Things have not gone according to plan in the Western Conference. But even though so many teams have underperformed, nobody’s too far into the red, thanks to all those tanking teams in the East.
Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to January 16 inclusive:
The Western Conference has been the class of the NBA for some time now. And that was expected to continue into 2013-14, thanks to all those teams from the East who are failing on purpose. Indeed, from an NBA betting standpoint, that’s exactly what’s happened – there are only a handful of teams in the West with losing ATS records, and none of them is more than four games below the poverty line as we near the halfway point of the regular season.
That doesn’t mean everything in the West has gone as predicted. We’ve seen two borderline teams make big strides, and we’ve seen two of last year’s top squads fall out of playoff position. Also, the Los Angeles Lakers. Which is a perfect place to start our midterm review of the Western Conference.
Victory Boulevard (We Missed It)
The Lakers (14-25 SU, 20-18-1 ATS) looked like they were going to miss the playoffs this year, but did anyone expect this level of dysfunction? Let’s start with the injuries: Steve Nash (back/hamstring), Steve Blake (elbow) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) have all been lost for extended periods, and just after Kobe Bryant got back from his ruptured Achilles’ tendon, he was put right back on the shelf with a broken leg. There goes your backcourt.
Despite all those injuries and all those SU losses, or maybe because of them, the Lakers have managed to stay in the black thus far. Turns out they’ve got a bunch of athletic young players who were just waiting for minutes, including Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, and most promisingly, Kendall Marshall. If the Lakers end up with a lottery pick like Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon, as well as one more decent year from Bryant, they’ll be right back in contention.
Aside from the Lakers, the Western Tank Brigade was supposed to include three teams: the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. Two out of three ain’t bad. The Kings (14-23 SU, 16-20-1 ATS) and Jazz (13-27 SU, 18-20-2 ATS) have complied, but the Suns (22-16 SU, 25-12-1 ATS) have been the most profitable team in the West this year. Their starting rotation has been excellent, and first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has everything running smoothly. Too bad Eric Bledsoe (knee) got hurt, though. They need him back, stat.
The other big surprise out of the West is the Portland Trail Blazers, who have gone from preseason playoff bubble team to the top of the conference standings at 29-9 SU and 22-16 ATS. How is this happening? With the most efficient offense in the NBA at 110.3 points per 100 possessions. The Blazers are very stingy with turnovers (No. 4 overall), they grab more offensive rebounds than anyone else in the West, and they lead the NBA in made 3-pointers. Yup, that’ll do it.
The Usual Suspects
If Phoenix and Portland have muscled their way into the Top 8, then two teams must have fallen out, and that would be the Denver Nuggets (19-19 SU, 18-20 ATS) and the Memphis Grizzlies (19-19 SU, 17-20-1 ATS). The Nuggets were due for a fall after reigning NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri and Coach of the Year George Karl both left town. The Grizzlies can trace their demise to the loss of center Marc Gasol (knee), although he just returned from a lengthy absence, and there’s plenty of time for Memphis to get back into playoff position.
Be that as it may, everyone still expects the Oklahoma City Thunder (28-10 SU, 20-18 ATS) and the San Antonio Spurs (31-8 SU, 20-19 ATS) to play in the Western Conference Finals. But how can you make money from teams that are playing up to expectations? Let’s cheer instead for a rising commodity like the L.A. Clippers (27-13 SU, 23-17 ATS). Besides, somebody’s got to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Staples Center.