The order is crumbling in the Western Conference. Injuries have taken their toll on the usual contenders – and some of this year’s pretenders, as well. If you want a solid NBA pick, head for the coast.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 25: 20-19-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
You can’t hold them down forever. There’s a class of talented young teams in the NBA’s Western Conference that’s been waiting for the old guard to stumble, and that moment has arrived. With the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder slowed down by injuries, and the Los Angeles Lakers turning into dust, you have to look toward the smaller markets in the West for your best NBA picks.
Injuries have also ruined several of the lower-end teams in the West, sapping the betting value they brought into the 2014-15 campaign. Join us as we take a holiday tour of the carnage and try to make some sense of it all. Mouth guards are recommended.
Things were bound to get shaken up in the West when the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-16 SU, 14-14-1 ATS) lost both Kevin Durant (28.3 PER) and Russell Westbrook (32.7 PER) for extended periods due to injury. And things could still go sour now that Durant is back on the shelf with a sprained right ankle. The Thunder have a somewhat deeper bench than last year, and they went 7-2 SU and 5-4 ATS in nine games with Durant, but they need him back in the worst way.
The Spurs (18-11 SU, 14-15 ATS) are one of the deepest teams in the league, so they’re in a much better position to absorb the loss of Kawhi Leonard (19.2 PER) to a torn ligament in his right hand. They’re also free to give plenty of maintenance days to Tim Duncan (22.8 PER) and his oft-injured Big Three cohorts, Tony Parker (17.4 PER) and Manu Ginobili (16.2 PER). But this still leaves an opening at the top of the Western standings – for now.
Filling that hole is the most profitable team in the Western Conference, and the team with the best record in the league: the Golden State Warriors (23-4 SU, 18-9 ATS). They’ve taken a big step forward this year with the addition of Steve Kerr as head coach. But will the good times continue now that Andrew Bogut (17.2 PER) is out with a knee injury?
If not, the Portland Trail Blazers (23-7 SU, 17-12-1 ATS) are lurking in the shadows. They’ve also got a deeper bench this year, most notably with Chris Kaman (16.5 PER) at center. But Portland’s frontline took a hit earlier this month when Robin Lopez (15.9 PER) was lost for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. The Blazers can’t afford to slip up with teams like the Memphis Grizzlies (21-7 SU, 14-14 ATS) and the Houston Rockets (20-7 SU, 15-12 ATS) breathing down their necks – Houston will reportedly sign Josh Smith (14.2 PER) after he was let go by the Detroit Pistons.
Sadly, our NBA picks to go OVER their win totals included the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-22 SU, 8-18-1 ATS), who possess the worst ATS record in the Western Conference. Andrew Wiggins (9.7 PER) has shown the proverbial flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but he hasn’t been an instant hit. The Wolves have also lost arguably their best three players to injury: Nikola Pekovic (16.0 PER), Ricky Rubio (15.9 PER) and Kevin Martin (21.2 PER).
At least Wiggins hasn’t been lost for the season yet. His one-and-done cohorts at the top of the 2014 NBA Draft have been dropping like flies – including Julius Randle, whose debut with the Lakers (9-19 SU, 13-13-2 ATS) lasted all of 14 minutes before he broke his right leg. With Steve Nash also out for the season, and Kobe Bryant (17.6 PER) chucking up an ungodly number of contested mid-range jumpers, we’re confident the Lakers will go UNDER 30.5 wins as predicted. Enjoy the holidays, folks.