NBA Picks: Western Conference Contenders & Pretenders

Jason Lake

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 9:16 PM GMT

Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 9:16 PM GMT

While the NBA’s Eastern Conference gets ready to tank the 2013-14 regular season, the Western Conference is busy trying to win a championship. But can the best teams in the West beat the NBA odds?

So the Western Conference dominated the 2012-13 NBA regular season in its usual ho-hum fashion. All eight playoff teams recorded at least 45 victories – and five of them passed the 55-win plateau. Impressive. But here’s what matters in basketball betting circles: Four of those five top contenders smashed the NBA betting lines into little pieces. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: 60-22 SU, 49-31-2 ATS

San Antonio Spurs: 58-24 SU, 39-41-2 ATS

Denver Nuggets: 57-25 SU, 49-32-1 ATS

Los Angeles Clippers: 56-26 SU, 45-37 ATS

Memphis Grizzlies: 56-26 SU, 46-34-2 ATS 

That’s a whole lot of basketball betting profit concentrated at the top of the standings. If you went bargain-hunting in the West last year for an undervalued rebuilding team, you got hosed. None of the five teams with losing records finished in the black. And things aren’t likely to change much this season. 

Embiggen with Wiggins

As I mentioned in my look at the Eastern Conference, the 2013-14 regular season is all about the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes. The worst teams in the league have plenty of incentive to tank this year and improve their lottery chances for the 2014 NBA Draft. Most of the Tank Squad is lined up on the Eastern front, so the top teams in the West won’t have quite as many opportunities to shred the NBA lines against willfully underperforming opponents. 

But there will be opportunities. The Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns are expected to lose early and often this season; Utah (Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, Randy Foye) and Phoenix (Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Jermaine O’Neal) have dumped their veteran ballast, while Sacramento hasn’t won 30 games since 2007-08 and isn’t in a hurry to improve in Year One under new ownership. 

Tanking in L.A. 

Will they be joined by the Los Angeles Lakers? Betting on the NBA used to be so simple – just fade the league’s most public team:

2012-13: 45-37 SU, 34-46-2 ATS

2011-12: 41-25 SU, 28-38 ATS

2010-11: 57-25 SU, 39-42-1 ATS

2009-10: 57-25 SU, 33-46-3 ATS 

Ah, those salad days. Now the NBA betting public doesn’t even expect Los Angeles to make the playoffs, let alone win the championship. Dwight Howard is gone, Kobe Bryant is recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Metta World Peace was amnestied – even Earl Clark bailed for the Cleveland Cavaliers after starting 36 games for the Lakers last year. It’s easy to see them packing it in at the first sign of trouble. L.A. has already cleared the books to leave as much cap space as possible for next summer’s marquee free-agent crop, led by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. 

The Rich Get Richer 

It’s common practice for the NBA’s contenders to scoop up talent from the pretenders. This year’s Festival of Tanks has polarized the talent pool even more, but aside from the Clippers fattening their roster with Dudley and Milwaukee Bucks exile J.J. Redick, most of the top teams in the West are standing pat. 

As they should. If you look again last year’s Top 5, the Spurs are the only “old” team on the list – and the only team that didn’t pound the NBA betting lines during the regular season. The other four clubs made a killing as their carefully constructed programs paid increasing returns on the court. 

Beating the NBA odds won’t be so easy this year, even with all that tanking. The Nuggets have taken a step back with the departures of super-GM Masai Ujiri and All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala. The Clippers could still be profitable with their improving lineup, but Oklahoma City and Memphis have very little wiggle room left to beat market expectations. 

That leaves the Houston Rockets (who added Howard) and Golden State Warriors (who added Iguodala) as the West’s hottest money-making targets for 2013-14. Both teams made the playoffs last year, but not in spectacular fashion – Houston went 41-40-1 ATS, while the Dubs were only 42-39-1 ATS despite their first winning season since 2007-08. Keep a close eye on these two relatively small-market teams (China notwithstanding) if you’re looking for some NBA betting value to go with your quality basketball.
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