NBA Playoffs: Assessing basketball’s best teams and their first round odds
Robbie Purves | April 15, 2016
As the historic regular season ended – in which Golden State Warriors broke Chicago Bulls’ 1995/96 win record and Kobe Bryant made his final farewell appearance scoring 60 points after a 82-game long goodbye – the attention of the basketball world turned to the NBA Playoffs.
The playoffs are here and the time has come to examine the chances of NBA’s top teams. Golden State are the obvious side to beat after losing just nine times during the campaign and with Steph Curry leading the team out, look almost unstoppable.
Here we assess each of the league’s best teams and their chances of collecting the golden trophy as the playoffs kick into gear…
Warriors juggernaut steams ahead
Warriors are the greatest regular season team ever to play the game. Steve Kerr’s perfect blend of talent saw them slaughter every top level opponent that dared to face them on court, and for that reason Coral have them odds on at 8/11 to collect their second consecutive NBA title.
In 2010, Golden State were a floundering franchise, six years later they are arguably the best team ever. Warriors have threats in all areas of the court, from the superhuman Curry that can put in game winning performances on demand, Draymond Green dominating both ends of the court and Klay Thompson linking up with Splash Brother Curry for effortless points.
Oakland’s outfit have a bench better than most team’s starting five, and produce numbers that are almost unfair. They have evolved since later year’s playoff triumph and have shown against San Antonio Spurs they can adapt to every strategic counter. The only possible way to get under the side’s skin would to be get Green into foul troubled and slow the game down.
In terms of real weaknesses, complacency is their only threat.
Warriors will be up against Houston Rockets who just scraped a playoff place on the last day of the season and are 7/4 to finish the series 4-1, with Rocket’s James Harden likely to lead the side to one token home win.
Popovich playoff masterplan
Spurs finished with the best point differential per 100 possessions in the division, higher than even Golden State. In fact Gregg Popovich’s men finished with better advanced metrics, even though Warrior’s beat a team by 50 points.
Coach Popovich is an absolute master in the playoffs. The man is a coaching legend and has been with his beloved San Antonio since 1996 delivering five NBA titles. Popovich is 7/2 to collect his sixth title.
Every player is involved in smart ball movement and are able to shut down opponents at the defensive end of the floor. The Texan team possesses the best defence in the league anchored by superstar Kawhi Leonard. Spurs, quite simply, score a lot of points while denying their opponents a sniff on offence.
However, a real weakness is pace and the possibility to be stretched with pace. Tim Duncan has lost the pace that he never really had, while LaMarcus Aldridge has never been a true top-level defender. The bench is also a little poor in quality, with Kevin Martin, Kyle Anderson and largely unproven Boban Marjanovic as anchors.
That being said, they are Spurs. The name alone provokes feelings of hopelessness in the face of their perfect and annoyingly classy superiority. Never write off a Popovich side with a team based ethos and mesmerising ball skills. The team has future Hall of Famers Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who provide all the experience and tactical nous to see the team passed most opponents.
In the first round Spurs face Memphis Grizzlies and are odds-on to sweep the series 4-0 at 1/2.
King James out for crown
After finishing clear leaders in the Eastern Conference, everyone is waiting to see what Cleveland Cavaliers team shows up. The dominant side that stomped their way through the East and genuinely challenged Golden State last year, or the side that seemed more interested in social media drama and off-field shenanigans?
LeBron James is still phenomenal and could transform most teams into contenders. Cavs are full of athletic shooters and attacking talent that possess versatility. Kyrie Irving remains an elite point guard even with the team’s ‘struggles’ this term. LeBron boys are the East coast favourites to collect the trophy this summer at 4/1.
However, Cleveland are always just one Instagram post away from chaos and the defence has periods of play when they look helpless to stop bucket after bucket. Kevin Love nor Irving are particularly fantastic defensively and a question-mark hovers over coach Tyronn Lue to whether he can organise a team that can take on basketball’s elite over a playoff series.
Lue has never coached in the playoffs and is probably most remembered for getting stepped over after by newly inducted Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson.
Cavs now face Detroit Pistons in the playoff first round and are 9/2 to win the series 4-2.
Durant to dominate Dallas
A team with two of basketball’s top five players in their starting lineup will always be considered contenders. Oklahoma City Thunder possess that with sensational talents Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant will most likely leave this summer when he hits free agency and will look to go out with a bang. The forward is humble, hardworking and has a real love for city in which he plays – not to mention his unbelievable numbers.
After a spluttering March, Thunder kicked into gear in April and finished the season off strong, gathering precious momentum for the business end of the campaign. Oklahoma have the sheer fire-power to blast them to a second NBA title and are dark horses to do so at 16/1.
Thunder are not blessed with tremendous depth but Randy Foye and Cameron Payne off the bench, with Anthony Morrow as an emergency sharp shooter, isn’t a bad proposition.
However, Oklahoma have blown the most final quarter leads in the league and their defence, at times, looks soft at the core. Despite a coaching change, the team also struggles with game management which may haunt them in the latter stages.
Thunder now face Dallas Mavericks, a series Durant’s team should have no trouble winning. They are 6/1 to overcome Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas in a 4-2 series.