – It would be silly to think that this is an unstoppable Knicks team (it isn’t) but the Magic simply don’t match up well. Expect Carmelo Anthony to have another strong performance as New York covers the spread again. Take the total to go under.
Washington Wizards @ Charlotte Bobcats
Next up, Washington (0-5, 0-3 road) looks to win its race with Detroit, scoring a first victory of the season before the lowly Pistons. To do so, the Wizards will need to knock-off Charlotte (2-3, 2-1 home) on Tuesday night.
Despite a slew of injuries, the Wizards will be hoping to better last season’s 0-8 start, coincidentally the same record Detroit currently has.
Charlotte’s overtime win over Dallas on Saturday put the stopper on a three-game losing streak. Predicted to finish last in the league again this season, a second win on the bounce would do wonders for the team’s confidence.
Odds: Winless Washington starts as underdogs (+1½) with the over under at 189½.
Take: Charlotte – The Bobcats might not have been the most impressive team on the court this season, but they certainly have enough to take down the Wizards. Take the Cats to cover the spread, with the total going under in a low-scoring affair.
San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Lakers
After that, it’s time for the big one. San Antonio (6-1, 3-1 road) returns to the scene of its one loss this season, Staples Center, looking to pile some more pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers (3-4, 3-2 home).
Los Angeles will be without new head coach Mike D’Antoni, who is not expected to be on the sidelines until Friday – against Phoenix, fittingly enough – so Bernie Bickerstaff (2-0) will look to guide the Lakers to another victory.
The Spurs meanwhile will be looking for a third win on the bounce, and a third victory in four against the Lakers.
Odds: Los Angeles opened as favorites but San Antonio has nipped ahead to a 1½-point advantage. The over/under is 194½.
Take: San Antonio – Steve Blake joins Steve Nash on the trainer’s table meaning the Lakers are shallow at the point. That means Tony Parker will have the green light to run all over the Lakers. The Spurs’ deep bench will also be a decisive advantage over the Lakers’ very shallow bench. Take San Antonio to cover the spread, although a win all but assures that, with the total going under.
Now we’ll give you the inside scoop on which teams to pick as division winners. Some might surprise you. Some certainly won’t. And remember, while you might not make a lot of money on one single bet, a parlay of all six winners could score you a bucketload [pun most definitely intended!].
2011-12: Boston (39-27) | New York (36-30) | Philadelphia (35-31) | Toronto (23-43) | New Jersey (22-44)
The Atlantic looks set to be a bit of a crapshoot this season, with four of the five teams (sorry Toronto) realistically having a shot at winning the division. Whether that’s a sign of improvement within the division is debatable.
Boston certainly doesn’t look improved, and whilst losing one ‘team player’ rarely makes a huge impact, Ray Allen’s departure could do just that. Is New York better? Maybe. The Knicks are certainly older. How about Brooklyn? Joe Johnson makes the side better for sure, as does a stable lineup – no more Dwight Howard talk, yet – so yes. Philadelphia has Andrew Bynum, who could own the division, if he wants.
Odds: Boston (11/10) | New York (9/4) | Brooklyn (4/1) | Philadelphia (9/2) | Toronto (100/1)
Take: Brooklyn — This might be considered bandwagon jumping, but the Nets are certainly better than last year’s record suggests. A new identity and outlook could do wonders for this team. Philadelphia’s another dark horse that could make some noise.
2011-12: Chicago (50-16) | Indiana (42-24) | Milwaukee (31-35) | Detroit (25-41) | Cleveland (21-45)
Like last season, the Central will be contested between Chicago and Indiana. The remaining three sides have very little hope of achieving anything this season.
Chicago will have to face ‘X’ amount of time without superstar guard Derrick Rose, something that hurt the side badly last season. Preseason results have gone the way of the Bulls though. Indiana meanwhile has undergone very little change and will be hoping experience and familiarity carry through.
