A 66-game NBA season starts on Christmas Day, so here is our look at the NBA Futures. We are looking for an NBA Finals rematch from last season, only with the Heat beating the Mavericks this time.
Well, the NBA lockout is finally over and the 2011-12 season is all set to belatedly get under way on Christmas Day with a shortened 66-game schedule.
Opening day has five marquee games from which to choose your NBA picks, and we feel that many of the teams playing on Christmas will make deep runs in the NBA Playoffs.
One of the opening day games is an NBA Finals rematch from last season between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks, and do not be surprised to see those same two teams squaring off in the Finals once again this season come June!
This time however, we are expecting the Heat to redeem themselves for last year and walk away as the 2011-12 NBA Champions, although you will not get rich by backing them on the NBA Futures odds as they are the current favorites at just +189.
Now that you know our Finals prediction, here is our look at the teams we feel will be in the conference finals, along with the current odds of each team to win the NBA Championship, courtesy of Pinnacle Sports.
Miami Heat (+189): LeBron James’s first season in Miami did not quite go as planned, as the Big Three of he, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were supposed to dominate during the regular season and set the all time wins record, and then have a cakewalk in the playoffs en route to an NBA Championship. Instead, the Heat finished as just the second seed in the East behind the Chicago Bulls, but that would have easily been forgotten if the Heat has won the championship. However, James has only himself to blame for pulling disappearing acts in the fourth quarter of both Game 2 and Game 4, allowing the Mavericks to hang around in what by rights should have been a four-game sweep, and Dallas took full advantage with handy victories in the last two games. Look for a more focused effort from start to finish from the NBA’s versions of the Dream Team, and anything less than an NBA title will be considered a lost season.
Chicago Bulls (+756): The Bulls actually do have a chance to win the top seed in the league again this year, only because they figure to run away and hide in a rather weak Central Division. This is a team that went 62-20 last season and NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau became just the third rookie head coach ever to win 60 games in his first season. Of course it helped to have the league MVP Derrick Rose in the backcourt, and Rose was so good that he often played the point guard and shooting guard positions simultaneously with backcourt mate Keith Bogans on the court solely as window dressing! To that end, the Bulls brought in Rex Hamilton, who even at 33-years-old represents an upgrade at shooting guard, and all of his playoff experience is a big plus. Look for the Bulls and Heat to fight it out for the top seed all year en route to their second straight meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Also in the mix: The Orlando Magic (+3332) are very intriguing from a pure value perspective. Yes. Dwight Howard is a candidate to be traded since he will be a free agent at the end of the year, but that is the very reason that these odds are what they are. As long as Howard is in an Orlando uniform, the Magic could easily be the third best team in a weak Eastern Conference, and if he does end up staying for the entire season, then these better than 33/1 odds would hold massive value. Also, if the Magic are near the top of the conference around the trading deadline, they may choose the “free agency be damned” approach and hold on to Howard with the hope that he can bring them an NBA Championship in has walk year. He is still after all the pre-eminent big man of the current NBA era. And if Howard is traded, you can always say hey, it was a 33/1 shot that only required a minimum investment.
The Boston Celtics (+2184) get a mention here because they are the most likely winners of the Atlantic Division and, as we mentioned, the Eastern Conference looks very weak this year. Thus, there are worse things than getting more then 21/1 for a fourth seed, as it would set up some very good hedging possibilities. Besides, while Boston still relies heavily on its aging Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the much younger Rajon Rondo may now be the team’s most valuable player at point guard, having a healthy Jermaine O’Neal at center all year would provide a big boost and the Boston bench, which was miserable last season, looks to be much improved. The additions of Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox should allow Boston to get its old-timers some more rest without losing a ton of production in the process.
Dallas Mavericks (+1284): The Mavericks seem to be getting very little respect at these huge odds for a defending champion, so we may be in the minority in our belief that this team is indeed good enough to win the West again, and while beating the Heat for a second straight year may be difficult, we do not believe that it is totally far fetched. The addition of Lamar Odom might give the Mavericks the best frontcourt in the NBA, the gamble on veteran guard Vince Carter may pan out well as he is reunited with Jason Kidd, who was Carter’s main distributor in his heyday when both were with the New Jersey Nets, and Jason Terry might still be the best sixth man in the league with his instant offense. And have we even mentioned Dirk Nowitzki and his unstoppable fadeaway jumper yet? With Shawn Marion excelling in a complimentary role and Brendan Haywood adding the needed toughness, do not make the same mistake that apparently some experts are in regarding Dallas a one-hit wonder.
Los Angeles Lakers (+879): This may be history in the making in that a Lakers’ team that is always overrated year in and year out may actually be undervalued at this price right now! Of course, all is contingent on Kobe Bryant’s wrist injury not keeping him out for long, but this price might be an overreaction to the Lakers getting swept out of the playoffs last season by the Mavericks and the Lake Show recently losing Lamar Odom to that very same Dallas team. Now we already mentioned that we think that Dallas will prove to be the cream of the crop in the West again, but we are not convinced that the Lakers still aren’t the second best team in the conference, especially since we don’t see them taking as many games off this year as in past season s under their new head coach. With Bryant, possibly the best all-purpose power forward in the league in Pau Gasol and a healthy Andrew Bynum as the team’s third best producer, rumors of the Lakers’ demise seem to be greatly exaggerated.
Also in the mix: The Oklahoma City Thunder (+623) should repeat as Northwest Division Champions and this team has a scary nucleus that should be good for many years to come in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, while we do believe that the Thunder have the talent to finish as the three-seed, we are not convinced that 6/1 odds are good enough to wager on this team. Oklahoma City does still have some issues with maturity, as Westbrook can be a ball hog at times and while Durant is a terrific scorer, his nice-guy demeanor can sometimes come off as being soft. Any hope the Thunder have of competing for an NBA title starts with Durant being more assertive and demanding the ball in crunch time, and with Westbrook meeting those demands instead of thinking the Thunder are his team and taking some wild shots like he did in last year’s playoffs.
The Los Angeles Clippers (+1395) made the biggest splash immediately after the lockout ended by landing Chris Paul, and with him teaming up with Blake Griffin, the Clippers become instant challengers to their Staples Center co-habitants in the Pacific Division. Add in another key addition in Chauncey Billups and the fact that Caron Butler is with the team right from opening day this season and these nearly 14/1 odds do look enticing.