NBA: The State Of Play
Who can challenge the Miami Heat for the NBA title? As we head into the traditional Christmas Day NBA schedule, today Adam Digby shares his thoughts on the NBA season so far.
Much of the preseason talk was about teams deliberately having poor seasons in order to earn a high pick in next summer’s talent laden draft. A quick glance around the league pointed to a number of places where that seemed likely, yet some of those teams are now surprisingly thriving, while some rosters expected to do well are really struggling. Nowhere is that more true than in the Atlantic Division, where Boston, available as high as 151.00 to top the division, are sitting in 2nd position. Rookie coach Brad Stevens has seemingly worked a minor miracle in getting a team who many expected to struggle, to look like they could even make the playoffs. That stands in stark contrast to the two New York based teams, both of which had title aspirations when the season began. For the Knicks, that dream seems more distant than ever, and the flaws in their poorly constructed roster have been laid bare for all to see. While the defence has been as bad as expected in the absence of Tyson Chandler – also a factor in them ranking as low as 29th in the league in rebounding – they are also struggling to score. Ranking 25th in points per game at just 94.7, they are shooting a woeful 0.429 from the field and 0.348 behind the three point line.
Across town, the Nets had shaken off a bad start and were slowly finding their way back into contention, just as Philadelphia’s early promise faded. Yet with trade talk continuing to link the Celtics with centre Omer Asik and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez ruled out for the season, odds of a Division title finding its way to Boston at odds of 7.50 could perhaps be an interesting investment.
Atlantic Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
While being top of the Division was expected, the great start to the season enjoyed by Indiana – discussed in depth here – has been great to watch. Paul George and company seem driven by their desire to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and their odds of winning the Eastern Conference, which opened at 7.50, have now fallen to as short as 2.88.
Elsewhere, the injury to Derrick Rose has seen a dramatic collapse in the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls, who are struggling to remain competitive. Perhaps, the real surprise has been the rise of the Detroit Pistons, who currently sit second in the division, thanks to some great performances from Brandon Jennings. The Point Guard has averaged 17.4 points and 8 assists per game under Maurice Cheeks, who sees his team comfortably hold onto a playoff berth so far this season.
Central Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
South East Division
If the Atlantic has been full of surprise, it has most certainly been business as usual in this division. The Heat have swept all before them to sit second in the East, while opening a comfortable lead here to sit 6½ games clear in the South East standings. Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks are their closest challenger, but finding value behind Miami is difficult.
The recent form of Kemba Walker and the Bobcats makes looking at their chances of making the playoffs worthwhile. The former UConn guard has been impressive, averaging 18.5 points as he steers Charlotte to their best season in recent memory.
South East Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
North West Division
Oklahoma City are leading the standings just as expected, with the return to action of Russell Westbrook instantly lifting them into title contention. His nonstop effort on both ends of the floor, combined with the ruthless efficiency of Kevin Durant sees the Thunder rank as the third highest scoring team in the league, averaging 106 points per game. They remain favorites to win both the division and the Western Conference titles, but are being pushed hard by a remarkably good Portland team.
Leading the NBA in scoring (108.4 points per game), the Trailblazers have kept pace with OKC, despite being as high as 41.00 to win the North West before the season began. Damien Lillard, averaging 21.3 points and 5.9 assists per game has been excellent, but it is the form of LaMarcus Aldridge which has perhaps been the biggest factor. Able to play his natural Power Forward role thanks to the arrival of Robin Lopez, the two-time All Star has averaged 23.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
North West Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
The LA Lakers seem set for another desperate season, as no sooner had he returned from his torn Achilles, Kobe Bryant was ruled out again with a compound injury. A broken bone in his knee has seen the star guard ruled out for a further six weeks, and the team have been understandably poor in his absence. Currently sitting on a 13-14 record, they remain on the outside looking into a playoff picture which seems certain to feature their cross town rivals in a starring role.
The Clippers continue to be the dominant force many expected, with the arrival of Doc Rivers on the bench already increasing their defensive effort, as Chris Paul continues to excel. Averaging 19.2 points and a league high 11.3 assists per game, the point guard will hope to improve on last year’s first round exit.
Golden State have struggled to match last year’s incredible shooting displays, although the injury to Andre Iguodala was an unforeseen set back. With him returning to the lineup, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson should be under less pressure, and there is time yet for them to climb the standings.
Pacific Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
South West Division
It is most certainly business as usual in San Antonio, as Greg Popovich’s well oiled machine continues to churn out victories in routine fashion. Just 1 game behind the Trailblazers for the number one seed in the West, few would bet against them sealing another Conference title come playoff time. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have continued the fine form they showed last season, but Manu Ginobli has also enjoyed a remarkable campaign. The 36 year old may be scoring just 11.5 points per game, but he is also adding 4.7 assists, while Marco Belinelli leads the league in three point field goals, shooting a remarkable 0.540 so far.
The real story in the South West, however, is in Memphis, where last year’s Western Conference Finalists have struggled badly since injury robbed them of Marc Gasol. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year tore his MCL in November, and the Grizzlies have won just four games since then, a record which currently sees them rank as the third worst team in the West. Houston continue to entertain since the addition of Dwight Howard, ranking second in points scored at 106.4, but 24th in points allowed at 102.1. That sees them in fifth place in the Conference standings as Phoenix and Dallas push them hard.
South West Division Winner Odds - Odds as at 24th December 2013.
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And read more of his work at ESPN.com