The Pick: 1u - LA Clippers @ +200
Three reasons why it's the Clippers you should back
The Lakers rolled into the All-Star Break with a healthy four game lead atop the Western Conference standings. Don’t think for a moment that the race for the West has been won though. There are still plenty of twists and turns to be enjoyed before all is said and done in the NBA’s toughest Conference.
That also means there is still betting value on Western Conference futures. Obviously, the Lakers deserve to be the favorites right now. If you can grab them as high as +280 then you should jump at the chance.
This piece will focus on the teams you should avoid backing with your hard-earned cash. This doesn’t mean we don’t like the following teams’ chances of making interesting playoff runs, it just means we don’t like their odds of entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the West. Without further delay, let’s jump right into teams you should avoid.
Don’t get burned by the Rockets
Admittedly, the +1200 you can currently get on Houston is tantalizing. It’s easy to talk yourself into James Harden going nuclear down the stretch. Even a magical run by Harden isn’t going to help this team win the Western Conference.
Instead, look for the Rockets to continue to hover around the No. 4 seed. Their big deadline deal to bring in Robert Covington will make Houston more dangerous in the playoffs. The downside is that losing Clint Capela puts a ton of pressure on unconventional centers to hold things down in the regular season.
PJ Tucker just isn’t young and spry enough to play the center spot every game down the stretch. The Rockets are going to do their best to keep everyone healthy for the postseason. That means they won’t be pushing hard for a high seed. Don’t let their decision to rest guys cost you money.
Don’t mine with the Nuggets
If the postseason started today, Denver would be entering the field as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Don’t let the arbitrary arrival of the All-Star Break fool you though. The Nuggets aren’t the second-best team in the West.
We do actually like their chances to maximize their regular season win total though. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Jamaal Murray and company stayed in the race for the No. 1 seed all the way down to the last handful of regular season games.
The trouble is that Denver just doesn’t have the established, elite talent to win high leverage games against the Lakers and Clippers. Their inability to win those contests, particularly on the road, will force them to settle for a consolation prize in the West. Count on Denver heading into the postseason with a No. 2 or No. 3 seed to their credit. They just don’t have enough to overcome stars like Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James when it counts the most.
The Jazz aren’t hitting the right note
There’s a lot to like about how Utah has built their roster. Rudy Gobert is the best defensive center in the game. He has the talent to alter a postseason series all by himself.
Unfortunately, it’s hard for him to stay on the floor every minute of every regular season game. That leaves it up to guys like Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley to bail out the Jazz with The French Rejection isn’t on the floor.
Conley is going to be the weak spot for the Jazz down the stretch. The former Grizzlies standout has snapped out of his early season slump, but he’s a major health risk. Utah will need to give him plenty of rest over the next few months if they want him to be healthy and spry when the postseason begins.
That’s just too much pressure to heap onto Mitchell as this team’s primary creator on the perimeter. He’s capable of big scoring nights, but he’s still not the playmaker we think he can grow into. That will prevent the Jazz from overcoming their current 5.5 game deficit in the West. Don’t shovel dirt on Utah’s playoff chances just yet, but you can safely count them out of contention for the No. 1 seed.
So who should you bet on?
It’s really quite simple. Take the Los Angeles team you believe in the most. The Lakers have the current advantage with their big lead, but the Clippers made the best deal at the deadline to bring in Marcus Morris. I discussed that trade last week and why it makes them Championship favorites and they'll win the West on their way.