Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 16 inclusive:
Who are the top heels in the NBA? The team you really love to hate? For a lot of people, it’s the Miami Heat. They’ve been the bad guys ever since LeBron James made his fateful Decision and formed basketball’s version of pro-wrestling’s “new World order” faction with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It’s worked out great for Miami: three straight trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back championships. Who can stop this reign of terror?
Here come the white hats. The Oklahoma City Thunder have risen to the top of the Western Conference, and judging by the stories being written in the MSM these days, everyone outside of South Florida (and Seattle) wants the Thunder to unseat the Heat this summer. But as Ric Flair says, to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. And the NBA futures market says Miami is still the man. Here are the top five favorites at Bodog and Bovada to win the 2014 title as we go to press.
Miami Heat (9-4)
The idea that certain people “know how to win” is completely overblown, but there’s something to be said about dynasties. The Heat have taken full advantage of this title window, surrounding the Big Three with complementary pieces like Ray Allen (12.3 PER), Chris Andersen (17.9 PER) and Shane Battier (10.0 PER). We’ve seen promising early returns from this year’s inexpensive add-ons, Michael Beasley (17.5 PER) and Greg Oden (14.3 PER). And the Heat (37-14 SU, 22-28-1 ATS) are obviously saving themselves for the playoffs by operating at three-quarters speed in the weak Eastern Conference. Playing possum, if you will.
Indiana Pacers (5-2)
It’s as close to a foregone conclusion as we have in pro sports: The Heat will meet the Indiana Pacers (40-12 SU, 32-20 ATS) in the Eastern Conference Finals, which is why these are the top two title favorites in the NBA betting market. Indiana has also built this program “the right way,” and the recent addition of Andrew Bynum (15.2 PER) could be the difference-maker against Miami. But are the Pacers overextending themselves trying to nail down the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage?
Oklahoma City Thunder (7-2)
The remarkable thing about the Thunder (43-12 SU, 32-23 ATS) vaulting to first place in the overall standings: They’ve done it mostly without Russell Westbrook (21.6 PER), who is expected to return to action on Feb. 20 against – go figure – the Heat. That speaks to how well Kevin Durant (30.9 PER) is playing in Westbrook’s absence, although Durant’s eye-popping numbers (29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists per 36 minutes) are in part because of his heavier workload. Again, will Durant burn himself out while LeBron coasts to the playoffs?
Los Angeles Clippers (10-1)
There’s a huge increase in potential payout once you hit the second tier of NBA title contenders, and the Clippers (37-18 SU, 31-24 ATS) might have the best chance of anyone to end Miami’s three-peat. They’ve got their own Big Three, led by one of the very best players in the league in Chris Paul (27.2 PER) playing at the premium point guard position – and Paul just took a month off with a shoulder injury, so he should be fresh for the postseason. Note as well the fringe veteran additions like Hedo Turkoglu (11.1 PER) and Sasha Vujacic. Every little bit helps.
San Antonio Spurs (11-1)
Oh yeah, these guys. The Spurs (38-15 SU, 25-28 ATS) were 5.4 seconds away from beating Miami in last year’s finals, and they’ve certainly got the championship pedigree to threaten the Heat again. Tim Duncan (22.0 PER) continues to play at a high level, Manu Ginobili (19.3 PER) has resurrected his career, and Tony Parker (19.8 PER) can still go. But injuries have dogged Ginobili, Parker, and many of their teammates. If the Spurs are healthy enough come April, they’re a great value at these odds.