With the first of the NBA Playoffs having started on Saturday, if you haven’t picked your team you need to do so now, writes Jay Webster.
The strike-shortened regular season was a physically demanding one, as the league crammed in as many games between Christmas and April as they possibly could.
Subsequently, a few teams are starting to look a bit run down, right when they need to be fighting fit for a playoff run. So where should the smart money go?
Unfortunately, the biggest story of the post-season is an injury that is sure to change the face of the playoff race. Last season’s Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose blew out is knee in the waning minutes of the Bulls’ series opening win against Philadelphia.
And while the Bulls managed to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East with Rose missing 27 of 66 regular-season games, Roses injury is a devastating blow to the Bulls title hopes. The odds on Chicago winning it all dropped from 10/3 to 9/1 in the wake of the injury.
That opens the way for the Miami Heat, who are currently at 7/5 favorites. After looking downright – and uncharacteristically – lost in the glare of the NBA Finals a season ago, LeBron James has fairly quietly turned in one of the most statistically impressive seasons in NBA history.
James was exposed and embarrassed by what transpired last year, and he does have a legitimate playoff monkey on his back in this year’s playoffs. James looked more comfortable with his role in his second year in Miami, and he’ll be on a mission this time around.
As it was last year, the knock on the Heat is that they don’t have much beyond the ‘Big Three’ of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But if James ups his playoff game, they might not need much more.
With Rose’s injury, bettors could be getting good value with a look at the Celtics at 16/1. Boston has a team loaded with playoff experience. They have played their best basketball of the season down the stretch, and Kevin Garnett has looked downright revitalized.
The Celtics have some injury concerns, particularly Ray Allen’s ankle, but the aging core of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce might just have one more run left in them.
Out west, Oklahoma City sit as favorites at 7/2. They have a dynamic duo in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who led them to the Western Conference finals last year.
When the Thunder are on, they are downright scary, but when things break down, Durant and Westbrook sometimes look like they are playing 1-on-5 against the other team.
Bettors might be better off looking at San Antonio at 9/2. Like the Celtics, the Spurs have an aging core of veterans in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who have won titles and were overlooked as an over-the-hill team.
But they have just kept winning, and ultimately came away with the No. 1 seed in the West. Savvy bettors took the Spurs back when they were in the 12/1 range.
If San Antonio’s role players can continue to come together under Coach of the Year candidate Greg Popovich, the Spurs might yet represent good value to earn their fifth ring of the Duncan/Popovich era.