It’s a short week of NBA action, with the league going dark after Thursday night’s excellent NBA on TNT doubleheader for the All-Star Game festivities in Houston this weekend. Thus, look for several re-posted futures odds at the various books, including updated scoring champion, Rookie of the Year, division winners, etc. I will be taking a look at the three-point and Dunk contests later this week as well.
One team I want to examine a bit this week is the Denver Nuggets, who are +1200 to win the Western Conference at Sportsbook.ag. I will admit that I am rather fascinated by this deep, ultra-athletic team. But it has been proven that you can’t win a championship without at least one true superstar in the modern NBA, and the Nuggets don’t have one. Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala all are solid players. However, would you trust one of them with the game on the line in the fourth quarter of a tight postseason game? A LeBron James or Kevin Durant is going to get a referee’s calls – the Nuggets don’t have someone like that.
I do believe the Nuggets can win the West, however, if they can get up to third in the conference by the end of the season – second is too far away -- and have home-court advantage for at least one round in the postseason. Currently Denver is No. 5 but just 2.5 games behind the No. 3 L.A. Clippers. The Nuggets proved they have the best home-court advantage in the NBA with a 128-96 blowout of the Chicago Bulls last Thursday. The Bulls are the hardest-working and best defensive team in the NBA, but they were blown off the court in the altitude.
Denver would then win Saturday at Cleveland for its ninth straight victory, a streak in which the Nuggets averaged nearly 115 points per game. Just two of those wins came on the road, and therein lays the rub with this team. The Nuggets are an awesome 22-3 at the Pepsi Center (17-8 ATS) but 11-16 (14-13 ATS) outside of Denver. Their winning streak ended on Sunday in Boston in one of the best games of the year, a 118-114 Celtics victory in triple overtime. Frankly, Boston was rather lucky to win. It took a tying three-pointer by Jeff Green with 23 seconds left in the first OT and another tying three by Paul Pierce with five seconds left in the second OT. How rare was that? Entering the game, the Celtics had hit three game-tying or go-ahead shots out of 22 attempts in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime this season. Boston had been 1-for-10 from three-point range in that scenario.
Now we will see if the Nuggets have any intestinal fortitude because they should win Tuesday at Toronto and Wednesday at Brooklyn before heading into the break. The Raptors, who are two-point dogs, might not have Andrea Bargnani as he will be a game-time call with the flu. The Nets won’t have Deron Williams, who is out until after the break to rest up his ankle.
Now Or Never For Lakers?
Sportsbook.ag also has an interesting prop on the season outcome for the Lakers, who are 10th in the West and 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot after Sunday’s loss in Miami. That Los Angeles misses the playoffs is a -200 favorite, with the Lakers losing in the first round next at +150. Reaching the Finals is +2500, while winning it all is +3500.
L.A. probably has to go a minimum of 22-8 the rest of the way. That would get the Lakers to 46-36. In the last full NBA season, 2010-11, that’s the mark that New Orleans and Memphis finished at to clinch the West’s final two playoff spots. The season before, it took 50 wins.
What reason is there to think the Lakers could play .733 basketball to reach that number? Los Angeles, which won’t have Pau Gasol for at least the next four weeks, is just 9-18 on the road (same ATS mark). The good news is that L.A. is back at Staples Center to start a four-game homestand on Tuesday night against Phoenix, and the Lakers are nine-point favorites there. L.A. closes the first half against the Clippers before hosting Boston and Portland post-break. After that, only six of the Lakers’ next 18 games are at home. Without Gasol and an obviously frustrated Dwight Howard, I don’t see the playoffs happening. I also don’t see Howard back next year.
MVP Race Nearly Over
I really did think this was the year that Kevin Durant beat out LeBron for league MVP honors, but LeBron’s past five games have put him well ahead of KD. James has become the third player in NBA history with five straight games of at least 30 points while also shooting at least 60 percent from the field in each – he’s shooting an unthinkable 71.4 percent in that stretch. The guy is simply too big for shooting guards or small forward to check him and too fast for power forwards to keep up. LeBron is 37-of-44 in the past five games from inside 10 feet. He posts up the smaller guys and blows by the bigger ones.
Durant can get a little MVP buzz for himself when the Thunder host the Heat on Thursday night, a game I will preview here at Doc’s, if Durant has a huge game and OKC rolls. But right now, the MVP is LeBron’s to lose. He is the -160 favorite at Sportsbook.ag with Durant at +110. Durant has, by the way, fallen just behind Carmelo Anthony as Durant looks for a fourth straight scoring title. Coach Scott Brooks seems to be limiting Durant’s minutes when he can – he’s averaging just 31.4 minutes and 23 points this month because the Thunder have been blowing people out lately. If that continues, Anthony will benefit because he’s averaging nearly 40 minutes a game and gets plenty more shots than Durant does.
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