The Western Conference was the domain of the Golden State Warriors for long enough that the other teams had to be breathing a sigh of relief when Kevin Durant departed in free agency. Then injuries opened the floodgates for others to walk right in. With a power shift created by the arrivals of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the West is looking very much like an "L.A. thing" right now.
We took a look around, and here are some random thoughts, along with some odds from the folks at America's Bookie:
The Los Angeles Lakers (49-14 SU, 35-27-1 against the spread) have been built for a championship run, which is why the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been surrounded by people who have plenty of playoff experience.
Danny Green is a pretty good example of that. He is a classic "3 and D" forward, who has been a championship player with San Antonio and Toronto, made an appearance on the NBA All-Defensive team three seasons ago and always has to be accounted for when he sets himself up in the corner. JaVale McGee has the team's best defensive rating and has two rings with the Warriors. He does not generally play a lot of minutes, but they are quality minutes. And Dwight Howard, if he can behave himself, will be a demon off the bench. He is three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time rebounding champion and has led the league in blocked shots twice. He seems to understand his role and has been particularly effective creating second-shot opportunities (ranked #2 in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage).
It would have been great to have Rajon Rondo available. But the veteran point guard suffered a broken thumb that will take him out of the seeding games. If the Lakers go to the Finals you might conceivably see him back.
Clippers are a little short on people right now
In the opener, America's Bookie has priced the Lakers as three-point favorites over the Los Angeles Clippers, and there is good reason the line has shifted to their side. The Clippers (44-20 SU, 35-29 ATS) just lost key personnel, as Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell had to leave the bubble for personal reasons.
Williams and Harrell are quite simply the best players on the best bench in the NBA, as they average 37.3 ppg between them. Either one of them could be a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year contender. And it doesn't take a genius to realize that NBA teams, in the interest of not overextending people, are going to use their benches liberally.
Okay, that's the offense. On defense, Beverley is the guy who's going to guard the other team's best backcourt scorer. He knows how to deal with pick-and-rolls; he gets out to the perimeter. He is a genuine pest, and an All-Defensive player too. Seven-footer Ivica Zubac., who's been a real good rim protector, is on his way to Orlando and may be ready for this game, but we don;t know what kind of shape he'll be in.
And when you consider Landry Shamet isn't available either, you've got a team that's short-handed.
These teams played three times this season, with the Clippers winning twice. In each of those games they forced the Lakers to shoot more triples than their season average, holding them below their league-leading 48.5% from the field every time. But will the dynamic change now?
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Can any team challenge the two L.A. squads?
Well, maybe the Denver Nuggets (43-22 SU, 29-32-4 ATS), who could find themselves bucking the trend of "small ball' with their own version of "big boy ball." Denver has the ability to put three bigs out there who have versatility and athleticism, to the degree that it offers matchup problems at both ends. Aside from Nikola Jokic, who, speaking of versatility, provides that more than another center in the NBA, they have, among others, 6-10 Michael Porter Jr. and 7-2 Bol Bol, who dazzled everyone in the first scrimmage.
Bol Bol may shame a lot of NBA general managers (all of whom passed him up in the first round of the draft), because for someone his size, he can handle the ball, pass, shoot from the outside and attack the hoop, in addition to blocking shots, an ability he inherited from his dad, Manute Bol. Jokic has indicated that he could play at the "four" spot, and Bol Bol has even been used as a shooting guard in practice. These guys can all do a lot of things, and the Nuggets are already a great "ensemble" piece. They open next Saturday, laying two points as per America's Bookie to the Miami Heat.
When Daryl Morey talks, I listen, particularly when it comes to something he has undoubtedly worked out in the analytics. His Houston Rockets (40-24 SU, 29-35 ATS) are going to double-down on the "small ball" thing, and he figures that with Robert Covington essentially playing in the middle they can defend most teams very well. I've always thought that when you bring two of these "mega-stars" together who really need the ball to be effective, it can create problems. The James Harden-Russell Westbrook combo is spectacular, but there are, of course, no titles between them, so maybe it's the kind of thing that can get them only so far and no farther. One thing we know is that it's a lot harder to double-team either guy than it was before. The Rockets re-open things against Dallas next Friday, and they are one-point favorites at America's Bookie.
Finally, I do not expect the San Antonio Spurs (27-36 SU, 25-37-1 ATS) to do much in Orlando, as they are short-handed as it is (without LaMarcus Aldridge), don't shoot enough three-pointers, and, at least according to coach Gregg Popovich, will use the bubble experience to develop young players. It's not necessarily tanking, but you might call it "quasi-tanking." And when Popovich rolls over, he's not real shy about itr (especially in the many "load management" situations we've seen him in). So it looks like I'll be fading them most of the time in the eight games they'll play.
Charles Jay is unlike most analysts associated with
handicapping and the gaming industry, in that he also has had extensive
experience in the so-called "mainstream" media as well.
He has been involved with professional sports industry for
almost two decades, working in all capacities, as a matchmaker, booking agent,
manager, and also as an editorial consultant on USA Network's "Tuesday Night
Fights," which, for a time, carried "Charles Jay's Line" on
upcoming fights. As a broadcaster, he has called world title fights around the
world for various outlets, and has served as a color commentator for Sunshine
Network and Prime Network.
His radio experience includes being the host of numerous
programs, including "Sportswatch with Charles Jay" on KDWN in Las
Vegas, "Total Action" on WAXY 790 in Miami, and "Charles Jay's
Winning Edge", syndicated into 55 markets by the American Radio Networks,
and he's done podcasts on all subjects related to sports, gaming and popular
Working within the casino industry, he has a special events
consultant for Casino Magic in Mississippi, as that venue established itself in
the early 1990s as a hotbed of boxing activity in particular. Prior to this, he
had been engaged as a casino gaming columnist for, among others, Casino Player,
Card Player and Sports Form (now known as Gaming Today), specializing in
blackjack. And later on, his investigative series on boxing, entitled
"Operation Cleanup," won him much critical acclaim, including the
2003 "Dignity" Award, in the category of "Best Sports
Writer," as bestowed by the Retired Boxers Foundation, a non-profit
organization dedicated to rendering assistance to ex-fighters in need.
In 2006 he established a content services division of his
company, which has eventually evolved in JayWords, and he is arguably the
world's most prolific sports & gaming writer, with over 20,000 articles to
his credit, the vast majority of which have been sports handicapping pieces. So
you might say he has analyzed as many sporting events as anyone alive during
this period. He has also brought some interest with his so-called
"gimmick" odds on special events, including the Academy Awards, the
NFL Draft, and the Super Bowl, for which he posted dozens and dozens of
different odds propositions with various sportsbooks.
This renaissance man is a graduate of the University of
Miami (Florida) who currently resides in the South Florida area.