OK. Don’t freak out. It’s only been a few weeks. No title is won in October.
Although. I suppose it’s possible to LOSE title.
Sorry, Los Angeles Lakers. Apologies, Houston Rockets. Additional-though-insincere sympathetic comment, the rest of the Western Conference and entire NBA outside of the Golden State Warriors.
Behold, the NBA has returned. Well, not so much “season” as “countdown to Golden State’s championship.”
Entering the season, Golden State held -200 odds to win its third straight NBA title and fourth in five years. Per sportsoddshistory.com, no other team in the last 30 years has been such a heavy favorite, let alone the odds-on favorite — that is, until the Warriors earned that recognition two years ago… and then last year… and this year…
So basically, Obi-Wan Kenobi, not even you can provide hope. But hey, you can cash in on the Warriors, or on a darkhorse. Sports betting is in full swing in several states, especially in New Jersey. After each month of the NBA season, we’ll check in with NJ sports betting operations and update some preseason projections via the league’s $1 million over/under contest.
So let’s begin.
A quick recap of NJ sports betting
FanDuel Sportsbook opened the season by offering a promotion wherein bettors received a $3 bonus for every point LeBron James scored when they wagered a minimum $50 on the Lakers’ moneyline. As a result, the sportsbook doled out more than $250,000 in credit.
Another promotion that paid off was a local lock. When wagering on the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets to win (yeah, right), bettors could receive their money back (up to $100) should they lose in their respective games (Knicks vs. Hawks, Nets vs. Pistons). With the Nets losing, FanDuel reported, Brooklyn bettors got back more than $100,000 in credit.
The highlight of the early NBA betting season came Oct. 24, when “one brilliant mind,” as FanDuel described it, wagered $200 on the ENTIRE NBA BOARD! Victory came. And that 11-leg parlay, with winning odds of 1 in 650, paid out over $86,000.
Over/Under Challenge: Eastern Conference
The NBA, in its over/under contest presented by MGM, feeds hubris. It fuels the ego. No better feeling exists in life than throwing a parade, ribbon dancers abounding, with a sing-song “Told ya! Called it!” providing the soundtrack.
In an attempt to land a cool $1 million, participants examined the projected win totals for each NBA team. Correctly predicting the over/under for all 30 teams earns a seven-figure payday. (As a consolation prize, nailing 25 picks gets a gift card to the NBA Store. I’ll take the mil, thanks. And also the mil promised by a coworker, and another couple grand by another coworker. Naturally, I’ll be keeping tabs throughout the season.)
With help from FiveThirtyEight and its NBA predictions based on Elo ratings, we can not only look at current records but see a projected final record. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference.
|New York Knicks||31.5||Under||2-6||29-53|
|*(Through Oct. 31)|
Right on track
- Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets went just .500 over their first eight games. Already that seemed like overachieving. This is a franchise that won 48 games three years ago, but has consistently finished below 37 victories and out of the playoffs since its 1990s heyday. Even so, Kemba Walker, the newly crowned franchise leading scorer, has Charlotte out of the gates with confidence. Granted, the Hornets’ opponents so far wouldn’t scare a goat into a frozen fright. Yet Charlotte had three losses decided by two points or less, including against playoff contenders Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Going 1-6 in the first month is nothing to write home about. Though it will earn a pass to the front of the unemployment line, which coach Tyronn Lue indeed received. The MGM-fueled contest pegged Cleveland to still win over 30 games, which seemed rather lofty. The last time James left, the Cavs plummeted from 61 wins to just 19 victories. Still, Cleveland has weapons, even if one, Kevin Love, will be sidelined for an extended period due to injury. It’s still the East. There’s still hope for competitiveness, which has not shown thus far. Still, as FiveThirtyEight projects, the Cavs still have a chance to push for the postseason (it is the East, after all). However, if things continue to go south, certainly owner Dan Gilbert will again pull the tanking trigger.
- Indiana Pacers: The Pacers were thoroughly underrated last season. After trading away centerpiece Paul George, Indiana had only a few playmakers. And no cornerstones. At the time, anyway. Behind Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis (two pieces received from OKC in the George deal) as well as Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young and somehow Lance Stephenson, the Pacers won 48 games (17.5 more than the preseason over/under) before bowing out in the first round. This year, Oladipo has continued his rise, averaging 22 points per game in October for an Indiana team that ranked second in the league in field goal and three-point percentage. In a LeBron-less East, Indiana still seems like an heir apparent.
Off the rails
- Boston Celtics: Fifty-seven players in the NBA had better scoring averages than the top scorer for the Celtics in October. The Celtics still went 5-2. When LeBron bolted to the West, Boston jumped to the top of the list of Eastern Conference representatives in the NBA Finals. Even if Bron stayed in Cleveland, the Celtics likely would receive similar praise. Despite a strong start, though, FiveThirtyEight has Boston stumbling along the way. Yet Boston boasted six players averaging double figures in the first month while holding opponents to the second-lowest shooting percentage.
