More than a quarter of the way through the regular season some things are becoming clear in the NBA.
The Warriors have settled into an 18-6 start, but the best record in the Western Conference belongs to the Houston Rockets at 18-4. Yet that is not the league’s best record; that belongs to the Boston Celtics at 20-4.
Making that start all the more impressive is the oft referenced loss of Gordon Hayward, signed as a free agent in the off-season. His absence has made Kyrie Irving, acquired in a trade with Cleveland, the centerpiece of the offense and a leading candidate at this still early stage of the season for league MVP.
Speaking of Cleveland, the Cavs have certainly turned things around following their 3-5 SU, 1-7 ATS start. After splitting their next four games to stand 5-7 on Nov. 9, Cleveland has not lost since. The Cavs entered this week winners of 11 in a row, although going just 5-6 ATS. Cleveland has actually been a better bet on the road (7-4 ATS) than at home (1-10-1 ATS). At 16-7 SU the Cavs have the second best record in the East, a game better than 14-7 Toronto.
Detroit’s 14-8 start remains a pleasant surprise and both Philadelphia (13-9) and Milwaukee (12-9) also continue to show progress following signs of improvement that had started to be seen last season.
The NBA’s version of the New England Patriots, the San Antonio Spurs, have started 15-8. That record may not seem that impressive until you consider one of the league’s most under appreciated or under-recognized talents, Kawhi Leonard, has missed the entire season with a quad injury that has been slow to heal.
Tony Parker finally played his first three games of the season. It is expected that Leonard could debut this week. Once healthy, the Spurs should play as they have for nearly the past two decades and while it is unlikely they will be able to challenge Golden State for the top seed in the West they will contend with Houston for the second spot.
Memphis (7-15) remains one of the biggest disappointments and a coaching change has already taken place. Coaching changes may also be on the horizon in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are 10-12 and in Los Angeles where the Clippers have started 8-14 (injured Blake Griffin out for perhaps two months).
Here are previews of three games to be played over the weekend.
Boston at San Antonio (Friday): This is a rematch of a game played in Boston on Oct. 30, won handily by the hosts, 108-94 as 3.5 point favorites. As has been noted, the Spurs have been without Leonard all season and Parker made his season debut just last week. There is speculation Leonard might return for this game and that would only energize further both the team and the crowd. There is little not to like about what Boston has accomplished in starting 20-4.
Both teams last played on Wednesday, and whereas Boston is next in action on Sunday the Spurs travel to Phoenix on Saturday. They are likely to put more intensity and focus on this contest against a potential opponent should the Spurs reach the NBA Finals or, at the very least are facing an elite foe, than in Saturday’s game against the Suns in which a fully focused effort may not be needed to get the victory here. SAN ANTONIO
Houston at Portland (Saturday): Houston has been one of the season’s best stories with their 18-4 start. Portland has been inconsistent in starting 13-10, which includes a rather ordinary 7-6 start at home. Portland will be well rested for this game after having last played on Tuesday when they hosted Washington in the third of this four game homestand. Up next, however, for the Blazers is a Monday night game at Golden State.
Houston is off a game Thursday night at Utah, never an easy venue (Jazz are 10-4 at home vs. 2-7 on the road). Despite the potential look ahead to Monday, this is a good spot to back the hosts who might well be slight underdogs. Houston has played well on the road but only three of those games have been against teams that currently have winning records. PORTLAND
Philadelphia at New Orleans (Sunday): Philadelphia has been a very pleasant surprise and at 13-9 the 76ers are currently a top 8 team in the East. New Orleans has started 12-11 and has already had to deal with injuries to star Anthony Davis. The Pelicans are just 5-5 SU at home this season whereas the Sixers have a winning road record, 6-5.
This is, however, a tough spot for the visitors as Philly played at Cleveland on Saturday night in a revenge game for a 113-91 home loss to the Cavs on Nov. 27. This game should be priced close to a pick ‘em and the preference will be to play the rested hosts facing a team that likely had expended both extra physical and emotional energy the night before in Cleveland. NEW ORLEANS