Tough to gauge
The NBA returns from its All-Star hiatus Thursday, but despite the shortening regular season, no clear Finals favorites have separated themselves in the Western Conference.
the Phoenix Suns (+450) are the betting favorites
The Denver Nuggets (+750 to win the Finals) lead the conference with a five-game gap on the Memphis Grizzlies (+1700). However, the Phoenix Suns (+450) are the betting favorites despite playing zero games with their new best player, Kevin Durant.
Everywhere you look in the West, there are problems aplenty. That’s why predicting – much less betting on – a future winner could be an exercise in futility.
Western Conference NBA Finals hopefuls
One idea shared by most of the top teams in the West is that they believe this is their best chance in modern history to win the NBA Finals.
The Nuggets have been to the Western Conference Finals just one time in the Nikola Jokic era, and that was in the bubble. He and his team are playing at a supreme level, but there is still cause for concern.
not an overwhelmingly dominant player in the big moments
Jokic, the reigning back-to-back MVP and favorite to win this year’s award, is not an overwhelmingly dominant player in the big moments. He has taken fewer clutch shot attempts than his teammate, Jamal Murray, and has been subbed off in crucial defensive spots in the playoffs.
Murray was also the driving force in the Nuggets’ run to their lone conference finals appearance in the last 20 years, scoring 50 points two times in the first round and 40 in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Grizzlies are next in the standings and an even riskier long-term prospect. They are extremely young and do not seem to have matured since their appearance in the last playoffs. They also rank just 15th in offensive rating, 25th in true shooting percentage, and dead last in free-throw percentage.
Ja Morant’s combination of high-flying athleticism and thin frame also makes him prone to injuries, which prematurely ended his postseason run in 2022.
The Sacramento Kings (+13000) are third in the conference, but have not made the playoffs since 2007. They have impressed in the regular season, but their lack of experience and culture practically guarantee that they will not win a championship this season.
The headaches continue
The problems don’t end with the top seed. The fourth-place Suns, despite being in the good graces of the sportsbooks, are a ticking time bomb.
Chris Paul is 37 years old and has a bad habit of getting injured at the worst time in the playoffs. His backcourt mate, Devin Booker, is in his eighth professional season but has very few memorable postseason moments and drastically underperformed in his most recent playoff run.
Another problem is that new arrival Kevin Durant is one of the best players in the world, but has gone on record saying that he does not have a responsibility to lead a team.
Westbrook brings many problems to a Clippers team
The Los Angeles Clippers (+1100) also made a high-profile acquisition recently by bringing in Los Angeles Lakers outcast Russell Westbrook. Although he is a Hall of Famer in name, Westbrook brings many problems to a Clippers team that was finally starting to enjoy continuity.
If the Clippers start Westbrook and put him on the ball, they need to be prepared for more carelessness that has led him to lead the NBA in turnovers per 36 minutes. If he starts off the ball, then they need to account for his three-point percentage of 29.6% which is second-worst in the NBA. And if they bring him off the bench, they need to be wary of his mercurialness.
The Dallas Mavericks (+1600) are the final team that, if the season ended today, would be guaranteed to make the playoffs. They have two of the game’s best isolation scorers in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, but play little-to-no defense and need to find a way to make both of their stars effective while spending time off the ball.
The West is a crapshoot. Good luck to all bettors searching for a lead on a future conference winner.