Like wild rice and Scandanavian descendants, the city of Minneapolis is overrun by something special these days: The team with the best record in the NBA.
Six days into the NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the best record in the league at 3-0, having defeated the Heat, Hornets and Nets. Their reality check comes Wednesday night in Philadelphia when Robert Covington plays his alumni game against the team where he was once a locker room leader (he was part of last season’s Jimmy Butler trade).
The Wolves, Heat, Suns, Wizards and Hawks are all unbeaten against the spread (the Heat and ‘Wolves pushed), and … lo and behold … if you look atop the Eastern Conference standings, there sit Atlanta and Philadelphia sporting identical 2-0 records.
So those are the overachievers (OK, maybe not Philly, who are among the favorites at +700 to win the NBA title).
And the early underachievers?
Golden State began the season as the fifth choice in the Western Conference behind the Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets and Jazz to win the NBA championship, and the Warriors have started 0-2.
Also, the Indiana Pacers are in Knicks territory at 0-2 (New York is 0-3), although not all that much was expected of the Pacers after they underwent wholesale changes during the offseason and lost a number of key contributors. Their one bright spot has been Malcolm Brogdon, who leads the league in assists at 10.5 per game.
What to make of the surprising starts?
Of course, this sample size is small as the season has just gotten underway, but still … Minnesota? Their latest win came over none other than Butler, and miracle of miracles … the best player on the court down the stretch was Andrew Wiggins, somebody the Wolves have been trying to trade for several seasons.
Wiggins scored 11 straight points over a span of 1:43 in the fourth quarter. It included a layup and three 3-pointers — all this after Wiggins didn’t hit one from deep during the first 11 quarters and overtime to begin the season.
“He just was complaining the whole game he can’t make a shot to me,” Karl-Anthony-Towns told reporters in Minnesota. “And I just told him to keep shooting, it’s going to come together. It don’t matter how the game goes, he’s a star player and he knows when he has to kick it up.”
As for the Hawks, the have the exact same odds at both books. So clearly, these great out-of-the-gate starts are considered an aberration, as they should be.
The Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, Sixers and Rockets are still considered the top five favorites to win the NBA championship, and it is a long time between late October and mid-June when somebody will win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
But for now, why kill all the fun the folks in the Twin Cities and Atlanta are having?
Time for a tangent: It is a well-known fact in NBA circles that teams visiting Atlanta are prone to having off nights. The city is a hotspot for NBA players, and morning shootarounds are ill-advised for visiting teams. Coaches who schedule them often find themselves with half-asleep players who have been out partying into the wee hours of the morning, so it is always advisable to take a strong look at the Hawks’ line when they are the home team. Sort of like wagering on the Nuggets when they are at home facing an Eastern Conference team on the final leg of a long Western Conference trip.
Back to the underachievers
The Warriors odds to win the championship remain at +1300 at DK and +1200 at FD, as the sample size is just too small for anyone (aside from fans) to overreact. But Golden State has been beset by injuries at the center position, and D’Angelo Russell is shooting less than 35 percent and has gone to the free throw line only four times in two games (Nets fans give a knowing nod).
Sharp bettors have taken the view that Golden State is going to be a train wreck this season with Klay Thompson unlikely to play and with Kevin Durant now rehabbing in Kings County, but we will all have to take a wait-and-see approach. The Warriors play the Pelicans Tuesday night, so somebody will get off of their goose egg. The Team That Expected to Have Zion is 0-3.
“I don’t get deflated,” Draymond Green said after Golden State’s 120-92 loss to the Thunder on Sunday. “It’s basketball. You want to win, you do all you can to win, but it’s basketball. I’m not about to get down in the dumps.”
After five straight trips to the Finals, Green and Curry are tasked with helping lead a team with nine newcomers, only one of whom is older than 25. The Warriors have opened the season 0-2 for the first time since 2009. Neither loss was close, with Golden State falling to the Clippers by 19 before getting routed by 28 on Sunday.
“It’s two games. It sucks, and I know everyone’s used to seeing us win,” Green said. “But we’re not giving up on anyone after two games, nor are we giving up on ourselves. We’ve got another game tomorrow, and we’ll try to figure it out then.”
Meanwhile, sharp bettors are having some fun playing the Wizards and Suns, both of whom are a league-leading 3-0 against the spread. The Heat and Pelicans are both 3-0 in the over/under category, while the Thunder and Jazz are a league-worst 0-3 in over/unders.
People who make a living on sports gambling (there are more of them than you might think) pay extra close attention to this type of stuff, and the books can sometimes be slow to adjust. When it comes to legalized sports gambling on the NBA, it doesn’t matter if a team is good or bad. What matters is how they are trending … and right now the T-Wolves are trending better than anyone ever would have expected.