How The West Will Be Won: Take These Odds While They’re Hot

Everyone’s raving about the Western Conference (including myself, yesterday).

While teams are sneaking into the playoffs in the East with atrocious records, there is an extremely entertaining struggle for the last two spots in the West among five teams over .500 (Suns, Mavs, Grizz, Warriors and Wolves).

But I want to save you some time.

The Spurs will win the Western Conference.

The Thunder are incredibly athletic. After regaining Westbrook, I don’t know if another team in the league can match their front line’s raw talent.

The Clippers and Rockets are making great cases down the stretch. Blake Griffin’s pushing for an MVP ballot slot, Dwight Howard is himself again and both squads are healthy and scoring the ball without issues.

However —

The Spurs will win the Western Conference.

It’s not just because they’ve been there. It’s not just because they have veterans. It’s because no one plays more consistent basketball than the guys from San Antonio. No coach in the league has better perspective on an 82-game season than Greg Popovic, who has no issue taking heat in February for sitting his all-star point guard with little explanation.

I know the Thunder took the Spurs down in 2012 before getting slashed by Miami in the finals.

When they had James Harden coming off their bench.

I know that Serge Ibaka has improved drastically since then on both sides of the floor, but they lost a max contract guy from their rotation. I have yet to understand why people didn’t dock their team talent points for that. Jeremy Lamb is no James Harden.

So, for the record, I’m taking the Spurs to win the West. And, spoiler alert, they’re going to make a very strong case for my Finals pick in the next couple weeks.

Most books have the Spurs at around +450 to win the West, which is too much upside to turn down even if you don’t think they’re a lock. My advice — hit it and hit it hard. Because down the stretch run, people will remember (as they do every year in early April) that San Antonio exists and that they’re serious contenders.


3/4/2014 NBA Picks

1. Pacers (-220) over Warriors

The top of the East now means more than just home court advantage. Miami and Indiana are in a furious battle for the top spot in their conference because the No. 2 seed will most likely have to play the Bulls in the second round. And while both MIA and IND would easily be favored, no one wants their team to take that kind of a physical beating through even a 5-game series immediately before taking on an arch rival in the conference finals.

I think this pressure is apparent to both the Pacers and Heat, which is why I like the Pacers to take care of business at home, especially since their stout defense and athletic length could be just what the doctor ordered against a sharpshooting squad like Golden State.

Wager: $120 to win $54.55

2. Miami Heat (-110) over Houston Rockets

In the same vein as what I mentioned in the IND/GS matchup, the Heat are feeling the pressure of taking the No. 1 Eastern seed into playoffs to avoid that punishing second round match up with Chicago.

But more importantly, and practically, Dwyane Wade skipped last night’s win against the Bobcats to get ready for the Rockets tonight. And, after LeBron’s career high 61-point outing, it’s going to be hard to slow him down. I think the Rockets may be the perfect anti-Bosh roster, but Harden can’t play D and I don’t know who can even hope to slow LeBron down. Terrence Jones? That’s a very bad sign, Rockets fans…

Wager: $150 to win $136.36

3. LA Clippers (-185) over Phoenix Suns

I love Goran Dragic just as much as the next guy, but Chris Paul is Chris Paul. And Blake Griffin is threatening for the 5th spot on the NBA MVP ballot with the season he’s had. The Clippers are just too big and strong for the Suns. I like Lob City to pound the boards, get plenty of second chances, and take care of business against Phoenix, although the Suns won’t be taken out easily considering how valuable wins are in that race for those 7 and  8 spots in the West.

Wager: $100 to win $54.05

4. LA Lakers (-140) over New Orleans Pelicans

This is one of those times when I’m not going to waste your time with explanations about basketball. I’m a gambler, and sometimes it’s a gut thing. The Pelicans don’t look like they’re even trying, and the last two times I bet against LAL, I got burned. So, I’ll take Pau & Co. for the dub.

Wager: $75 to win $53.57

Best West Playoffs Ever?

For every joke and jab about the monstrosity that has been the NBA’s Eastern Conference this year, its counterpart deserves a standing ovation. And I think the incredible caliber of squads in the conference promises some incredible series all the way through the playoffs — even round one.

If the season ended today, these would be your first-round match ups in the West.

