While the Cleveland Indians are preparing to win their first World Series in 68 years the Cleveland Cavaliers are about to begin defense of the NBA title they won last June. That triumph ended more than a half century without a major professional championship for Cleveland.
Cleveland is the favorite to repeat as Eastern Conference champion and is expected to meet Golden State for a third straight season. The Warriors won the title two seasons ago, defeating the Cavs in six games before losing in seven games last season. The Warriors are favored to win the Western Conference.
The odds favoring the Cavs and Warriors to win their respective conferences are prohibitive.
Using recent odds at the Westgate, Cleveland is a 1 to 4 favorite to win the East with only Boston, at 8-1, less than 13-1.
Golden State is even a bigger favorite in the West, held at odds of 2 to 7 (meaning to win $100 you would have to risk $350). Surprisingly, second choice San Antonio is at 7-2 with the Los Angeles Clippers at 12-1 and Oklahoma City at 18-1. No other Western team is held at odds of less than 60 to 1 to win the conference title.
Unlike baseball and football, history favors the top teams in the NBA to win the title. Part of the reason is only five players are involved in a basketball game at one time and the influence, or absence, of any single player can be great. The same lineup generally plays game after game, barring injuries. The same players play both offense and defense.
In football there is a much shorter schedule, which allows for great variance both within a season and from season to season. Their Playoffs consist of a series of single game eliminations. And there are three separate and distinct sets of players determining the outcome – one unit plays offense, one plays defense and one plays special teams.
In baseball, although the lineup is generally the same from game to game, a major determinative factor is the quality of the starting pitcher, who usually will influence from one-half to two-thirds of a game with his performance. The Playoffs are similar to basketball in structure but more players are involved and once a player leaves a baseball game he cannot return.
The odds reflect these differences although this season’s prohibitive odds for the Cavs and Warriors are not typical of most seasons.
Thus it is hard to predict against either team from making the Finals, all things being equal.
Things rarely are equal and the huge mitigating factor will be injuries. The Cavs have overcome injuries in the past two seasons to still make the NBA Finals but that may be mostly due to how weak, overall, the Eastern Conference has been, dating back to the end of the Chicago Bulls dynasty more than a decade ago. The Warriors have been fortunate in avoiding key injuries that sidelined players for extended periods of time over the past two seasons.
Golden State is better situated to withstand injuries this season with the addition of Kevin Durant to an already stacked roster. Star Steph Curry was bothered by injuries in last season’s Playoffs and that could be a harbinger of potential time sidelined during this regular season.
The overall depth in the West remains great. Using Season Win Totals as a guide, 9 of the 15 teams are held at 41.5 wins or more with Golden State held in highest regard at 66.5. San Antonio (57.5) and the Clippers (54.5) are at more than 50 wins.
In the East nine teams are at 41 or more wins, led by Cleveland at 56.5. Boston (52.5) and Toronto (50.5) are the only other teams projected at more than 50 wins.
If you are looking for a longshot to upset Golden State in the West it might be the Clippers. Despite recent Playoff failures it was not that long ago the Clippers were a perennial Lottery team.
Recalling analogies from taking the SAT in high school, the Clippers are to the NBA as the Cincinnati Bengals are to the NFL. There is plenty of talent on the Clippers, a franchise that has made strides in recent seasons. Picked third in the West this could be the season they take that next step, if they can avoid more than an average number if injury issues.
It’s hard to find a team in the East capable of surpassing Cleveland although Boston is poised to show further improvement. But the gap in talent between the Celtics and Cavs remains too great to suggest a Playoff series upset, assuming full health for both teams.
The New York Knicks have been a hot topic of conversation as the season is about to start but that enthusiasm may be a bit premature. Held at 40.5 wins the oddsmakers do not expect the Knicks to even be a .500 team.
Chicago is expected to fall back this season but the departure of both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (both now with those Knicks) may be a plus considering their history of issues. The addition of veteran Dwyane Wade and his leadership and championship experience along with Rajon Rondo may help the Bulls exceed their Wins Total of 39.5 and wind up with a better season than the Knicks.
Beginning next week selections will be given for a trio of weekend games based often on scheduling dynamics, which play a greater role in the NBA than in the other major professional sports.
Enjoy Tuesday’s tipoff to the 2016-17 season!