Dan Favale | Wed 21/02/2018 - 17:29 EST

NBA Championship Contenders Falling Short of Expectations

Championship odds are courtesy of TopBet and up to date as of Wednesday, Feb. 21. Always make sure you're re-checking these lines before deciding on or submitting a wager. The NBA's title odds are subject to shifts this late in the season—especially when dealing with teams that aren't meeting initial expectations.

Cleveland Cavaliers (+550)

cavs

Many could have guessed the Cleveland Cavaliers would endure some midseason drama. It's what they do. They start off slow, enter some kind of some kind of a hot streak, suffer through another malaise and then ultimately flip the switch in time to engender postseason confidence.

That cycle of competition may still be alive and well in Cleveland. But it's not a surefire procedure anymore. The Cavaliers needed to overhaul their roster at the trade deadline, and while they drastically improved their spacing around LeBron James, their 28th-ranked defense isn't, without question, necessarily better off than it was before.

Even if the Cavaliers enjoy something of a late-season turnaround, they look more vulnerable than they have at any previous point during LeBron James' second go-round. They will miss Kyrie Irving's shot creation late in games once the postseason rolls around, and Kevin Love's return from a hand injury could throw their current rotation for a whirl.

Indeed, they'll still be favored no matter who they face during the Eastern Conference's playoff bracket. But, for the first time in a long time, it looks like there's a semi-feasible path to them falling at the hands of the top-seeded Toronto Raptors or second-place Boston Celtics.

Golden State Warriors (-180)

dubs

This feels weird. Dirty. Even wrong.

The Golden State Warriors are the reigning champs. They have the easiest remaining schedule in the Western Conference. They're one of only two teams that place inside both the top five of points allowed and points scored per 100 possessions. They remain the odds-on favorites to win another championship, and there's no clear case against them retaining that status.

And yet, this classification as indomitable heavyweights feels more ceremonial than deserved. The Warriors still look great on paper, but they're suffering from spells of disinterest and general lethargy.

Sure, they own a top-five defense, but no team in the league allows opponents to get out in transition more following a missed shot, according to Cleaning The Glass. And yes, they're first overall in offensive efficiency, but they're posting the NBA's second-worst turnover rate. 

These things matter. They're the primary forces behind the Warriors ceding control of the league's best record—and the Western Conference's No. 1 seed—to the Houston Rockets. Failing a late-season about-face, Golden State looks to be, at its core, semi-beatable. And given the standard to which this group must be held, that constitutes a failure worth noting.

Milwaukee Bucks (+7500)

bucks

Don't make the mistake of thinking the Milwaukee Bucks are right where they're supposed to be. More than a few players are holding up their end of the bargain—most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has established himself as a top-five superstar—but the team is underachieving on a collective scale.

Given all their length and switchability, the Bucks shouldn't rank in the bottom half of defensive efficiency. They've been slightly stingier in recent weeks, but they still allow entirely too many threes and looks at the rim.

Likewise, their offense lacks a layer of versatility. Too much of their output is predicated on Antetokounmpo or Eric Bledsoe attacking out of thin air. They're not creative enough off the ball and still not shooting enough threes.

Jabari Parker's return from a second ACL injury also hasn't yielded instantaneous depth. Firing head coach Jason Kidd hasn't culminated in a renewed sense of offensive or defensive invention either. This team is top-heavy, in an awkward way. The Bucks' most-used lineups are statistical flamethrowers, but they don't have the creativity or talent beyond their best five or six guys to guarantee a playoff series victory.

Minnesota Timberwolves (+6600)

wolves

Some will be content with the Minnesota Timberwolves' performance thus far, mostly because they're set to end a 13-year playoff drought. That's great. But this team was supposed to be something more—particularly on the defensive end.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau is billed as a defensive whiz. He's in his second year at the helm and worked hard to acquire All-NBA cornerstone Jimmy Butler, who played for him with the Chicago Bulls and is regularly recognized as one of the Association's toughest defenders. Together, along with some help from Taj Gibson, they were supposed to reshape the Timberwolves' defensive scope.

With the exception of a nice stretch between mid-December and mid-January, that just hasn't happened. The Timberwolves are in the bottom five of points allowed per 100 possessions and plagued by just about every mental lapse in the book—missed rotations, shoddy traps, lackadaisical closeouts, etc. They're particularly susceptible to teams that get out and run the floor as well.

Not even the Timberwolves' offense is convincing. They're place in the top five of points scored per 100 possessions, but they subsist on offensive rebounds, free throws and long twos. They're not a good or high-volume three-point-shooting squad, which makes it difficult for them to bridge talent variances against superior opponents.

Forget their record. Never mind that they're contending for a top-three playoff seed in the West. Digging deeper reveals a well of pitfalls. The Timberwolves are built to make some regular-season noise, and nothing more.  

Washington Wizards (+6000)

wizards

Remember when the Washington Wizards were being entertained as the biggest threat to the Cavaliers' Eastern Conference throne? Good times.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Wizards' vitals at the moment. They have sole ownership of the East's No. 4 seed and are figuring out ways to survive while All-Star point man John Wall recovers from a knee debridement. They're also hovering around the NBA's sought-after sweet spot, posting offensive and defensive ratings that both hover around the top 10.

Still, the bench is a concern. The Wizards don't have a go-to playmaker who can lead units when both Wall and Bradley Beal are on the sidelines. Tomas Satoransky has shown flashes, but his shot creation isn't as much of an asset when he's not playing beside at least one other primar ball-handler.

Washington's cumulative shot profile, meanwhile, is questionable at best. The offense ranks near the bottom seven in three-pointers attempted per 100 possessions and 29th in percentage of looks that come inside three feet. That distribution isn't conducive to fielding an elite offense. You better believe it will, along with the relative absence of reliable depth, come back to bite them in the postseason.

Almost needless to say, they're not the Cavaliers' greatest conference rival. Not even close.

*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games being played on Feb. 22. 

Category : Sports Betting News

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