Before every season, I like to peruse the Vegas NBA win-total lines, with an eye towards picking up lost money in search of a home. Let’s see how I did this season, when I gave you this Western Conference forecast, Part One and Part Two:
I recommended these six bets to my readers. The result is highlighted.
Clippers under 57 wins. Actual wins: 57.
Grizzlies over 49 wins. 50.
Warriors over 49.5 wins. 51.
Nuggets under 47 wins. 36.
Pelicans under 40 wins. 34.
Trailblazers over 38.5 wins. 54.
Obviously my pre-season rankings proved less than stellar, but in my defense, I did state before making them that I was basically flipping a coin among the top 6 teams, all of which I felt had a chance to come out on top. I did make some significant miscalculations, though, which I will cop to below.
As for the wagers, it looks like I performed a little better: 5-0, with one push. Bringing my record for the last two seasons to 10-1-1. (I went 5-1 last year.)
Warriors and Grizzlies: Both of these teams barely scraped over their Vegas lines. Did I get lucky? I don’t think so. Both of these teams suffered major injury problems. The Warriors, most obviously, to Iggy. And then late in the season, to David Lee and Bogut. The Grizzlies had it even worse, losing Marc Gasol for a significant period, and then Mike Conley and Tony Allen as well.
And both of these teams had coaches who disappointed. At least early in the season, in Joerger’s case. (The Grizzlies had one of the best records in the league in the second half.)
Bottom line, I think the pre-season Vegas lines had a significant cushion built into them. It was more likely for the Warriors and Grizzlies to crush these lines, than to fall short.
As for me giving the Warriors the number one ranking in the West, that was clearly an error. Not so much based on the strength of their roster, although the bench needed shoring up. But because of their coach. I completely over-estimated Mark Jackson.
Under Jackson’s leadership, the Warriors never found their true identity this season. Are they really a team that should seek to slow the pace and grind out low-scoring games with defense? A team that should lead the league in isos and post-ups on the offensive end?
Or could they have been something else? Something closer to the fluid Spurs?
Spurs: What can one say, but Wow? I had significant injury concerns coming into the season, which never materialized. Popovich has mastered the art of giving his starters rest when they need it. Which starts with assembling a talented bench roster, and ends with knowing how to use it.
Two things the Warriors need help with.
Thunder: I was right to be concerned with Westbrook. I was dead right on Jeremy Lamb, and the Thunder’s lack of depth at two guard. Dead right that defenses would be all over Kevin Durant.
None of it mattered, as Durant put up a season for the ages. One of the top 5 players of all time?
Serge Ibaka also stepped up his game, and became the secondary scoring outlet that the Thunder needed to survive Westbrook’s absence, as well as one of the great defensive centers in the game. Yes, I said center.
Clippers: I was right about the Clippers’ backcourt defense coming into the season. The Clips were the worst defensive team among the top Western Conference teams in the early going, and it looked for some time like I was going to win this bet.
Oddly enough, the injuries to Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick may have helped them. Matt Barnes had a huge season, and Danny Granger and Willie Green got plugged in, all good defenders. The Clippers went 32-10 from January to March.
But I was also wrong about quite a few things: Particularly the vast improvement in Blake Griffin’s and DeAndre Jordan’s games. Difficult to foresee, particularly in the case of Griffin’s outside shooting.
I was also apparently wrong about Chris Paul’s knee, although the extended rest he got from his shoulder injury may have helped that situation. But last I looked he wasn’t even wearing a sleeve. And I was wrong about how well the Clips could play without him. Darren Collison did a great job. As did Doc Rivers.
So was I lucky to push at 57 wins? Perhaps. But 57 wins is a big number, with not a lot of fat on the bone for over bettors.
In retrospect, I still like this bet even though I didn’t win it.
Rockets: Performed largely as predicted. Dwight Howard is now good but not great, clearly no longer the player he once was. The offense led by Harden is well-constructed and formidable. But they badly need a wing stopper.
Mavs: I picked them for the seventh seed, and they took the Grizzlies to overtime in the last game of the season in an effort to get it.
TWolves: Huge disappointment. Rubio hasn’t progressed at all offensively. Shved fell off the face of the planet. The frontline of Love and Pekovic is clearly mismatched — neither play defense. Add KMart to them, and you have a hopeless defensive team.
Blazers: I did a little better here. That preseason line was the worst of them all, an absolute gift to bettors.
Nuggets: Another absolute gift. Decimated roster. Running team, inexperienced triangle coach. Dissension, misery, losing.
I’ve seen this movie too many times to count.
Pelicans: The injuries to Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday certainly helped my under bet, but the Pelicans never had a winning month before they got injured. Tyreke Evans was a cancer, as predicted. He didn’t start playing until injuries forced him into the starting lineup, and put the ball in his hands. My continued doubts about Anthony Davis’ durability proved justified: 67 games this season, after 64 last. Eric Gordon, meh. Bench, barf.
Impossible to know for sure, but I think I got this one right.
The Suns’ performance this season is a testament to the ability of a great coach with the perfect system to completely transform an NBA team.
Calling Mike D’Antoni.