- We’ve rounded up the biggest storylines for the final 25 games of the season.
- The rest of the league should still be terrified of the Warriors.
- The Raptors are a team to be reckoned with thanks to DeMar DeRozan’s clutch play.
We’re into the stretch run of the NBA season, and there’s a lot of hardware to be doled out before the ultimate trophy raising, in June.
Before we get to some odds, let’s talk about some of the storylines that you should be consuming as we shape up into what could (hopefully) be an amazing playoff series.
Is Golden State still bulletproof?
We’ll discuss this a little bit further down, but it’s going to take an absolutely virtuoso opposition performance over seven games to dethrone this beast. I hate saying it, because I can’t say it as well as Rock does to Creed, but they’re biggest competitor is themselves.
Winning fatigue is a real thing, something they avoided because of landing Durant in free agency. A talent influx as large as that jolted them out of any malaise (so did losing a title while blowing a 3-1 series lead) and propelled them to a title.
Not so much this year. You’ve seen them not look sharp, or disinterested, as their level of play sagged and turnover rate rose. A recent thumping of the Thunder coming out of the break is encouraging, and terrifying for the rest of the league.
Does LeBron make it to 8?
Speaking of winning fatigue, it’s absolutely insane that LeBron James is even in position to make it to the NBA Finals again. How strong-minded is the King? Look at the other guys who’ve been with him in Cleveland for this recent stretch – Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and Kevin Love – and tell me they’re not fried mentally and physically, with the result being subpar play. The regular season meant nothing to him a long time ago, except to ensure he’s got a ticket punched. But to turn it on and do just about everything for a few months to get to the Finals is ridiculous. Enjoy it, you’re not going to see this level of sustained excellence for another 50 years.
Who’s ready to break through?
Houston is reloaded after a disappointing end to last year, where James Harden suffered through a literal no-show in an elimination game. The addition of Chris Paul and a plethora of 3-and-D dudes should be enough to take them past G-State, but Harden still has to come through.
Boston would be right here if not for this. Uggggghhhh. That was a gross start to the NBA season. It’s going to take a lot of growing up – hi Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown! – to supplement Kyrie Irving. We know Irving can put any team on his back at crunch time, he just needs the chance to get there.
And the Raptors are on the cusp of something far greater than the playoff fodder they have been in recent years. They’re a team to be reckoned with, and DeMar DeRozan is quietly a late game killer just waiting for another chance to erase his demons.
Any more WTFs to come?
Look, the Markelle Fultz stuff is sad enough. But now Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs are on some crazy kind of standoff in the Alamo City. These two stories are bizarre. We don’t need any more of these. On a more positive note, has Anthony Davis come to the realization that he’s one of the best in the game? He’s gone berserk since Boogie’s been down. It’s amazing.
Are there any real NBA beefs?
If All-Star weekend means anything, if there are any beefs, they live solely on the basketball court.
Steph and LeBron were chumming it up picking teams. LeBron and Durant filmed an Uber-ride segment (a follow up to last year’s barber shot session with Draymond Green). I can’t tell you how many times we sang “reunited and it feels so good,” as team LeBron plays were happening: Durant to Westbrook, Kyrie to LeBron, and so on.
In a word, they’re pros. So for sure, expect drama. Just not TMZ drama.
With that, onto the odds:
NBA Championship Odds
- Warriors: 1/1
- Rockets: 4/1
- Cavaliers: 17/3
- Raptors: 19/1
- Celtics: 19/1
- Thunder: 49/1
- Spurs: 49/1
- FIELD: 99/1
There’s just really no other way to cut this one. Despite the lack of motivation and potentially glaring holes on their roster (the bench mob, in particular) the Warriors are the best team in the NBA, and it’s not close.
That’s not to say that they can’t be beat in a seven-game series, but they’re equipped to handle all situations. Like Alonzo says in Training Day: How you want it, dawg? They can outscore teams, they can lay down the clamps defensively. They can slow the pace down and work Durant in the post, they can get out and run and find a bevy of shooters open for three-point daggers. Or, when all else fails and the shot clock is running down, they possess, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant, three of the world’s best in-game, hand-in-face shooters ever.
If there is a team to knock them off, it’s the Rockets, who are built to outscore them, with a barrage of wing players able to keep up in a track meet. In the end, it seems as though they’re a few weapons short.
