Teams have roughly 30 games left in the NBA regular season. Here's your best bet for a long-shot title contender from the West, as well as a club most likely to cover the most spreads in a run to the playoffs.
Potential Champion: Houston Rockets (40-17 SU, 32-24-1 ATS)
It’s hard to look past the Warriors or Spurs representing the West in the NBA Finals. Only once in league history has one of the two top seeds from either conference not played in the championship game. As of now, the Rockets have a firm grasp on the No. 3 seed, three games back of the Spurs for second. The fact Houston will likely enter the postseason ranked better than fifth provides hope. In the last 36 years, only three teams seeded No. 5 or lower have reached the championship series.
If a team is going to surprise in the Finals, it will have to steal some wins on the road. All NBA bettors know home-court advantage is very powerful . The fact the Rockets are one of the better road team is a good sign. In the last 10 years, at the 55-game mark -- roughly, where all teams stand as of publication -- all but two teams have gone on to win the championship with a road winning percentage lower than 72.7. The Mavericks claimed their only title as a three seed following a 56.4 percentage in the 2010-11 season, while the Spurs (2013-14) posted a 67.3 rate in claiming their fifth NBA Finals. The latter, however, was tied for third highest in the league at the time. The Warriors (85.2), Spurs (75.9) and Cavaliers (69.8) sport the best road rates currently. Fourth-highest are the Rockets at 69.1 percent. The James Harden-led team leapfrogs the Cavs if one ranks the teams by margin of victory: Houston is winning by 6.2 points per road victory, as opposed to the Cavs’ 5.3 differential.
Houston is also a good long shot due to its 3-point prowess. As NBA fans know, the arc is revolutionizing the league with teams testing from deep much more often. Those that shoot and make the most are often rewarded in the modern game. Eight of the last nine Finals winners, in fact, have led all playoff teams in 3-pointers made and attempted. The Rockets lead the league with 39.8 three-pointers attempted per night, 6.4 more than the second-place Cavaliers. Houston also tops all with 14.5 made per contest. If MVP candidate Harden and Co. can keep up the downtown assault through the postseason, expect a hardware run.
Most likely ATS Improvement: Portland Trail Blazers (23-32 SU, 22-33 ATS)
The average winning percentage of the Trail Blazers’ remaining opponents is 48 percent. Only the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder have it as easy in the West. Portland is not living up to expectations this year -- no doubt about it. Oddsmakers posted an 'over/under' 45.5 wins prior to the season, and Portland owns just 23 victories with 27 games remaining. Expect the Trail Blazers to make a run at the mark but come up short. They have plenty of motivation sitting two games back of the Nuggets for the final playoff spot. Victories will correlate to ATS wins, particularly so undervalued this late in the season. Moreover, Portland is 5-10 ATS on NBA picks in its last 15 played. Adjustments will come slowly as the market worth for this team is at a season low.