Below is a look at each conference’s top four challengers, with current prices from 5Dimes.eu. Be sure to check back at SBRForum.com’s basketball board for all the latest developments in the offseason.
Miami Heat (2/1): Erik Spoelstra’s club prevailed in June’s NBA Finals over the San Antonio Spurs, with its threesome of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade set to return. Forward Chris Andersen has been re-signed, which assures the team of continued depth in the middle.
Brooklyn Nets (11/1): Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were acquired by the Nets this month, adding the pair to start alongside center Brook Lopez in the frontcourt. Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko have joined Brooklyn’s bench, giving some veteran presence for new coach Jason Kidd.
Chicago Bulls (23/2): Tom Thibodeau’s troops were ousted by Miami in this past year’s playWestern COnferenceoffs, but hope to bounce back with the return of injured guard Derrick Rose. Mike Dunleavy has been acquired for the backcourt, which should help the club’s long-range shooting.
Indiana Pacers (25/2): The trio of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George led the Pacers to a deciding seventh contest against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana’s Danny Granger returns here after missing most of the year, giving Frank Vogel’s club a solid chance to contend again.
Oklahoma City Thunder (13/2): Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was lost to injury down last season’s playoff run, with the Memphis Grizzlies eventually ousting his club. Look for this year’s Western Conference Finals to go through OKC if he and mate Kevin Durant remain healthy this time.
San Antonio Spurs (12/1): Gregg Popovich’s aging duo of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker return this season, along with the re-signed Manu Ginobili. Tiago Splitter showed promise in his third year with 10.3 PPG and 56 percent field shooting, which should supplement the Spurs’ veterans with spark.
Los Angeles Clippers (13/1): Doc Rivers’ new club has added J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, with the duo expected to start alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Big man Byron Mullens has also joined the fray, adding some production to the team’s bench.
Houston Rockets (13/1): Dwight Howard has made his move to “Clutch City,” followed by veteran Marcus Camby joining its group of centers. Houston ranked second in the league for scoring last year (106 PPG), with guard James Harden (25.9 PPG) set to return for another big campaign.
NBA Picks: Pacers (25/2) and Rockets (13/1)
I am adding early NBA Futures Picks tickets on Indiana and Houston, taking an initial position on these clubs at high odds. Both should enjoy a big home-court edge throughout the year, while having the right depth to contend.
Indiana should grow and learn from its matchups against the Heat, with Granger’s return giving them the East’s best chance to get past Miami. Brooklyn and Chicago will get their share of wins, but are overvalued given their roads ahead.
Houston’s signing of Dwight Howard will give the seven-time All-Star one of his best chances at a ring, making a dangerous duo with James Harden. The Rockets should find the mix of octane and defense with this pair out of the gate, with the team’s futures odds dropping from this price.