This has not been the most uplifting NBA season. The deaths of Kobe Bryant and David Stern. The injury to Steph Curry. The overabundance of load management, which cheats ticket holders out of seeing the league’s best stars.
At least the playoff format is not changing. Seems as though wiser minds in the league office prevailed over the commissioner.
The important thing is that there is still a ton of basketball to be played, and with the Golden State Warriors out of the picture, and with the Knicks having some long-term hope with the onboarding of Leon Rose, there actually is plenty to look forward to.
For those who gamble, the opportunities are profound. It was less than a month ago at the Toronto Raptors were huge longshots to win the title, and then they reeled off 15 straight wins and make the bettors who got in at 40-to-1 odds seem like geniuses.
What other golden opportunities are out there?
Here are five bold predictions to take us down the stretch.
1. LeBron James will win the Most Valuable Player Award
Hey, we all love the Greek Freak. The guy is putting up better numbers than he did a year ago, and his team is leading the NBA.
But the Bucks still have a formidable schedule in front of them that included two games apiece against the Raptors, Heat and Celtics, and three against the Sixers. And Giannis cannot shoot free throws.
Yes, the Freak is a prohibitive favorite, but James is leading the league in assists at the ripe old age of 35. And do you know what voters do? Since almost all of them are over 35, they place a premium on age.
Right now LeBron is on the board at +900 at DraftKings Sportsbook and +700 at FanDuel Sportsbook to win the MVP award. He plays for the best team in the West, there is a Kobe Bryant sympathy factor that is going to play into the voting, and let’s face it … you really never want to bet against the guy. Also, one might say he is overdue for a championship.
2. The Milwaukee Bucks will not reach the NBA Finals
There is a guy I know who handles stats for some of the best broadcasters in the sports world. He knows things that even the brightest analytical minds in the NBA are unaware of. And every time I speak with him, he brings up one point: Giannis’ free throw shooting is going to be the Achilles heel for Milwaukee.
We have all seen variations of Hack-a-Shaq throughout the years, and we are going to see it this spring. Giannis is making only 61.4 percent of his free throws, which is a 13.5 percent drop from last season. And in case you missed it, the Miami Heat added Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline while at the same time adding cap space for next season. This is what we call making an attractive destination even more attractive. Miami is +700 to win the East at DraftKings and the same price at FanDuel. Do not … repeat … do not underestimate Erik Spoelstra.
3. Zion Williamson will draw a bunch of first-place votes for Rookie of the Year
We all scratched our heads when he remained on the board with short odds while missing the first half of the season, and now we know why. Have you seen the lines this guy has been putting up? He is averaging 25.0 point and 7.2 rebounds in the month of February while shooting 53.8 points. Thus far, he has two double-doubles, and it says here that his number in that category will reach double figures easily.
David Griffin did the wise thing by hanging onto Jrue Holiday at the trade deadline, and the Pelicans are only 5 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, needing only to pass the Spurs and Trail Blazers and catch the Grizzlies, who they have two games remaining against along with a 2-0 lead in the season series.
Ja Morant is the prohibitive favorite at the moment, listed at -700 at FanDuel Sportsbook and -560 at DraftKings Sportsbook. If you are a believer in the Zion theory, the best odds are at DK: +450.
4. Kevin Durant may just play for the Brooklyn Nets before it is all said and done
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the Brooklyn Nets: They play their cards very close to the vest. General manager Sean Marks has a rule: Any member of the organization who speaks to the media out of turn gets fired. Marks also comes out of the San Antonio Spurs organization, and the operating principle when dealing with the media in that organization is to be coy to the point of being untruthful.
Look, if the doctors clear Kevin Durant to play, what is stopping him from getting some run over the final 15 games and being ready for the postseason? A lineup that includes Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LaVert and DeAndre Jordan can pose matchup nightmares for just about any Eastern Conference playoff opponent, and it really does not matter if they have a record around .500 when the postseason begins.
A torn Achilles takes time to heal, but Durant has had eight months thus far, and another month will only get that Achilles stronger. Not saying they will win the East, but if they do, the line is +4000 to win the East at DK and +4500 at FD. And remember, all the road team needs to do is split the first two games of a playoff series, and homecourt advantage flips. Beware Brooklyn.
5. Dennis Schroeder will win Sixth Man of the Year
If you have not been watching the Oklahoma City Thunder, you are missing a treat. These guys are confounding opponents with a three-guard lineup featuring Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroeder, and there is not a team in the West (with the possible exception of Houston) that can match that small-ball lineup … and Houston has no answer for Stephen Adams at the center position unless Isaiah Hartenstein becomes the second coming of Yao Ming.
Schroeder is averaging 19.3 points. Compare that to betting favorite Lou Williams, who is at 19.5. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is more or less a dead heat. Williams is on the board at +150 and Schroeder is at +200 at DraftKings Sportsbook, while the line at FanDuel has Williams at +135 and Schroeder at +185. Yes, the Clippers are the better team. But few teams in the NBA have overachieved as much as the Thunder … and that will count for a lot when the votes are tallied.