With the winding down of football the sporting public will begin to pay more attention to the NBA.
For those who have not been focused to the first month of the season little has changed since last season. Cleveland is still the team to beat in the East with their 13-2 start validating their favoritism (as if any validation is necessary this early.
Toronto is tied for second best in the East behind the Cavaliers with a 10-6 mark. The Raptors are tied with Chicago and the Bulls’ early success can be considered a surprise. Prior to the season the Bulls had a projected season wins total of 39.5, tenth in the conference.
Whether Chicago can sustain the early season level of success is questionable but the East overall is a weak conference with only Boston and Indiana, in addition to Cleveland and Toronto, projected to finish 45-37 or better. At 10-7 Atlanta, projected to finish sixth, is the only other team to reach double digit wins in the East.
Contrast the Eastern Conference to the West in which 6 teams were projected to win at least 45 games and the teams with the seventh and eighth highest win totals projected at 44 and 43.5.
Golden State remains the top team and the 15-2 start has them a game better than San Antonio and a game and a half better than their Division rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. Three other Western teams have also reached double digit wins – Houston and Memphis (11 each) and Oklahoma City (10).
The Los Angeles Lakers continue to be a pleasant early season surprise and their 9-9 record through Sunday has them on an early pace to greatly exceed their projected wins total of 25.5. Memphis has started to play well as following a 4-5 start the Grizzlies have gone 7-1. Memphis is not a flashy team and rarely makes the nightly highlights. That makes for an attractive play when getting points. OVERs continue to outpace UNDERs by a 135-114-3 margin with 20 percent of the schedule having been played.
The NBA is a team sport dominated by individuals and there has been no shortage of outstanding individual accomplishments over the first month of play. Steph Curry and LeBron James continues to lead the headlines but check out the early season play of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (sans Kevin Durant this season) and Houston’s James Harden. Both are early season candidates for MVP honors, especially Westbrook who is a real threat to average a triple double for the entirety of the season.
It’s still too early to form definitive opinions on teams but by the end of December a truer sense of the pecking order for this season will come into better focus.
Here’s a preview of three weekend games.
LA Lakers at Toronto (Friday): Neither team played Thursday and both play on Saturday. The Lakers’ 9-9 start has been surprising whereas Toronto’s 10-6 start is pretty much as expected. Both teams are comfortable playing uptempo and the Totals results bear this out. Toronto is 11-5 to the OVER this season and the Lakers are even better at 12-5-1 to the OVER. 7 of Toronto’s OVER exceeded the Total by double digits (although 1 game did require overtime).
Seven of the Lakers’ OVERs also exceeded the Total by double digits with two more going OVER by 9.5 points. This will be one of the higher totals of the season to date but the factors and styles are in place for another high scoring game, especially if the game gets one sided in the second half which might be inferred from what should be a high line in favor of Toronto.
Denver at Utah (Saturday): Denver hosted Houston Friday night and Utah last played on Thursday, hosting Miami. In a scheduling quirk these teams are meeting for a third time in two weeks yet won’t meet for a fourth and final time until late January. The home team won each of the two prior games and each win was by double digits. Both games stayed UNDER the Total. Utah has been streaky at home, winning 2, losing 3 and winning their last 2 through Sunday.
Denver is just 4-5 SU on the road but a solid 7-2 ATS. But one of those pointspread losses was in their 25 point loss to the Jazz the night before Thanksgiving. Both franchises have long had very strong home court advantages so this season’s results are not much of a surprise. The Jazz have had a better overall start to the season and were expected to finish 11 games better by season’s end. UTAH.
Indiana at LA Clippers (Sunday): The Clippers have started 14-4 and are playing with an intensity not before seen from this franchise. Theirs is a talented roster that has played together for several season and appears poised to make a deep run in the Playoffs if reasonably healthy. Indiana was projected to finish fourth in the East so their 9-9 start can be considered an early disappointment. That ninth win occurred this past Sunday in a 91-70 rout of the Clippers.
Revenge for a recent humiliating defeat can be a strong motivational factor which occurs repeatedly even in the “business” of professional sports. Indiana is rested after having last played on Wednesday. The Clippers played at New Orleans on Friday and that combination may temper somewhat the revenge factor that should be reflected in the line. But the adjustment may not be enough to dissuade us from backing the Clippers against an Indiana team just 1-5 ATS on the road through Sunday. LA CLIPPERS