1. Thunder vs. Mavericks

What a matchup this would be — a pair of regional rivals with a very current playoff beef to settle. In case you’ve forgotten, these two met in the 2011 conference finals before Dirk and Co. went on to win it all against the Heat, and then OKC got some revenge in 2012’s first round before heading to the finals themselves.

And with the Mavericks’ ability to get on a roll, and the inconsistency that has plagued the Thunder with Westbrook on the floor this year, this certainly wouldn’t be anything close to an easy series for the West’s top seed.

Prediction if it happened today: Thunder in 5


2. Spurs vs. Suns

Potentially my favorite position match up of this round one would be the point guards in this series. Goran Dragic and Tony Parker going back and forth, blow for blow, would certainly make for must-watch TV. Plus, this series presents the age-old “youth vs. experience” conundrum in its truest form. And let’s not forget — the Suns were supposed to be tanking before the season started.

Prediction if it happened today: Spurs in 4


3. Trailblazers vs. Warriors

These next two series are where things really get interesting. A Blazers Warriors series would be an absolute track meet. By games 4, 5, 6 and maybe 7, we’d be watching two worn-down defenses against two stellar shooting squads.

Obviously the Curry vs. Lillard match up would have everyone talking, but you’d also get to watch Lopez/Aldridge vs. Bogut/Lee. And it would be very interesting to see what Iguodala/Barnes could do to the deep bench of wings from Portland.

This one would promise a couple of overtime thrillers and buzzer beaters.

Prediction if it happened today: Warriors in 7


4. Clippers vs. Rockets

Talk about chippy.

These are two of the NBA’s most easily offended teams. Between Blake Griffin’s “I don’t get no respect” charades in front of the referees, to the strange and unpredictable mind of Dwight Howard,  to the “Chris Paul is a flopper” rants, this one would easily get out of hand — which I love to watch.

Plus, if the two teams got really tired, we could see the NBA’s first-ever mutual “Hack-a-(name)” agreement with a contest getting decided between the free throw prowess of Dwight and Deandre Jordan.

We can only hope.

Prediction if it happened today: Clippers in 7

3/3/14 NBA Picks

Tonight holds some compelling matchups. Here are the games I’m taking action on. 

1. Bulls (+125) over the Nets in Brooklyn

Here’s the deal. Kevin Garnett isn’t projected to play tonight, and the Nets are coming off of a long road trip. A road trip they overachieved on — but a long road trip nonetheless. The Bulls, on the other hand are possibly the NBA’s hottest squad, especially after their impressive road win against the Mavericks last week. Joakim Noah is coming off of his fifth career triple-double and a 16-assist performance, tying the franchise record for a center. The Bulls are rolling, and I don’t think the banged up Nets will be able to stop them, despite their impressive home record of late.

Wager: $50 to win $62.50


2. Bucks (even) over the visiting Jazz

I think any time what could be the league’s two worst teams get together, it’s a must-play situation for any NBA-obsessed gambler. It’s a total crapshoot. If you win, you lose, hurting your chances in the draft lottery. I’m taking the Bucks to be the lesser of two evils in this one, seeing how the Jazz are on the back end of a grueling road trip, including a pounding in Indianapolis last night.

Wager: $25 to win $25


3. Parlay: MIN (-250) over Den; MIA (-1400) over CHA; POR (-1200) over LAL

If you’ve been playing the NBA odds for more than a week, odds are you’ve been burned by what you assumed would be a “sure win.” I know I just wrote a column about never throwing the Heat into a parlay last-minute, but I feel strongly about this 3-teamer. The Wolves will have Rubio, Love, Pekovic and Martin combining forces again, and they are scrambling for their playoff lives. The other two games… it would take earthquakes.

Wager: $75 to win $46.87

Two Golden Rules of 2014 NBA Gambling

1. Never just “throw in the Heat” on a parlay.

As a fan, if a team you hate is really, really, really good, then it’s often really tempting to gamble on them. I think a lot of people do it to put themselves in a “win-lose” situation instead of just a “lose” situation. But this strategy can lead to what I have dubbed the ‘Iron Bowl’ effect.

