NBA West Division Futures: Should You Believe in the Longshot Jazz?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
All-Star Weekend is over. The playoff race is on. This week, we’re looking at where the league is as the stretch run begins, and we continue with a look at Western Conference Division futures.
Two of the West divisions are goners, but the Northwest Division . . . that’s pretty interesting. Let’s start there.
Northwest Division, a.k.a. “The Only Competitive West Division”
Minnesota Timberwolves (+125): Beware. Minnesota has a huge lead for division tiebreaker at 9-2, but almost all of those wins came early when they were red hot and snuck out nailbiter wins. They have a murderous March stretch, and for all their success, they’re only up one game in the loss column on Oklahoma City, Denver, and Portland. Their defense is back to being garbage, and the math is winning out with their inability to make 3-pointers relative to the competition. Fading them seems like a better investment.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+175): For a long stretch between late December and early February, the Thunder were favored. But now they’re back to +175. The Andre Roberson injury hurts quite a bit, as does the need for them to rest the OK3 down the stretch. However, this is the bet to make if you want to fade the Wolves.
Denver Nuggets (+800): This is the best longshot bet. Denver has been more consistent, is playing really well over the last three weeks, and is almost through its hardest stretch of games. The Nuggets are just one game back in the loss column with Paul Millsap expected back in early March. If the Thunder’s defense and penchant for failing to show up vs. bad teams causes them to slip into the mire, and if you want to fade the Wolves for reasons stated above, Denver’s probably the team with the best chance to sneak into the No. 4 spot. The Nuggets have injury concerns and a brutal finish to February and early March, and they have had some consistency issues. But their key injuries are almost healed, and they have a number of big wins vs. good teams, especially lately.
Portland Trail Blazers (+1200): I like how long those odds are. I don’t like how Portland’s been all over the place since Jan. 1. One week the Trail Blazers are an elite defensive team, and the next they’re back to being a team that has offensive firepower but can’t defend. Their inconsistency is their Achilles heel, and that’s a good reason to stay away. Another problem? They’re below .500 in the division and are one division loss or Wolves division win away from Minnesota clinching the division tiebreaker.
The Hot Team
Utah Jazz (+800): OK, let’s settle down a bit. It’s neat that Utah has won 11 in a row, but it’s a bit absurd that the Jazz have better odds than Portland when they are two back in the loss column from the Blazers, who have been in the playoff race all season. The Jazz are hot, but this is clearly a tease to get folks to believe Utah’s just never going to lose again for the rest of the season. You’re never as good as you are at your best or as bad as you are at your worst in the NBA regular season. This is Utah’s best stretch of basketball this season . . . and the Jazz haven’t climbed a single spot. They were 10th in the West and fifth in division when they were 19-28, and they are 10th in the West and fifth in division now that they are 30-28. That’s how good the West is. It’s hard to keep that momentum up for a full month, much less three months, even with what is clearly the weakest schedule of the teams in the hunt.
Pacific Division, a.k.a. “The Warriors’ Division”
Golden State Warriors (-50000 Not A Typo): Do you have an extra $500 lying around? Would you like to win yourself a crisp new dollar bill? If you put $5 million dollars on this bet you could get enough in return to buy a used Kia down the street, so that’s nice.
The Poor Slobs Who Have to Play Golden State Four Times per Year
Los Angeles Clippers (+10000): Nope.
Los Angeles Lakers (+50000): Nope. Nope. Nope.
The Team That’s Going To Win the Division
Houston Rockets (-4000): The Rockets are the best team (as far as the regular season goes) in the NBA, not just in the West or this division. Even though they are poised to make their 32nd playoff appearance in franchise history, this will be only the sixth division title for Houston. That’s how successful San Antonio has been. This year, the Rockets will have their way.
Everyone Else Who Will Not Win The Division
San Antonio Spurs (+1400): People kind of have not caught on to how far back the Spurs are. San Antonio is 10 games back and nine in the loss column. Nine back of Houston at the All-Star Break! Even without Kawhi Leonard this season, that’s stunning. Houston has 13 losses all year and would have to lose nine more times than San Antonio just for the Spurs to catch up. In the words of Vince Carter . . .
New Orleans Pelicans (+5000): This could be the second-best team in the division next season. But for this season, the ship has sailed.
Dallas Mavericks (+50000): By virtue of head-to-head tiebreakers, Dallas can’t win this anyway. The Mavs are already eliminated.
Memphis Grizzlies (+50000): If every division team went into a tailspin, all at once, mathematically, the Grizzlies could win the division. Spoiler alert: This will not happen.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports