Contenders Vs. Pretenders – NBA Western Conference

Alright… It’s that time of the year again. We’re 11 days away from nothing but basketball and hockey littering all of our TV screens for the next several months. Football’s coming to an intriguing close, and baseball still in the heart of another meaningless offseason (as a Rockies fan). While the Avalanche are great, and bracketology is right around the corner, let’s talk pro hoops baby!

WHAT A COASTER it has been for everyone in the West. We’ve got teams throwing games for Wembanyama, six games separating the three seed from the 13 seed, and dominance at the at the head (despite it taking 25 games for the cream to rise to the top). The parity between the mid-pack teams in both conferences is something we haven’t seen since before Lebron made that selfish ass decision to title chase in Miami. It’s aided by injuries… a few pivotal ones at that: Zion Williamson, Devin Booker, Kawhii/Paul George. While I am eager to jump in and we’ll do so momentarily, I’ll preface the discussion by saying no. No, I am not breaking down the Spurs and the Rockets because time is currency, and our proud creator doesn’t pay me enough to do that. But don’t worry Spurs and Rockets fans, I’m only doing the top seven in betting odds, as well as the Kings strictly out of respect for their current three seed status. So, Lakers fans can ride the pine with you!

*All odds in this article brought to you by FanDuel Sportsbook*

Nuggets (Record: 36-16) – Finals Odds: +700

2X MVP averaging a triple double, depth, improved defense, Aaron Gordon version 2.0, Jamal legs, and a 23-4 home record. It can’t be denied that if you’re a Nuggets fan, you’re wettin’ your britches. But I will caution… As a previous Loot Sports article stated, fan favorite Bones Hyland has got to go, unfortunately. Why is a backup point guard that significantly important? Because they shit the bed defensively every time he’s in the game. Pair that with bad shot selection, and it spells disaster without Murray or Jokic on the floor to hold his hand come playoff time. Harsh? Yes. Truth? Also, yes. But damn I wish it wasn’t. If the Nuggets are able to move him for a two-way wing as has been reported, I’d feel a lot better about those +700 odds. I’m by no means saying they couldn’t win a title despite him, and therefore they’re obviously a contender. However, it’s far from the cake walk the 36-16 record suggests it is.

Warriors (Record: 26-26) – Finals Odds: +850

While I believe they are always a formidable threat in the playoffs, can we chill out with the +850, please? That’s pretty rich for a team that has a 7 – 20 road record putting them among the likes of the Spurs, Rockets, and Pistons. 26th in road defense could be the explanation there. Considering they’re probably going to end up in a second-round matchup featuring 4 road games (should they survive the first), I do not like that for them. Pair that with the fact that their former “lockdown” guard defender, Klay, could now use a cane when moving laterally, and that’s bad news. BUT I will say this… As long as Steph and Klay continue to shoot the lights out at home, they will always be in it. Especially considering the infrequency with which they’ve played in back to backs during the regular season, which has allotted them extra rest. They are a road defense away from being the largest threat to the Nuggets, which makes them a contender.

Grizzlies (32-20) – Finals Odds: +1,000

Keep in mind as you read this that the Grizzlies just blew their 5th home game of the year to a meddling Blazers team, and lost me money in doing so. So, if I sound salty as hell, that’s why. They’ve got flash, I’ll give them that. They can play with anyone on a good night. But they’re also more fragile than that vase you broke as a young buck. They cannot stay healthy. It’s like an injury lottery every night with this squad, and they seemingly all want a slice of the pie! One night it’s Ja, another it’s Bane, then Brooks, Adams, and oh yeah… Jaren Jackson started off the year by missing 17 games. Good lord man! Their “run and gun” style is unproven in the playoffs, Brooks is a human brick from deep the last two (30 %) going from 3/D to just D, and Ja can only carry his team with highlights for so long. While you can’t count them out completely thanks to their exceptional home record, Ja also put a target on their back with his “not worried about anyone in the West” comment. Which is ironic, because I’m more scared of a healthy Pelicans team, or a Warriors team that finally decides to play defense on the road, than I am of this cocky bunch. Pretenders.

