Who’s going to win that precious No. 8 seed in the West? There are three teams fighting it out as we go into the All-Star break, and if the basketball odds are any indication, the New Orleans Pelicans will prevail.
Jason’s record as of Feb. 12: 35-29-4 ATS, 2-4 Totals
As we get ready for the All-Star Game in New York, let’s take a moment to consider the state of the Western Conference. There are seven very good-to-great teams who should be able to make the playoffs from here, barring a late-season collapse. Then you have that No. 8 spot. We’ve got three other Western teams battling it out for that final postseason berth, all of them with winning records going into the break. The NBA odds can help us sort out which of the three should make it in – and yes, spoiler alert, it’s the New Orleans Pelicans. But first…
8. Phoenix Suns
Just like last year, the Suns (29-25 SU, 27-25-2 ATS) are on the Western bubble. But they’re threatening to slip back again after losing five of their last six games at 2-4 ATS. Injuries have taken a toll; new starting center Alex Len (15.0 PER) has a sprained right ankle that has already cost him three games, forcing the Suns to revert to Miles Plumlee (13.0 PER), whose development has stalled this year.
Speaking of downgrades, Phoenix has gotten diminished returns this year for Goran Dragic (16.6 PER) and both of the Morris Twins, Markieff (15.6 PER) and Marcus (14.4 PER). It’s a very good thing the Suns were able to steal Isaiah Thomas (19.6 PER) away from the Sacramento Kings during the offseason. Thomas is Phoenix’s best offensive player at plus-3.8 OBPM, pumping in 21.4 points per 36 minutes and shooting 39.1 percent from long range. More please.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder
Did somebody say “injuries”? The Thunder (28-25 SU, 24-27-2 ATS) have been chewed up into tiny bits by the injury bug this year, and now they’re missing their starting center, too. Steven Adams (13.7 PER) is out for at least another couple of weeks after undergoing surgery on his right hand. Adams has missed two games thus far, but Oklahoma City won both SU and ATS with Kendrick Perkins (7.4 PER) back in the starting lineup.
Perkins might be a giant vortex of suck on offense (minus-5.7 OBPM), but he can still play some mean defense, and it’s not like Adams (minus-2.2 OBPM) is a gifted scorer, either. The Thunder also have Nick Collision (minus-2.0 OBPM) coming off the bench to complete their set of lumbering big men. And hey, rookie Mitch McGary had a pair of double-doubles after getting called up from the D-League last week. It’s all good.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Don’t whine about your injuries to the Pelicans (27-26 SU, 30-23 ATS). We had the chance to fade them in Wednesday’s NBA picks when they hosted the Indiana Pacers (–1 away) without the services of Anthony Davis (31.7 PER), Jrue Holiday (18.6 PER) and Ryan Anderson (16.5 PER). Indiana complied with a convincing 106-93 victory; George Hill made us look very good with 17 points and nine assists in 29 minutes.
Reports at press time have Anthony Davis missing the All-Star Game because of his sprained shoulder, which is no fun, but unless his injury is worse than it appears, getting the week off should fix things in time for the postseason run. Of all the players on all three of these Western hopefuls, Davis is the best and the most important. He’s third in the NBA at press time with 9.44 WAR and a plus-6.92 BPM. Not even Kevin Durant (28.2 PER) and Russell Westbrook (28.5 PER) can touch Davis right now. And that very healthy 30-23 ATS record tells us that New Orleans has the highest ceiling of any of these three playoff contenders. Laissez les bon sourcils rouler.