It is a given the Western Conference in the NBA has more quality teams than their Eastern counterparts. Those of us following the NBA betting odds and assembling daily sports picks understand this.
Yet, as we head into the All-Star break, slots two thru seven are bunched up and the final position to make the postseason is a three-team race which sets up a great deal of excitement and potential anxiety for those making NBA picks.
Let’s examine which teams could be moving up and are undervalued in terms of public perception or possibly by the sportsbooks.
It seems laughable to consider a team like Dallas is underappreciated considering they are 35-19 and one of three teams with 19 losses in West. But what catches my eye is the potential of the Dallas down the stretch and where they could end up.
For starters, the Mavericks are no longer wholly dependent on Dirk Nowitzki to carry the burden. Chandler Parsons has found his stride with this group and Monta Ellis is the fire-starter of the offense on many nights. If Rajon Rondo can get healthy and be a facilitator like this team needs, they could move up in the standings in the West.
The Mavs +5.4 point differential is third-best in their conference and this has been mostly predicated on their offense which is No. 2 in the league at 106.7 points a game. What coach Rick Carlisle has to find an answer for is defense.
The Mavericks are 23rd in points allowed and other than Tyson Chandler, they have too many players thinking offense as opposed to defending. Dallas does not have to be great in this department with their offense but being dead last in opposing fastbreak efficiency is embarrassing, because that is about effort and floor spacing which everyone on this team already knows about.
Dallas is just 24-27-3 ATS because of their defense, but after the break it is about seeding and the veteran players on this team know they have to make a deeper commitment to defense. The easiest way to beat the NBA betting odds with Dallas is play them as road favorites since they are 15-2 and 11-5-1 ATS.
This season has been more of a journey for the Suns compared to last year’s breakout bunch. Phoenix just missed the postseason a year ago, thus this season has brought greater expectations and coach Jeff Hornacek has been far more animated this season compared to last with the lack of defensive effort, especially from his backcourt.
Because of how the Suns push the ball on offense, they are second in the NBA in fastbreak points. For their style that means rim-runs frequently by guards or three-point shots. This is a big part why Phoenix is 28th in points surrendered (104.3) because their guards are driving to the basket which creates unlevel defensive floor balance or missed attempts beyond the arc on long rebounds and if the opposing team snags one, often they have 3 on 2 or 4 on 3 fastbreak going the other way.
However, Hornacek’s team has been playing this way since last season, thus the players know what is expected and they just have to put in the effort. To me as an NBA basketball handicapper, the disappointment of not making the playoffs last year was to weigh on these players mind. Coach Hornacek has seven players who have made at least 18 starts, which means he’s still trying to find the right combination. If the defense starts funneling the opposing team towards center Alex Len, they can improve and do a better job maintaining floor balance; the Suns could shine and have a huge rest of the season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
In the proverbial statement, “If the playoffs started today….” Oklahoma City would out of the mix. The Thunder has been thunderstruck by injuries all season and it might be just one of those years for Oklahoma City where it never comes together.
Nevertheless, the talent is in place, the continuity would have to mesh and while it is very unlikely Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the crew could win a championship, if OKC can put the puzzle together in the next 7-10 games, get hot to close the season, not even Golden State would want to face Oklahoma City in the postseason.