Clippers (29-26) – Finals Odds: +1500

I don’t think many people know what to make of this team to this point. Thanks to a case of the injury bug and the NBA’s affinity for “rest games” (ruining one child’s experience after another… SMH), we’ve only seen Paul George and Kawhii on the floor together for 20 games at this point in the season. Some nights they look great, having won 7 of their last 8, but others they look lost. They’re still 8th in the league in scoring defense, but it’s difficult to tell how much of that is thanks to their methodical half-court offense. I expect to be calling them contenders by the end of the year. If you do decide to bet them, do it with our good buddies FanDuel, and avoid the stench of that DraftKings +900.

Suns (27-26) – Finals Odds: +1800

Similar to the Clippers, this one is difficult courtesy of Devin Booker’s injury (costing him 20 games) and Ayton’s rift with Head Coach Monty Williams. Do you remember before the season when Ayton said him and Monty hadn’t spoken since game 7?

Well it doesn’t look like that contentious relationship has changed much this season:

While you’d like your starting big to be on the same page as your HC, I don’t even consider that to be the biggest question mark because it’s not a question mark at this point. It’s a certainty that relationship is not changing. The biggest question marks are: Can CP3 and Booker survive the home stretch injury-free? And can Mikal Bridges continue his progression as a well-rounded scorer? If those two things come to fruition, they may make a run, but it simply feels the Suns “IT” factor from the past two seasons has worn off far too much to be a contender.

Pelicans (26-27) – Finals Odds: +2500

The Pelicans were 23-14 when Zion went down leaving only CJ McCollum for the next 12 games because Brandon Ingram was out as well. And boy did they nose dive in those 12. They’ve lost nine straight to date, granted BI has only been back for three games. Just like every other team, they have to get and stay healthy to have a shot. If that happens though… I’m scared shitless of this team. Zion’s averages this year: 26, 7, and 4.6 on 60 % shooting. He is their heartbeat. They go as he goes, and it’s quite the spectacle when they do. Sprinkle in a legitimate Center in Jonas Valanciunas, as well as role players stepping up (Trey Murphy, Nnaji Marshall, Herb Jones), and this team matches up with anyone in the league. If you’re optimistic about their health come playoff time, +2500 may be the best bet on the board. Contender.

Mavericks (28-25) – Finals Odds: +2700

Get this man some REAL HELP bruh! Luka… You flop too much and I don’t care for some of your antics, but I feel for you dog. The man is dropping ridiculous stats on people’s head every night just to keep the Mavs in games. From there, it’s a coin flip. I do not think you can win playoff basketball that way. Until the Mavericks get a legitimate second option that can create their own shot, a dominant big to pair with him, or revamp their core completely, the pathway to a championship is about as visible as looking through a key hole. Yeah, I’m sure some Mavericks stans are saying “what about Dinwiddie and Christian Wood, man”. They’re rock solid role players that can give you big nights when you’re shorthanded (hence the 17 PPG+ average for both of them). But Luka needs his Scottie Pippen. Pretender.

Sacramento Kings (29-21) – Finals Odds: +10,000

Oh, what a fairytale it has been! Sac Town has been lightin’ the beam and letting everyone know about it. It’s been just over 20 years since Donaghy stole an NBA Finals appearance from them, with not so much as a playoff appearance in between. This is finally their time, right? Wrong. Look… I live with a Kings fan. I watch most of their games and I genuinely enjoy their offensive brand working through a similar PG/Center combo as the Nuggets. They can get scorching hot in ways we haven’t seen since the emergence of the Splash Bros. However, they’re bottom 8 in defensive efficiency ratings and allow the 3rd most points in the paint per game. The idea that they’re going to out-tempo their way through some of the sleeping giants in the West, is simply more than I can fathom. Pretender… for now. That +10,000 does look cheeky, though!

About the Author


Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche, Broncos ‘till I die. San Diego State grad – Go ‘Tecs. My whole world revolves around sports and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s party!

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