Exclusive Content   Join Now

Early NBA profile:
Best still reside in West

Oct 14, 2003 8:22 AM

There was an article in some obscure medical journal last week that was mentioned on a recent David Letterman show. It seems a little boy swallowed three dimes, two nickels and four pennies. Doctors operated on him for three hours, but there was no change.

That won’t be the case for the 2003-04 pro basketball campaigns, as change abounds for almost every team in the league. As an example, a third of the league changed coaches in the off season.

As usual, those changes will be reflected in the "over/under" season win totals, as well as the future book odds to win the NBA title. All of those numbers were released last week by the Imperial Palace race and sports book.

One thing that hasn’t changed is where the league’s better teams still reside. The first five teams with the highest "over/under" win totals are all located in Western Conference.

The defending champion San Antonio Spurs didn’t land either of their top free-agent targets, Jason Kidd or Jermaine O’Neal, but they still had a successful summer.

The Spurs worked a clever three-team trade that brought in Hedo Turkoglu and Ron Mercer, signed Rasho Nesterovic to fill the void left by retired center David Robinson, and inked veterans Anthony Carter and Robert Horry. They are not as scary as the team that won 60 games last year, but with MVP Tim Duncan they’re strong enough to repeat.

"We assigned the Spurs a win total of 56½," reported IP Race and Sports Director Jay Kornegay. "While that’s down from the 60 games the team won last year, it really is more about the players the Lakers added than anything the Spurs have done."

As if having two of the game’s most dominant players wasn’t enough, the Los Angeles Lakers got greedy this summer after failing to win their fourth straight championship last season.

Fortunately for coach Phil Jackson, Karl Malone and Gary Payton were anything but greedy, turning down bigger dollars elsewhere to join Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant for a chance at a ring. Critics wonder if there will be enough shots to go around, but odds makers are not among them.

"We opened the Lakers with an ”˜over/under’ win total of 60½," said Kornegay. "That is the highest number we assigned and 10½ more victories than the team managed last season. It doesn’t appear that the Kobe Bryant ordeal is having any affect on people betting the Lakers."

The Lakers also have the lowest odds to capture the title at 10-11.

The Dallas Mavericks, whose 60 wins tied with the Spurs for most victories in the league last year, opened with a total of 57½ this time around.

In a bold off season trade, the Dallas Mavericks shipped Nick Van Exel and some supporting players to Golden State to get frontline help in the form of Antawn Jamison. With Jamison, the Mavs will now have the post presence they have lacked in the past.

IP odds makers must expect Dallas to have the same high-octane offense and another deep playoff run. They assigned the club an "over/under" number of 57½, second best behind the Lakers.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were also allocated a 57½ win total. That would be a 5½ game improvement from last year’s 51 victories.

"Not only did Minnesota sign center Michael Olowokandi, but it acquired a solid backcourt in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell," said Kornegay. "Plus, the club gave up very little in return."

The Sacramento Kings must be considered one of the top five teams in the league after acquiring All-Star center Brad Miller. Odds makers at the IP agree, assigning the Kings an "over/under" total of 55½ after the team won 59 games last year.

"If Chris Webber can stay healthy for the entire season, this could still be a very dangerous team," offered Kornegay.

The Eastern Conference is finally represented in the sixth spot, as the New Jersey Nets have a win total of 53½. That’s 4½ more wins than last year’s squad, which represented the East in the NBA Finals.

"When the Nets re-signed point guard Jason Kidd and then got free-agent center Alonzo Mourning, they became the favorite to capture their third straight Eastern Conference title," offered ­­Kornegay. "That is if Mourning can stay healthy for the entire season."

The Utah Jazz has the honor of being the team with the most dramatic future book drop off. The IP opened Jerry Sloan’s troops with an "over/under" of 33 wins, 14 fewer than the team managed last season.

"The loss of Karl Malone and John Stockton is obviously the reason for the low total," commented Kornegay. Not only does the team lose a bunch of scoring, assists and minutes, but valuable experience as well. All of the sudden, this is a very young team."

Despite grabbing LeBron James with the first pick in the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers still bring up the rear with an "over/under" number of 26½. However, that’s still 9½ more victories than last year’s squad.

"While the Cavs still are on the bottom of our win total list, we think James will make quite a difference in their success this season," concluded Kornegay.