Due to concerns about the rigors of the long 82-game regular season and the increasing tendency in recent seasons for teams to rest star players, often several at a time, the NBA is starting the 2017-18 season a couple of weeks earlier than in the past.
In crafting this season’s schedule specific attention has been paid to spacing out games and avoiding back-to-back games as much as possible. Not only will this lessen the necessity of resting players on a less than infrequent basis it will also improve the overall quality of play with players much more rested, collectively, as a result of the improved scheduling dynamics.
Opening last May as 5-8 favorites to win a second straight (third in four seasons) NBA title, Golden State was an even larger favorite as of last week at 5-12. Cleveland was the obvious second choice at 4-1 with no other team held at lower than the 10-1 odds for Boston.
Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are each 16-1 with Washington next at 40-1. That’s right, 24 of the NBA’s 30 teams are at odds of 40-1 or higher with the longest of the longshots at 1000-1. That dubious distinction is shared between Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, the New York Knicks and Orlando.
In this debut column here are a couple of Season Wins Totals to consider followed by predictions for the teams to make the Playoffs and to advance to the NBA Finals. It is too easy to forecast a fourth straight meeting between Cleveland and Golden State to meet in the NBA Finals. That will not be the forecast here.
T’wolves OV 48.5
The Timberwolves have been assembling a quality roster over the past few seasons that is designed to be competitive for the next half decade or so, depending on health/injury issues and personnel turnover. Coached by the highly respected Tom Thibodeau, who had success in Chicago before parting ways, ostensibly for “philosophical differences.”
Last season was a learning experience for Tibbs and he’s now had an offseason to develop a plan that includes his former star from Chicago, Jimmy Butler. Minnesota is poised to have those moves pay off this season by making advances in the highly competitive Western Conference that is starting to see a not-so-gradual shift in power once you get by Golden State and San Antonio.
At the Westgate the Timberwolves are priced at -700/+500 in the Will/Won’t Make the Playoffs prop offerings with their Season Wins Total at 48.5. It may be asking a lot for any team to improve by as many games as the oddsmakers are asking of the T-Wolves, who won just 31 games last season. But fates can turn quickly in the NBA as the Wolves fell from 40 wins four seasons ago to just 16 the following season, bouncing back to win 29 and then 31 last season.
There are multiple All Star caliber players on this roster with Butler joining Andrew Wiggins and the player thought by many to be the next Superstar-in-waiting, Karl-Anthony Towns. So an improvement of 17 games – while asking a lot – is achievable provided lengthy injuries to key players are avoided (which is always the risk when going OVER season-long Totals).
Sixers UN 39.5
“The process” has taken more than a few seasons and has tested the patience of the Philly fans but most observers believe this is the season in which the long wait will start to pay off. In fact, the Westgate has the 76ers priced at -200 to make the Playoffs – which is either an indictment of the quality of teams in the Eastern Conference or shared enthusiasm and optimism for Philly’s prospects (probably a bit of both, but mostly the former).
Still, they will have to prove two things. First, that they are that much improved such that there will be a solid rhythm and flow from all that developing talent. Second, and perhaps more importantly, that this team can stay healthy enough over the course of an 82-game schedule to allow that potential to be evidenced in the results, considering the injury issues that have plagued this team during “the process.”
After improving from 10 wins two seasons ago to 28 last season, asking for a second straight improvement of at least 10 games may be asking a bit too much. In my comments above on asking Minnesota to show significant improvement I noted the proven All Star talent on the Timberwolves roster. I am not so sure there is such proven talent on this team – yet.
In the Eastern Conference expect Washington and Milwaukee to challenge Cleveland, Boston and Toronto for the top seeds with Washington well positioned to pose the biggest threat to the Cavs and Celtics.
The call is for Boston to defeat Cleveland in the Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals.
In the West it should be the usual suspects – Golden State and San Antonio, leading the standings. They should meet to determine the Western Conference Championship. It will be interesting to see how the new personnel in both Houston and Oklahoma City will mesh together. It would not be surprising if either Rockets or Thunder have internal issues.
Minnesota could make a run at a Top 4 seed in the West where we could see five or six teams reach the 50 wins plateau.
It would be a surprise if Golden State does not advance to the NBA Finals, assuming no lengthy key injures, and for the Warriors to meet Boston in the NBA Finals. The forecast is for Golden State to successfully defend its NBA Title defeating the Celtics in five games.
Enjoy the season!