- Milwaukee Bucks: The last unbeaten team in the NBA was not the Warriors. There’s the first shock. It was not either of the East’s top contenders, the Celtics or the Raptors. Actually, it was Toronto, then undefeated, that the Bucks defeated to exit October with a flawless 7-0 mark. The Alphabet, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has again emerged as an MVP candidate for Milwaukee, which has limited opponents to the worst shooting percentage in the league. Regression to the mean can be a wonderful thing (for those taking the under), but an inexplicable slump or some bad injury luck would need to get the Bucks down to around their projected 46.5 win total.
- Washington Wizards: Easily the most disappointing first-month performance in the league. And also another black mark against Dwight Howard. A playoff team four times in the past five years, Washington didn’t just stumble out of the starting blocks. It slipped, tripped, face-planted and skidded off the track into a cart of manure. John Wall and Bradley Beal are doing what they can, both averaging more than 20 points per game in October on better than 44 percent shooting apiece. But the Wizards need a streak. Or they will post the franchise’s lowest win total since Beal’s rookie year in 2012-13.
Over/Under Challenge: Western Conference
As for the Best Western Conference:
|Golden State Warriors||64.5||Under||8-1||62-20|
|Los Angeles Clippers||38.5||Over||4-3||45-37|
|Los Angeles Lakers||49.5||Over||3-5||38-44|
|New Orleans Pelicans||43.5||Over||4-3||48-34|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||48.5||Under||2-4||43-39|
|Portland Trail Blazers||42.5||Over||5-2||51-31|
|San Antonio Spurs||45.5||Under||5-2||45-37|
|*(Through Oct. 31)|
Right on track
- Denver Nuggets: Fun challenge — name the starting five for the Nuggets. Name three players other than Nikola Jokic. Name Denver’s coach. Doesn’t matter. They don’t care. Denver wrapped up October with the second-most wins in the West, behind only the Warriors. Four of the Nuggets’ five starting regulars (all five, if you count Will Barton, who has been sidelined since the second game of the year due to injury) averaged more than 12 points per game in the first month. Not only is Denver winning the jersey war, it’s started establishing itself as a contender.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Speaking on behalf of all Seattle diehards, good. Finally, the Sonics have something to be proud of. Despite ridding itself of iso-beso master Carmelo Anthony, OKC has not put anything together. Russell Westbrook and Paul George both averaged 25 points per game, yet the Thunder shot a league-worst 27.5 percent from 3-point range, an absolute necessity in today’s game.
- Portland Trail Blazers: You would think after several years of shaming the Trail Blazers and pegging them as mediocre-at-best, oddsmakers would at some point try to provide some respect. Then again, Portland has been known to use any fodder as motivation. Still, a preseason projection of 42.5 wins, nearly seven less than last year’s total, seems to have inspired Portland more than ever before. Off to the third-best record in the West, the Blazers have under-the-radar MVP candidate Damian Lillard, the only player in October to average nearly 30 points, six assists and five boards per game.
Off the rails
- Houston Rockets: The Carmelo Anthony effect has set in. The team with the NBA’s best record last year, with a franchise-record 65 wins, went just 1-5 in October. James Harden continues to be a travelling circus (emphasis on travelling; don’t @ me), and Chris Paul, when not poking the face of Rajon Rondo, continues to be a top-tier point guard. Yet the Rockets shot the second-lowest field goal percentage in the NBA. Certainly, one would assume, Houston will right the ship. But when? How quickly?
- Los Angeles Lakers: Certainly no one, at least nobody in their right minds and nobody whose room is decorated with padded walls, expected the Lakers to become immediate championship contenders. Even an NBA Finals has not gone on without LeBron on the court since 2010. The Lakers got off to a horrid start and limped into November at 3-5. The rag-tag island of misfit toys could still find a rhythm. Most LeBron teams do at some point. Here’s hoping.
- Sacramento Kings: No. No no no. Nonononono. C’mon, Kings. Who does this? Granted, the preseason over/under for Sac-tap-town stood at a mere 26.5. And the Kings have not won fewer than 27 games since 2012. Still, Sacramento has lost more and more over the past three years. Off to a 5-3 start, Sacramento is among the league leaders in field goal (49.8) and 3-point (40) percentage. But the Kings are still young. The West is still loaded. The trademark Sactown Slump awaits. Hopefully.
Who ya got for the title?
Naturally, the Warriors continue to be odds-on favorites to win the NBA title. After just two weeks, however, several teams have argued hard enough for lines to move significantly at FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook.
The Bucks, for example, jumped from a +10,000 preseason line to +4,400 at FanDuel, while the Nuggets have climbed from +8,000 to +6,000. At DraftKings Sportsbook, Toronto went from +1,700 to +900, and the New Orleans Pelicans have gone from +9,000 to +4,500.
As for MVP odds (at FanDuel/DraftKings):
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (+240/+300)
- Steph Curry (+410/+450)
- Anthony Davis (+390/+450)
- LeBron James (+500/+450)
- Kawhi Leonard (+750/+650)