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If you’re thinking that you want to fade the Golden State Warriors in the 2018-19 season, I’d implore you to do so only by going under on their posted win total. Golden State may lose more than 20 games in the regular season, which tipped off Tuesday night. I’ll buy that.

They just won’t lose four of seven in any series come May and June.

Steve Kerr has already divulged how challenging it was to keep guys focused last season. With Kevin Durant’s presence no longer a novelty, guys weren’t as engaged as they were when he first arrived and everyone was figuring out how to make all the pieces fit. Two titles later, the mystery is gone and the team ensured they got younger at the end of the bench just to try and keep things fresh and interesting. 

The Warriors will win a fourth championship in five seasons in their final run before moving from Oakland to San Francisco. The Warriors will win the West. They’ll beat whoever comes out of the East ­inside of six games. The latest odds at Westgate have Golden State as a 1-to-2 favorite to win it all. I’d recommend that you wait until in-season turmoil softens up the books’ stance the way it did last season after the Rockets emerged. 

So, sure, if you want to play NBA contrarian, have at it. There’s certainly a possibility that a team which went all out to win a league-record 73 games only to discover the hard way that it gets you nothing loses more than 20 times. 

Although they’re the most talented team in the league by a wide margin, complacency should set in. Late in the season, you can count on them dropping a few games since guys will be resting their bodies and DeMarcus Cousins should be working the rust off and getting himself acclimated to a new system.

Their primary competition will come from the teams mentioned above since the Rockets, Jazz and Thunder all have a nice blend of explosive offense and an ability to defend. Houston came within a game of the NBA Finals last season and might have sealed the deal if not for Chris Paul’s hamstring injury taking him out of the equation with the Rockets up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals. They won’t come anywhere near as close this season unless they find a way to rent the likes of Jimmy Butler prior to the trade deadline. 

The Jazz, bolstered by elite defender Rudy Gobert and second-year guard Donovan Mitchell, will be a tough out after bursting onto the scene last season. If they can get improvement from young guards Dante Exum, Alec Burks and rookie Grayson Allen in addition to two-way wing Royce O’Neale, they’ll make life difficult on the rest of the West.

Oklahoma City hoped to have  Andre Roberson on the floor but he had a setback following off-season knee surgery and is likely out two months or longer. The Thunder love how wings Jerian Grant and Terrance Ferguson are developing and were able to convince Paul George to hang around and help them develop. Still one of the league’s top two-way threats, he’ll team with Russell Westbrook, who should return soon from a right knee injury. He did not play against the Warriors Tuesday. 

That LeBron James guy joined the Lakers, and no, we haven’t forgotten about him. After five straight seasons missing out on the playoffs and winning 35 or fewer games, LA will be much improved and could flirt with 50 wins. 

In the Eastern Conference, James’ departure from Cleveland means there are a number of teams eyeing a conference title. He made it to the championship round with the Heat or Cavs in every season since 2011, so top contenders Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia are understandably eyeing a breakthrough. 

The Celtics will benefit from all the experience that kids like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum gained in primary roles last season with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined, so they’re my choice to rise up past the Raptors, who will benefit from a healthy Kawhi Leonard as they hope to convince him that playing in Toronto affords him more opportunities than returning home to LA. 

The young 76ers should take another step forward behind Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, but they have shooting issues to overcome, especially since the free-throw line could emerge as an Achilles heel. Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee should factor in as the East’s fourth semi-finalist, edging Washington. 

This week’s NBA slate offers many interesting first looks, so proceeding with caution is a must since the exhibition season was cut short. 

Cavaliers (NL) at Raptors (Wednesday): I did watch the Raptors and Cavs play late last week in preparation for Wednesday night’s opening meeting. But the Cavs played Friday night’s game without Kevin Love, who is expected to be the offensive catalyst. He’s dealing with a sore foot. Leonard’s already been showing off the form we’re used to seeing from him. Get the best line available and lay the points. RAPTORS

Rockets (NL) at Lakers (Saturday): Life as an underdog is set to begin for James since LA is likely to be getting points as the Rockets visit Staples to try and spoil his home opener. James Harden loves playing in his hometown and Chris Paul is healthy again, so this will be a statement game for those guys. UNDER

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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