It’s a battle of No. 1 teams this Friday when the Golden State Warriors host the Toronto Raptors. But the NBA odds are leaning toward the Warriors as 5.5-point favorites, even without Andrew Bogut.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 31: 21-20-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
Could this be a preview of the 2015 NBA Finals? It might be hard to imagine, but at least for now, the Golden State Warriors (25-5 SU, 19-11 ATS) and the Toronto Raptors (24-8 SU, 19-13 ATS) are the top teams in their respective conferences. They’ll be in action this Friday night in Oakland; the Warriors have opened as 5.5-point faves on the NBA odds board with a total of 212.5.
If these two teams do end up meeting again in June, Friday’s matchup (10:30 p.m. ET) might not provide an accurate prologue. This would normally be a good opportunity to debate which team really has the best backcourt in the NBA, but DeMar DeRozan remains out for the Raptors with a torn adductor tendon. Meanwhile, the Warriors are without their top center and their best defender, Andrew Bogut. Which team will prove more resilient?
So far, we have to give the slight advantage to the Raptors. They’ve gone 11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS without their All-Star shooting guard, while the Warriors are 7-3 SU and 5-5 ATS since Bogut went down. This seems about right when it comes to beating the basketball odds. DeRozan (minus-2.4 BPM) was a marginal All-Star choice at best last year, while Bogut (plus-4.5 BPM) has never been voted in.
It’s a crime. Thanks to a combination of injuries and spending the first seven years of his career in Milwaukee, Bogut has never gotten the attention he deserves. The big Aussie’s value is also most prominent at the defensive end. Casual bettors and All-Star voters alike just don’t pay enough attention to defense – partly because of the lack of conventional statistics to measure defensive excellence.
DeRozan, meanwhile, is an important part of the Toronto rotation, but hardly irreplaceable. He got into the All-Star game last year on the strength of his 22.7 points per game (21.4 points per 36 minutes). This year, DeRozan’s scoring has been down a shade to 20.7 points per 36, leaving him a negative player in terms of Box Plus-Minus.
In Masai We Trust
This is where Toronto GM Masai Ujiri comes up smelling like a rose after spending the offseason bolstering the bench. James Johnson (plus-3.9 BPM) has been promoted to the starting rotation in DeRozan’s absence, while Louis Williams (plus-1.6 BPM) is soaking up plenty of backcourt minutes as Toronto’s new sixth man, and leading the team in scoring at 22.4 points per 36. Johnson signed as a free agent for just $5 million over two years. Williams came over from the Atlanta Hawks in the John Salmons trade.
Of course, Toronto’s “real” All-Star is point guard Kyle Lowry (plus-6.9 BPM), who’s taken his game to an even higher level after signing a four-year, $48-million contract in July. Lowry has gotten better and better every season since joining the league in 2006. But Lowry was snubbed by the voters last year – no doubt because of his previous issues with coaches in Memphis and Houston. No such problems with Dwayne Casey.
Son of Dell
As for the Warriors, they’ll have the best player on the court Friday night. Stephen Curry (plus-8.5 BPM) has to be considered ahead of Lowry in the MVP race, and he’s joined by Klay Thompson (plus-2.1 BPM), who has elevated his game this year to the point where he actually deserves the plaudits he’s been getting from the mainstream press.
But let’s not pretend that defense is their strong suit. That’s Bogut’s job, and without him in the lineup, the Warriors haven’t been profitable. Things will improve if back-up center Festus Ezeli (plus-1.8 DBPM) can play after missing three games with a sprained left ankle. Otherwise, we’re on the Raptors as our NBA pick.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Raptors +5 at 5Dimes