THE new NBA season is upon us. After a summer of trades and tinkering there’s no doubt one team remain the outstanding favourites to end up as champions next June.
But that leaves 29 NBA teams with varying ambitions of their own – some grand, some minor – who range between long shots and those worth a regular punt.
Here’s a look at how the league shakes up with 82 games, and more, to go.
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division
Are the arrivals of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward enough to keep the Boston Celtics top in the East where their emergence – plus Cleveland’s faltering – moved them to the No.1 seeds last term before they lost to the Cavs in the Conference Finals?
The answer is TBC, even though the Cs are 3.15 to get through the East, behind Cleveland at 1.60. Irving and Hayward will add enough offence to push their scoring average over 110 per night and Boston will stay ahead of their local pack.
In their Division, Toronto have stayed put – good but not enough – the Knicks and Nets need to bottom out a little longer and while the 76ers should make creditable strides forward they remain young and unpredictable.
- Celtics to win East at (3.25, Unibet)
Cleveland had the messiest off season around yet they have the talent to make it a third straight Finals against Golden State, given LeBron James and Kevin Love stayed put and Isaiah Thomas is confident he will be back by the New Year. The question is whether they are still above Boston and we will not know until past All Star break.
Below, Milwaukee should make leaps, especially when Jabari Parker returns, potentially even into the top four in the Conference. Detroit, Indiana and especially Chicago are non-factors in waiting.
- LeBron James top scorer (10.0, Unibet)
The Washington Wizards will top their division. But how much closer can the dynamic duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal take them to the NBA elite? They are a dangerous team with Wall appearing ready for the next level with threats around the All Star.
Miami, if they start how they finished last term, will return to the playoffs. Charlotte can radically improve, even if the acquisition of Dwight Howard is a puzzling X-factor. As for Orlando and Atlanta, the basement beckons.
The Golden State Warriors are a virtually unbackable 1.01 to take this Division. With good reason. Subtracting Chris Paul from the Clippers will not render them wholly uncompetitive but it’s no longer about championships in LA, just challenging on a nightly basis with under 43.5 wins at 1.97 not impossible. As for the Lakers, Suns and the Kings, all consolation will be gratefully received.
Welcome to the NBA’s most intriguing but least appreciated division, one in which the off-season trades concocted by the Oklahoma City Thunder will ensure they have more eyeballs upon them than anyone not initialled GSW.
Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook is 8.0 to make it a repeat but that’s a long shot when he has the extra help provided by Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. At 13.0 for the West and 21.0 for the title, they are massively overpriced.
But beneath, expect Minnesota to elevate themselves out of the depths with the injection of Jimmy Butler, better defence and a maturing crop. Karl-Anthony Towns at 7.0 to head the NBA in rebounding is a steal.
Denver are on a similar upward trajectory that has the Nuggets on the verge of breaking out. Portland can still be a playoff team with a favourable wind. And although Utah will miss Hayward they won’t fall off the map due to their torrid defence.
Is this the year the San Antonio Spurs regress? Devoid of a marquee free agent capture, minus Tony Parker for a prolonged period (and Kawhi Leonard for the season opener against the Timberwolves), they’ll still be good but it’s impossible to view them as title challengers.
At 2.15 for the division, they’re a step behind Houston even as Mike D’Antoni wrestles with how to accommodate two highly-ball dominant playmakers in Chris Paul and James Harden.
Elsewhere, expect New Orleans to move up, Memphis to stand still and Dallas to tread in mediocrity.
- Over 56.5 Rockets wins for the Rockets (1.88, Unibet)
The Beasts of the Easts square off on the season tip-off and could offer a peek for what lies ahead. There’s just limitless intrigue with Kyrie Irving’s return to Cleveland with the Celtics and with the Cavs re-shaped, Boston at 2.40 looks a solid bet.
The West curtain-raiser pits the Warriors against the Rockets in a second Conference Finals rematch. With a statement to make, consider Golden State at -10.5 at 2.07 or look under 229.5 points at 2.0.