NBA Playoff Predictions 2016 & Odds Analysis
What Team Will Win The Larry O’Brien Championship
By Dan Favale
The Los Angeles Clippers are finally whole again now that Blake Griffin is back in the lineup. But they remain overmatched in a crowded Western Conference. There is no guarantee that they make it out of the first round, let alone make a legitimate push toward a title.
If they do get past the Portland Trail Blazers, they’re pretty much guaranteed to meet the Golden State Warriors in the second round. They won’t even come close to beating them. Their tilte contention status, then, is artificial. They don’t even have a shot of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are interesting. If there is a Western Conference team that has a case to be put in the same class as the San Antonio Spurs and Warriors, it’s them. They had their crunch time warts during the regular season but remain threatening because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the game’s top 10 talents.
To reach the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder will, presumably, need to go through the Spurs. That’s not an impossible feat, just a tough one. The Spurs, like the Warriors, are historically dominant, but both Durant and Westbrook are capable of turning San Antonio’s stingy rim protection into mush. If the players around them knock down a lion’s share of their catch-and-shoot opportunities, the Thunder will have a shot at sneaking into the Western Conference Finals.
That’s where you’re inclination to bet on them should end. It’s not just about them meeting the Warriors; it’s about them meeting the Warriors after having played the Spurs. Are they really going to beat both of these historically good teams four times in seven tries? No. No, they’re not.
Consider the Thunder a reasonable Western Conference Finals play, but not much more.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+400)
For all of the Cavaliers’ struggles, they’re still heavily favored to come out of the Eastern Conference. That’s why their odds fall short of bettor’s delight status. If you’re looking for a reliable, albeit not very lucrative, conference play, they’re your team.
Actually winning the championship is a different story. The Cavaliers don’t stack up particularly well against the Warriors, and they won’t be favored even if they end up facing the Spurs, though that is the better matchup for them.
Bet on the Cavaliers with caution. You can liberally invest in them to win the East. Just understand that all championship plays must be considered long shots.
San Antonio Spurs (+400)
Ride the Spurs into the Western Conference Finals. They won’t receive much resistance from the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1, and facing the Thunder in Round 2, while tough, isn’t enough to pull us away from the idea that a Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals is a formality.
It’s there that things get dicey. The Spurs are very clearly the Warriors’ biggest threat in the West. But that might not be saying much. The Warriors won their regular-season series 3-1 and are built to play a vast array of different styles. Their small-ball lineups force the Spurs out of their comfort zone, and if San Antonio decides to operate in the half court, Golden State has the playmakers and big bodies to thrive there, too.
If you’re a dark horse player trying to find that potential wrench in the Warriors’ championship plans, the Spurs are still your best wager. Betting on them to do anything more than reach the Western Conference Finals, though, is a bigger risk than the championship odds reflect.
Golden State Warriors (-150)
You can’t go wrong betting on the Warriors. You just can’t. So long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are healthy, they appear to be championship formalities.
Knowing this, their odds really aren’t that unattractive. You’ll still need to bet more in order to feel a return, but for a foreordained favorite, -150 isn’t bad.
The only real team Golden State must worry about is San Antonio. And that, as previously noted, is an ancillary worry. The Warriors have shown they’re head and shoulders above the field when they’re at their best, and that includes the Spurs. And there’s no reason to think they’ll be anything other than at their best when it matters most.