Nearly 75 years ago a posthumous work by author Thomas Wolfe was published, the title of which has become a phrase interwoven throughout the American culture ever since.
That phrase – “You can’t go home again” – will be tested this season as the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat to return to the place where his basketball talents were developed and where he began his professional career with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
The long grind that is the NBA’s 82 game regular season gets underway on Tuesday and the major off-season buzz centered around whether “King James” could lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals in his first season back home.
With up and coming superstar Kyrie Irving and the acquisition from Minnesota of Kevin Love the Cavs have their version of the “Big Three” that allowed Miami to play in four NBA Finals, winning twice, with James and his two marquee Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Cleveland is favored to win both the Eastern Conference title and the NBA Championship but whether such favoritism is deserved is subject to debate as most experts expect it will take time for the Cavs to develop the requisite team chemistry much as it took some time for the Heat to develop the right formula when James joined the Heat.
Cleveland is held at 5-2 odds to win the NBA Title and 5-7 to win the East. Futures prices are often developed and based upon public fascination with and reaction to such major developments which suggests the prices are a bit too optimistic and value in playing futures will lay elsewhere.
Chicago is considered the only legitimate contender to Cleveland in the East but much of that legitimacy is predicated on the return to form of star Derrick Rose, who missed essentially two and a half of the past three seasons, including all of the 2012-13 season and playing just 10 games at the start of last season before suffering a another season ending knee injury.
At 9-4 odds the Bulls are the second favorite to win the East and the only other team at less than 10-1 odds to win that conference. The Bulls are 6-1 to win the NBA Title.
The real power in the NBA remains in the West where the San Antonio Spurs will defend its title against a host of capable challengers. The two main challenges are expected to come from the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
At 3-1 odds the Spurs are the second favorite to win the NBA Title. They are 3-2 favorites to win the Western Conference with Oklahoma City next at 9-4 and the Clippers at 7-2.
Oklahoma City will be hampered early due to an injury that will sideline star Kevin Durant for a month to six weeks.
Injuries take a huge toll in the NBA and the constant pressure on knees and feet from running the court cause many players to miss time throughout the course of the season. Injuries may have a greater overall impact on the fortunes of teams in the NBA than in other sports because of their frequency and the fact that each player represents 20 percent of a team’s on court participants and affects both offense and defense.
Injuries affect the other sports as well but with 9 players in baseball and 11 on the field at a time in football the overall impact on the percentage of players involved is quite less. Of course the impact of the loss of a starting QB in football is huge as is the loss of an ace pitcher in baseball. But on a game to game basis the absence of a star NBA player may be felt the most.
In forecasting the teams to make the Playoffs in the East Cleveland and Chicago are all but certain although the health of Rose does add some uncertainty as to how far the Bulls can go.
Multiple injuries in recent seasons are cause for concern as is the possible tendency of Rose to exhibit some cautiousness as he did when he came back early last season before the re-injury.
Without Paul George, Indiana will fall back but the Pacers remain a well-coached team and should again be a Playoff team. And even though Miami no longer has LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is at the back end of his career don’t expect Miami to fall completely down.
Washington is a team that showed great improvement last season and should be a Playoff team again once Bradley Beal returns from an injury that will sideline him for potentially up to two months.
Both Brooklyn and New York have new coaches and it would not be a surprise if the Knicks made the Playoffs while the Nets missed out. Toronto is also expected to be a Playoff team but the Raptors, favored to finish fourth in the East, may fall short of those expectations.
In looking for a longshot to make major strides, how about the Detroit Pistons? With a new coach in the well established Stan van Gundy and a force with great potential to build around, Andre Drummond, the Pistons have a solid nucleus and might be worth a shot at 80-1 odds to win East or at least exceed projected season win total of 36.
In the West the choice is for the Clippers, under new ownership, to put it all together and win the Conference title. With capable Doc Rivers as coach and a pair of elite players in Chris Paul III and Blake Griffin and a solid supporting cast the Staples Center, long known as the home of the storied Los Angeles Lakers, will become more famous this season as “the Clip Joint,” a nickname long used disparagingly to describe what was long the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise.
Golden State should continue its improvement under rookie coach Steve Kerr whose insightful commentary over the past few seasons shows he has a keen knowledge of the game and can understand the nuances of the game from a player’s perspective as well.
Houston also figures to be a Playoff team with Dwight Howard now in his second season teaming with James Harden and a potent offense to complement Howard’s defensive presence.
Portland is a team to watch in the West with stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard as formidable a duo as there is in the league. At 20-1 to win the Conference and 40-1 to win the NBA Title the Trailblazers would be worth a look if you are looking for an attractively priced team capable of competing with the obvious favorites.
The final two Western Conference playoff teams should come from Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix, all of which should finish above .500 once again. Last season it was Phoenix who missed the Playoffs, finishing ninth in the West with a 48-34 record, better than 6 of the 8 teams that made the Playoffs in the East and tied with Toronto and Chicago, the teams seeded third and fourth respectively in the NBA’s JV conference.
Ultimately expect form to hold in the East and for Cleveland and Chicago to meet for the Conference Championship with Cleveland rewarding James for returning home.
In the West you can never count out the San Antonio Spurs but look for Portland to be a surprise conference finalist that will challenge the LA Clippers for the right to advance to the NBA Finals. The Clippers should prevail to set up an NBA Finals against the Cavaliers.
Look for the NBA Title to return to Los Angeles but this time with the Clippers’ name, not the Lakers, to be engraved on the league’s Championship Trophy.
Here’s a look at three interesting matchups this weekend.
Memphis at Indiana (Fri): A defensive contest with the conditions for poor shooting at their best as the season just gets started. UNDER.
LA Lakers at Golden St (Sat): Catching the Lakers off of Friday night’s game against the Clippers plays nicely. GOLDEN ST.
Charlotte at New York (Sun): Charlotte should also be more of an offensive team. “Triangle” offense should provide Knicks plenty of chances for fast break opportunities. OVER.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]