And you can never count out LeBron, but he’s the most vulnerable he’s ever been. With no side-by-side star to ride shotgun or take the wheel for a spin or two, perhaps the Raptors or Celtics slide their way to the title game – but I’m not bullish on that proposition, as you can see.
- James Harden (Rockets): 1/1
- LeBron James (Cavs): 7/3
- Kevin Durant (Warriors): 9/1
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): 19/1
- Steph Curry (Warriors): 24/1
- FIELD: 99/1
It’s the Beard’s, for now, as he leads the top team in the NBA in wins, while leading the league in scoring. LBJ is in the mix, as a February scorcher where he’s averaging a triple double is only helping.
Giannis Antetokounmpo could make a case that he’s the all-everything for the Bucks, even though Milwaukee is sagging in the East, and are still not considered a contender. Basically, he’s this year’s Russell Westbrook.
As was the case last year and as long as they’re teammates, Durant and Curry cannibalize each other’s votes. Sorry, not sorry.
Rookie of the Year Odds
- Ben Simmons (76ers): 1/1
- Donovan Mitchell (Jazz): 3/2
- Jason Tatum (Celtics): 19/1
- Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavs): 49/1
- Kyle Kuzma (Lakers): 49/1
- FIELD: 99/1
Let’s not overthink this. Simmons has no jump shot, but effectively controls a game with his all-around play, and is a gigantic reason why the Sixers are surging (that Embiid guy is helping too, I guess). Mitchell’s highlight reel might be the most impressive of any player’s this season – not just rookies, but all players. He’s been that electric. While he’s come on strong, Simmons’ consistency all season has us in a lull. Don’t take that for granted.
Defensive Player of the Year Odds
- Draymond Green (Warriors): 7/3
- Paul George (Thunder): 7/3
- Anthony Davis (Pelicans): 3/1
- Rudy Gobert (Jazz): 9/1
- Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves): 24/1
- FIELD: 99/1
Let’s put this Durant as DPOY talk to rest. Nighty night. Green and George are consistently the two best in the league right now at locking it down. Davis’ mere presence and length always has him involved defensively, it’s just that he has so much responsibility over the entire court, and that will wear him down. Losing Boogie Cousins will do that to you. Gobert’s early injury sort of wipes him out. Ditto Butler.
Coach of the Year Odds
- Mike D’Antoni: 3/2
- Dwayne Casey: 13/7
- Brad Stevens: 8/1
- Quin Snyder: 9/1
- Gregg Popovich: 24/1
- FIELD: 99/1
D’Antoni appears to be a favorite to take this one home, which would be back-to-back COY awards – his just due for dropping the Dubs out of tops in the West. But you’ll find more than a few fans that will lament that this style of basketball – iso heavy penetration by either Harden or Paul with three-point shooters waiting for an open look – is not exactly the prettiest basketball.
Allow me to present you Mr. Dwane Casey. He’s transformed the former Raptors iteration of a sluggish, iso-ball dominant, stagnant offence in the halfcourt, to a sharing, free-flowing and three-point raining squad that’s climbed to the top spot in the East. This will be a close one. Somehow, I don’t see Casey getting the nod, but at least he finally gets his due as a good NBA coach (and his perennial hot seat cools a bit).
Odds to be fired before 2018-2019 season
- Jeff Hornacek (Knicks): 2/3
- Dave Joerger (Kings): 2/3
- Steve Clifford (Hornets): 7/3
- Frank Vogel (Magic): 7/3
- Tyronn Lue (Cavs): 19/1
The Knicks have lost their best player, and have cratered. Hornacek once made so much with so little in Phoenix, but he hasn’t been able to recreate the magic in New York. The super-seasoned vets and super young rookie roster construct in Sac is a mess. And don’t sleep on the Cavs making another major shift. Though it’s unlikely, Ty Lue has not shown lineup flexibility and creativity in generating momentum, let alone wins. If their current slip out of the break gets any deeper, this could be a reality.
Odds Kawhi Leonard plays again this season: 1/1
Odds the Warriors finish the season shooting 50-40-80 as a team: 4/1
Odds Markelle Fultz makes a three-pointer in a game before the start of the next regular season (regular season, playoffs, summer league or anywhere in-game setting where we can gain footage): 11/1
Odds Joel Embiid plays 60 games this year: 1/1
Odds Gordon Hayward appears in a game this season: 9/1