The Western Conference is absolutely nothing like the Eastern Conference when it comes to championship odds.
We have what I call a two-horse race in the East versus what I am going to call the six-plus team race in the West.
In the 15 previous seasons, only four teams (the Lakers, seven times; the Spurs, five times, the Mavericks, two times; the Thunder, once) have won the Western Conference, which is a similar concept to what the Eastern Conference has gone through recently, as I outlined in this column laying out the loooong odds on anyone not from Miami or Indiana winning the East.
When I look this year at the Western Conference, I believe two or three of those four above-mentioned teams have a legitimate chance to take the West come June, and the one team that is not in a position to do this is definitely the Los Angeles Lakers.
When I say two or three, I am referring to the probably “half” chance the Dallas Mavericks have with their addition of Monta Ellis and the scoring behind Dirk Nowitzki.
Going into the Friday night NBA slate of games, all eight Western Conference “playoff” teams are within 6 1/2 games of the number one seed, which clearly shows how tightly packed the conference is compared to the East.
To give you an idea of just how packed the Western Conference is, here are the offshore (5Dimes.eu) and Las Vegas odds (LVH or Las Vegas Hilton) to win the Western Conference as well as the NBA Championship.
|Oklahoma City Thunder||7/1||7/2|
|San Antonio Spurs||8/1||8/1|
|Los Angeles Clippers||13/1||12/1|
|Golden State Warriors||15/1||20/1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||20/1||20/1|
|Los Angeles Lakers||130/1||100/1|
|New Orleans Pelicans||200/1||300/1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||2.4/1||8/5|
|San Antonio Spurs||3/1||13/4|
|Los Angeles Clippers||7/1||5/1|
|Golden State Warriors||8/1||8/1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||10/1||8/1|
|Los Angeles Lakers||60/1||40/1|
|New Orleans Pelicans||90/1||120/1|
What you will quickly notice when scrolling and analyzing the Western Conference odds is the fact that in contrast to the Eastern Conference, you have about six teams bunched at the top and then you have the rest of the pack. I think the majority of NBA fans would be beyond surprised if one of those top six teams did not win the West and represent that conference in the NBA Finals come June. Those six teams are the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
After those six teams, I believe there is a clear separation to the next four teams on the list. Below are my Western Conference Gambling Power Rankings, which clearly shows where I think each team lies currently and explains why I think there is a clear separation after the major six.
NBA Western Conference Gambling Power Rankings
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2A. Los Angeles Clippers
2B. San Antonio Spurs
4. Portland Trail Blazers
5A. Houston Rockets
5B. Golden State Warriors
7. Dallas Mavericks
8A. Minnesota Timberwolves
8B. Memphis Grizzlies
10. Denver Nuggets
12A. New Orleans Pelicans
12B. Sacramento Kings
14. Los Angeles Lakers
15. Utah Jazz
My Five Western Conference Bets
1. Los Angeles Clippers (13/1 and 7/1)
Could the Clippers have started the regular season better? Sure; but right now, they are hovering around the number four seed in the West and I fully expect it to take some games and some more time for Doc Rivers to get acclimated to the Clippers roster and for him and Chris Paul to be thinking as one.
Without J.J. Redick, the Clippers are still sporting a seven-man rotation I am very comfortable with and when they get Redick back, I am an even bigger fan of this Clippers team come playoff time. The Clippers recently signed Stephen Jackson, which I like as well and gives the team a bit of a “grittiness” down the stretch as long as “Captain Jack” does not receive too many minutes and can be used closer to playoff time. The 13/1 on Los Angeles to win the NBA Championship I believe is a great long-term wager.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (20/1 and 10/1)
Nobody would have thought that the Blazers would be starting the season hanging at the top of the Western Conference with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs; but that is exactly what they are doing. The Blazers have early year victories over the Thunder (2X), Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Warriors and Spurs to just show how effective they have been through thirty-plus games.
The Blazers, like the Clippers, are running a very effective seven-man rotation and their 2013 draft selection C.J. McCollum is about the be ready to head to the D-League and will hopefully exceed expectations and be ready to join the Blazers soon and contribute. If Portland can continue to play between Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge with contributions from Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, they will be dangerous come playoff time with teams like San Antonio (age) and Oklahoma City (Westbrook) having issues of their own. The one thing I love about Portland: If they can finish in the top four in the West, their home-court advantage is in the top two or three in the entire NBA.
3. Dallas Mavericks (60/1 and 30/1)
When I look at the Dallas Mavericks, I believe their odds of 60/1 to win the NBA Championship and 30/1 to win the Western Conference are worth a wager for a few different reasons. Any time you can add a scorer like Monta Ellis to an already effective and proven winner like Dirk Nowitzki I think you have a chance to make an impact if things break the right way. Dallas is expected to get Devin Harris back into their rotation by mid-January, which should help their depth and should take some of the minutes away from Jose Calderon and Vince Carter, which is a good thing.
Just like San Antonio, Dallas needs to keep its team healthy, keep the key players’ minutes down and do everything in their power to try and finish 6th in the Western Conference to potentially avoid the Thunder and Spurs in the first round. I admit I am not the biggest fan of Shawn Marion at the age of 35, but that is why the emergence of Jae Crowder could be a big factor for Dallas down the stretch.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (80/1 and 40/1)
I talked about the Minnesota Timberwolves in the preseason as a team I would be looking out for this year, and they have started a bit below my expectations through thirty-plus games. But with 50 still to go, I think their is some value in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves are hovering around .500 right now, a game or two outside of the 8th seed in the West and between Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas, I think having one or two of those teams in the playoffs and me having futures tickets on them would make me a “happy camper.”
Any time I can grab a ticket with Kevin Love and Anthony Davis (next team), that is what I am trying to do in a league where you can only play five players at once on the floor. This is not baseball or football, where more players affect the game; in the NBA, one or two players can have a big enough impact on the game to make a bet based solely on them worth it.
No player across the league wants to make the playoffs more than Kevin Love, who is in his 6th year in the league and has yet to even finish .500. In a full season (sans 2011-2012), Kevin Love and the Timberwolves have never even finished better than twenty games below .500 before, there is no way they do not finish better than that this year, but will it simply be a stepping stone or can Love bring Minnesota into the playoffs for the first time since 2003-2004?
5. New Orleans Pelicans (300/1 and 120/1)
My final pick for the Western Conference is a definite flier…but the goal here is not to pick every single team in Tier One.
I think the emergence and dominance of Anthony Davis makes New Orleans a much tougher team to play night in and night out. As long as Davis stays healthy, any team you put together behind him has a chance at competing, if you ask me.
I am a huge fan of Davis and his ability to play stellar defense and protect the rim, and that is a large reason why I see some value in the odds on the Pelicans. Behind Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, I think the talent on New Orleans has the capacity to cause some havoc in a playoff series. The Pelicans currently sit about four games back of the 8th seed in the West, but with a lot of time to go and a team like Phoenix overachieving early, there is a chance the Pelicans could sneak in — especially if a player like Eric Gordon can stay healthy (never seems to happen) and give the Pelicans a deeper bench going forward.
Evan Abrams writes about basketball gambling for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter @Betropolitan.
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NBA ODDS ON PLAYERS BEING TRADED
PROP BET LINES ON SCORING LEADER, REBOUNDING, MVP, MORE
NBA FUTURES ODDS: LAS VEGAS VS. OFFSHORE
TEAM BY TEAM OVER/UNDER ODDS FOR WIN TOTALS