It’s been back-and-forth at the top of the NBA odds list between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Golden State is in front as we go to press, but how long will the good times last?
Jason’s record as of Feb. 3: 30-27-3 ATS, 2-4 Totals
Does the future belong to Stephen Curry? He’s the best player in the NBA right now, and his team, the Golden State Warriors, is on top of the NBA futures market at 7-2 to win the title. In second place: none other than LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at 15-4. Both James and the Cavaliers got off to a bit of a slow start this year, but they’re humming on all cylinders as we approach the All-Star break. Maybe James isn’t ready to give up his Best in the World status just yet.
A Golden State of Mind
We knew the Warriors were going to be good this year. But how many people thought they’d be the best team in the league? Golden State was 37-8 SU and 29-15-1 ATS going into Wednesday’s action, and Curry was the league’s leading player according to both Wins Above Replacement (10.81 WAR) and Real Plus-Minus (plus-8.42 RPM). Curry was also the top vote-getter for this year’s All-Star Game, scoring 25.0 points every 36 minutes with 8.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals for good measure.
James and the Cavaliers (30-20 SU, 22-28 ATS) have some catching up to do, even after winning 11 straight games at 9-2 ATS. Statistically, it’s unlikely that James will close the distance and make a serious run at another MVP award; he’s eighth in the league with 7.61 WAR, and fifth at plus-6.21 RPM. More importantly, though, his Cavaliers have climbed back up to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, buoyed by the recent trades for Timofey Mozgov (18.0 PER), J.R. Smith (plus-1.5 OBPM), and Iman Shumpert (plus-0.1 DBPM).
The Atlanta Hawks laugh at Cleveland’s puny 11-game winning streak. They’re coming off a run for the ages, winning 19 straight games at 16-3 ATS to put a stranglehold on the East at 40-9 SU and a league-best 34-15 ATS. Three of their players have deservedly been named to the Eastern All-Star team: Al Horford (21.9 PER), Paul Millsap (20.3 PER), and Jeff Teague (21.8 PER). Amazing what good health can do for a team.
Despite this incredible performance, the NBA odds tell us the marketplace still needs some convincing. The Hawks are the No. 4 favorites to win the NBA title at 15-2, behind the defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs (30-18 SU, 21-25-2 ATS). San Antonio might be playing very good basketball, winning 10 of 14 to start the New Year, but that’s still only good for seventh place in the loaded Western Conference. The Spurs are also back in the red after going 0-4-1 ATS in their past five games.
Bring Back Jordan
We’ve seen this imbalance between the East and the West ever since Michael Jordan’s second retirement from the Chicago Bulls in 1999. Things are only getting worse, at least in the short term, now that the NBA’s struggling teams are openly tanking the regular season to improve their chances in the draft lottery. The Spurs are one of seven teams in the West with a record of .625 or better as we go to press. Only three teams from the East can make that claim.
Which gives Atlanta that much more value as a NBA pick on the futures market. And even more so with the other Top 3 teams struggling a bit: the Toronto Raptors (33-16 SU, 24-24-1 ATS) and the Washington Wizards (31-18 SU, 20-28-1 ATS). Both those clubs are way down the NBA odds list at 20-1 and 28-1, respectively. Ultimately, though, the market expects James and the Cavaliers to rise above – at least until they meet the Warriors in the NBA Finals.