In the 2013 Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama, I placed the biggest bet of my life on the Crimson Tide. I loved to hate them, and I had watched them stomp team after team. They were unbeatable. I rooted against them 100 times, and they rained disappointment down on me all 100 of those occasions. Obviously, when Auburn defeated Alabama on the famous (or infamous, depending on what part of Alabama you’re from), I was less than thrilled although it should have pleasured me to see them lose.

The Heat offer me this same conundrum. In the NBA world, a weeknight parlay can be an innocent thing. The Pacers have the Bucks at home, the Thunder are hosting the Bobcats, and the Spurs are slated to remind the Lakers that they have never sucked this badly. So you parlay them. Why not? Betting on one of those games (probably looking at -800 or even -1000 moneylines) is going to win you maybe a dime on the dollar. But, put them together and you can come up with close to even odds on a string of three games that would take a shocker, ejection, or dismantling injury to disrupt.

Enter, the Miami Heat.

I can’t remember a squad that had enough talent to get to three consecutive finals that was as unreliable against the league’s worst during the regular season. We’re talking about back-to-back world champions who lost their second game of the regular season to the 76ers (who aren’t even pretending to try to win games anymore).

The Heat are 40-14. But they’re not losing to the NBA’s crème de la crème. Other than the horrific Sixers, they’ve lost to the Celtics (20-40), Pistons (23-36), Kings (20-39), Knicks (21-39) and THE UTAH JAZZ (21-38).

I get that the NBA season is long, and they are playing professionals every night. My point is, when you are throwing three or four -800 moneyline bets into a parlay on Wednesday night, and that Heat matchup makes you a little greedy, just say no.

2. Never bet against the Bulls at home.

I don’t know if it’s their defensive identity, Thibs’ attitude, or if there’s some magic lingering in that arena from more promising days, but the Bulls can beat anyone on their home floor. It doesn’t mean they always do, but when you see that tiny spread sandwiched between the Pacers at the Bulls, and you think the boys in gold will surely cover, take a deep breath and remember, this Chicago team is a squad that could gut out one win over any team during the regular season if they had to. They’d be my pick in any NBA hunger games competition.

Sometimes, the Bulls cease to be a basketball team and morph into a slew of reject heavyweights with chips on their shoulders. In an NBA battle royale, it’d be hard to pick against those guys. They could be featuring Joakim at the point and Boozer at the 2-guard, and they’d still give any visiting team all they could handle on the right night.

Remember, this was the team that beat Indiana to terminate the Pacers’ 9-0 start, and then stuck it to the Heat two weeks later. That makes the Bulls one of only four teams in the league have notched a win over both Indiana and Miami — both coming on their home floor.

The Rambling Gambler: 3/2/14 Picks

Welcome to the Rambling Gambler, the brainchild of an NBA-obsessed thrill seeker with no higher goal in life than to make money off of other men’s accomplishments — namely, the ones on the hardwood.

I’ve been wagering on the NBA and college hoops for enough time to know that I am good at it. And I am enthused to share my theories and strategies with fellow basketball junkies with one goal in mind — making money.

Today, I’m beginning a “gambling portfolio,” if you will, of $1,000. This is a hypothetical amount, but it will reflect wagers I am placing off the record. The Rambling Gambler is a way for me to keep my bets (wins and losses) on the record, so that over time, people will recognize the success of my strategies, and we can all make some serious cash.

So, in all its glory, I present the Rambling Gambler’s initial portfolio and picks for March 2, 2014.

Today promises blowouts. And plenty of them.

I’m calling the Warriors @ Raptors a stay-away since the Warriors have been terribly inconsistent recently while the Raptors are still playing for home court advantage in the first round of the East.

I’m also shying away from the Mavericks @ Spurs. While San Antonio is getting healthy (Kawhi Leonard recently reinstated), Dallas might be the league’s hottest team following the all-star break.

Aside from those two “I wouldn’t mess with these” games, today should be pretty straightforward. The other five matchups are pretty easy to call, but I like four of them as much as it’s possible to like the outcome of an event that hasn’t happened.

Action to take: Parlay the Thunder over the Bobcats (-500), Suns over the Hawks (-365), Bulls over Knicks (-280), and Pacers over the Jazz (-900)

Portfolio balance: $1,000

Total Bet:  $150 to win $195.79