After the Cavs got blown out twice at Staples Center this weekend, the Westgate took them down from 11/5 to 2/1 to win the Eastern Conference, but offered up 14/1 NBA championship odds after setting them at 15/1 last week.
In other words, little has changed.
The Raptors (7/5) have moved into the role of betting favorite after moving in ahead of the Cavs the previous week (6/5) and may wind up with the No. 1 seed since the Celtics are currently banged up and may not catch Toronto now that it has moved 3.5 games up in the division. The teams play two more times this season, so I’d definitely not recommend making any moves on either at the moment.
Now would be a good time to take a shot at the new-look Miami Heat, which remained at 120-to-1 to win the East, which is pretty disrespectful since the group could gel and actually pass the John Wall-less Wizards in the Southeast Division.
At this time last season, the Heat were in the midst of fighting back from an awful 11-30 start. They ended up missing the playoffs on a tie-breaker with the Bulls after finishing one game behind the Pacers. They got all the way back to 41-41 and fell painfully short of testing themselves in the postseason, leading Dion Waiters to write that the rest of the East was lucky he had time to put pen to paper in the Players’ Tribune.
Waiters is sidelined, which gives the ’17-’18 Heat a much different feel than they had last season, when they went from doormat to unlikely second-half power behind a collective approach to compensate for no All-Stars. Waiters was the face of the unlikely run, playing at a level that had eluded him in the pros. With Dwyane Wade gone and Chris Bosh shelved, last season was about hitting the reset button.
This season, there are expectations.
The Heat opened a three-game road trip in Portland on Monday, tipping off a stretch where they’ll play five of seven outside of south Florida. If they can avoid a slide that would cost them a chance at homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference, which will require success against the Kings and Lakers later this week, the Heat could go on a run.
Following this stretch, Miami gets to finish the season with six of eight games at home, so this week is critical to staying afloat. Portland has the NBA’s longest winning streak, so the Heat will get arguably their toughest remaining regular-season road test right out of the gate. Miami has lost seven straight road games but hasn’t played poorly. The team is 4-0-1 against the spread over their last five setbacks and has begun to hit its stride.
Since trading for Wade, the Heat is 7-5 straight up but 9-1-1 against the number, which is indicative of trending in a positive direction. They’ll be shorthanded in chasing an upset to start the trip, missing center Hassan Whiteside due to hip pain that kept him out of Saturday’s win over Washington. Wade, nursing a hamstring strain, is also sitting out the first part of the trip in the hope he’ll be able to get back to full strength for the final few weeks.
There are plenty of pieces that can make up for their absence, which is why they’re worth keeping an eye on. Barring a complete collapse, Miami will be in the playoff mix. It reacquired Wade to play in a wing rotation utilizing Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow, so they’ll be fine with Waiters out the rest of the way following ankle surgery. Kelly Olynyk has been an upgrade from Josh McRoberts and rookie Bam Adebayo has had an impact off the bench, so the Heat are deeper, but head coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to be getting more consistency out of last season’s team by this point in the season than he has this year.
The Heat have a better record and more breathing room in their pursuit of the playoffs than they did last season, coming into the week seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game up on Milwaukee and only one game behind emerging rival Philadelphia. The Heat have defeated the 76ers in each of the last two weeks and are in a pack separating the No. 3 and No. 8 seeds by 3.5 games. Detroit and Charlotte still have postseason aspirations but have little room for error since they’re over five games behind with 15 to go.
In fairness, there have been injuries to contend with and Wade was just brought back into the mix, dropped into the equation to create a fairly unique situation. Where else would you see a player being trusted in crunch time immediately upon arrival? With everyone in the crowd already wearing your jersey?
We’ll see who steps up with Wade and Whiteside out, but the expectation here is it will be Goran Dragic and Richardson who emerge most responsible for success or failure on this trip. Winslow is the x-factor, no longer on the injury report and in the midst of the best run of an inconsistent, injury-riddled third season. Since Feb. 24, he’s helped Miami go 6-2 and has been a tremendous asset at both ends, averaging 11.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and shooting 52.9 percent. He’s made 12 of his last 22 3-pointers, which means opposing wings can’t play off him like the scouting report tells them to. It could be a game-changer.
Since Spoelstra has proven he can be masterful with in-game adjustments and offers his team an advantage, the Heat could be dangerous in a wide open Eastern Conference. They wouldn’t beat anyone in the West, so even 300/1 odds aren’t enticing enough to toss money in that direction. However, in an East that seems wide open as Toronto ascends into a favorite’s role and the Cavs continue to languish as they await Kevin Love’s return, holding a lottery ticket on the Heat at 120/1 is a must-have.