Odds: Chicago (5/6) | Indiana (1/1) | Milwaukee (22/1) | Cleveland (50/1) | Detroit (50/1)
Take: Indiana — Without Rose, the Bulls look very ordinary and unless Carlos Boozer is prepared to show up, very beatable. Indiana is deep, not with big name players, but with consistent players. Expect the Pacers to jump out to an early lead in the division. If and when Rose returns, then the Bulls may challenge.
2011-12: Miami (46-20) | Atlanta (40-26) | Orlando (37-29) | Washington (20-46) | Charlotte (7-59)
The Southeast is likely to be a snorefest this season. Miami has improved with the addition of Ray Allen and will garner national attention all the way to the playoffs. Nobody can dispute that. The rest of the division though, well…
Atlanta is worse. Orlando is worse. Washington is, well, an unknown. Charlotte could be better, but that starts with coaching. One thing’s for sure; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won’t find his introduction to the NBA quiet as plain-sailing as Anthony Davis in New Orleans (not that things look easy for the Hornets).
Odds: Miami (1/25) | Atlanta (10/1) | Orlando (50/1) | Washington (50/1) | Charlotte (150/1)
Take: Miami — It may be an obvious choice, but this is a division that will be lucky to have two teams make it to the postseason. If you’re looking for an exciting bet, take both Washington and Charlotte (yes, Charlotte!) to finish above Orlando. There’s nothing magic about the Magic this year.
Oklahoma City has been the talk of the northwest for a couple of years now and that looks no different this season. With pretty much the same roster in place, this is a team that is built for long playoff runs.
Elsewhere in the division, Minnesota looks to make huge strides on last year, providing injury allows such. A second-year Ricky Rubio may well be the point guard to watch this year. Meanwhile, the jury’s out on Denver – Andre Iguodala may not be the answer – and Portland, while Utah looks to have made zero improvement this offseason.
Take: Oklahoma City — Like the rest of the west, the Northwest is unlike to herald a new division winner. Simply put, the Thunder looks better that the rest. Fans of those other four may want to start praying for injuries.
2011-12: LA Lakers (41-25) | LA Clippers (40-26) | Phoenix (33-33) | Golden State (23-43) | Sacramento (22-44)
The Lakers made big moves. The Clippers made small, but vital, moves. The Suns almost took a complete overhaul approach. The Warriors and Kings made few moves of note. The Pacific looks like it’ll be a two-horse race again this season.
Odds: LA Lakers (1/4) | LA Clippers (3/1) | Golden State (50/1) | Phoenix (75/1) | Sacramento (75/1)
Take: LA Lakers — In fairness, the Pacific could be the most competitive division in the west. A cross-hallway battle between the Clippers and Lakers will almost certainly be close. The overall result may well depend on how quickly the new-look Lakers are able to gel as a team. Take the purple and gold in the long-term, but expect a tough fight.
2011-12: San Antonio (50-16) | Memphis (41-25) | Dallas (36-30) | Houston (34-32) | New Orleans (21-45)
San Antonio certainly didn’t make a huge splash in the free agent market this summer but the front office did make the one move they needed to; re-signing Tim Duncan. Dallas meanwhile wished it could have made a big splash. With Deron Williams committing to Brooklyn, the Mavs now look like a ragtag assortment of ill-fitting pieces. Rick Carlisle has worked with worse though. Houston signed Jeremy Lin, hoping that ‘Linsanity’ will propel the team forward. Don’t hold your breath just yet. Memphis will quietly go about business and be there when the postseason comes calling.
Odds: San Antonio (5/8) | Memphis (3/1) | Dallas (7/2) | Houston (20/1) | New Orleans (50/1)
Take: San Antonio — There’s a reason the Spurs have won nine division titles in 14 seasons (the Tim Duncan era, if you will). As with the rest of the west, it’s an obvious pick but it’s all but impossible to see beyond Gregg Popovich – the best coach in professional basketball – and his battle-proven team.