Can the Denver Nuggets Win the Northwest Division?
The 2018-19 NBA regular season is about a month-and-a-half old, yet we really don’t know a ton about what is to come. The Golden State Warriors are still prohibitive favorites to win their third consecutive title, but the season hasn’t exactly been a breezy ride for the reigning 2-time champions. The Dubs have had to deal with injuries to a couple of key players, and there was the whole Kevin Durant-Draymond Green tiff a few weeks back.
Will the Warriors win it all again? Probably. That said, if there are legitimate chemistry issues here then it’s not unfathomable to suggest that someone could beat them. Don’t forget that this team won a record 73 games during the regular season back in the 2015-16 campaign before being beaten in 7 games by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals. The NBA tends to be somewhat predictable, but nothing is certain.
We’ve seen a few teams get off to surprisingly hot starts this season. A few teams that few had pegged to make it out of the draft lottery are currently finding themselves in playoff position. Are these teams contenders or pretenders? Let’s break it down from a betting angle.
Dallas Mavericks & Memphis Grizzlies
- Memphis to Win Southwest Division 12/1
- Dallas to Win Southwest Division 25/1
The Houston Rockets entered the season as heavy, heavy favorites to win the Southwest Division. Houston has gotten off to a rocky 11-11 start, but they’re still the betting favorite here at 4/9 in the Southwest. Oddsmakers believe the Rockets are going to get it together and top this division. If forced to bet on one team here, I’d still take the Rockets based on their 65-win season a year ago.
That said, the fact that Houston hasn’t already started running away with it could make things interesting. I’ve been bearish on the San Antonio Spurs since before the season began, and I’m not a huge believer in the New Orleans Pelicans, either. The Pels make for a decent value bet at 4/1, but if you’re more of a risk-tolerant type I’d take a look at either Dallas or Memphis.
Most had the Mavs and Grizz pegged as non-playoff teams before the season. They may still ultimately fall short, but there are reasons to be impressed with both so far. The Grizzlies tumbled down the standings last year due in large part to long-term injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Both players are back and healthy this year, and Memphis has rebounded early on. The Grizz are 13-9 so far, which is actually good enough to top the Southwest.
The play of rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has also been impressive. JJJ has dealt with foul trouble quite a bit, as will happen with rookie bigs, but when he’s been able to keep his hands to himself the results have been outstanding. He looks like a potential superstar, and he won’t even turn 20 years old until next September. Conley and Gasol have a lengthy track record that includes plenty of winning, so the fact that this team has gotten off to a strong start probably shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Dallas is the bigger surprise. The Mavericks have finally embraced a rebuild following nearly 2 full decades of title contention. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Rick Carlisle has the Mavs sitting at 11-10 through 21 games, which is the second-best record in the Southwest Division and good for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west.
Luka Doncic looks like the real deal after dominating over in Europe as a teenager. Doncic stuffs the stat sheet on a nightly basis and looks like he’s ready to replace Dirk Nowitzki as the face of the franchise. The addition of big man DeAndre Jordan this past summer should also stabilize what has been a shaky center position for this franchise for years. The Mavs’ roster includes a nice blend of high-upside young players and established veterans.
Of the 2, I’m more inclined to say that the Grizzlies have a better shot at making the playoffs. I mentioned that I still think the Rockets win this division, but I am more than willing to take a flier on Memphis here at 12/1. There is a ton of profit potential in those odds, and Houston figuring it out is certainly no guarantee. Dallas at 25/1 is intriguing, but it’s worth noting the Mavericks have played one of the softest schedules in the league to this point. There’s a decent chance their hot start is something of a mirage.
I think the Grizzlies are a potential division contender, while the Mavs will emerge as a pretender.
Los Angeles Clippers
- Los Angeles to Win Pacific Division 14/1
Perhaps the biggest surprise early in the season has been the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have lost Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick over the last 2 years, yet Doc Rivers has managed to take whatever’s left and turn it into a winner. As of this writing the Clippers are 15-7, which is tied with Denver for the best record in the Western Conference.
Is it fool’s gold? We’ll see. The Clippers don’t have a superstar on the roster anymore, but they do have a collection of strong role players and guys with star potential. Nobody would say that Tobias Harris and Montrezl Harrell are as dynamic a duo up front as Griffin and Jordan were for this team, but the production has been there. Harris has managed to turn himself into one of the most efficient and well-rounded scorers in basketball, while Harrell has been able to put up monster numbers in limited minutes off the bench for this team.
The Clippers are also tenacious defensively, particularly in the backcourt. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the best rookies of this rookie class so far, and he’s nudged his way past Patrick Beverley into the starting point guard job. Beverley and Avery Bradley are also a couple of savvy veteran defenders that torment their opponents. The Clippers are just a team that flat-out plays harder than everybody they encounter.
The problem with betting on the Clippers to win the Pacific is that the division also happens to house the Warriors. I touched on some of Golden State’s problems in the open, but does anybody seriously think the Dubs won’t figure it out eventually? Even if they aren’t as potent during the regular season as they have been over the last couple of years, they should still at least be able to finish atop their own division.
The Clippers have been plucky, and the value is there at 14/1, but the Warriors are currently just a game behind LAC in the standings in spite of everything that has gone wrong to this point. The Clippers are a phenomenal story and I do think they’re a good bet to make the playoffs at this point, but I can’t vouch for betting on them to win the division, even at 14/1.
At some point talent wins out in the NBA. I think the Clippers will prove to be pretenders.
- Denver to Win Northwest Division 4/1
The Nuggets are tied with the Clippers for the best record in the Western Conference right now, but they’re still not getting a ton of love from Vegas oddsmakers.
Vegas still likes the Thunder (7/4) and Trail Blazers (7/2) more than the Nuggets. What gives?
Denver hasn’t been in the playoffs in a few years, which I would assume is the main reason oddsmakers are hesitant to buy their early success this season. I’m here to tell you to buy in as soon as you can. The Nuggets have been trending in the right direction for the last couple of years, and this was always going to be the year for the breakthrough. Denver has been drafting smartly in recent years and they’re finally starting to see the fruits of their labors.
Nikola Jokic is a budding superstar. He is arguably the most well-rounded offensive center in the game and he’s still only 23. Not many centers lead their team in assists, but Jokic (7.3 per game) is doing just that while also contributing 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a night. Once he realizes he should shoot more often than he does, Jokic is going to be completely impossible for defenders to slow down.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have the look of a backcourt that will play together for years. Paul Millsap is the perfect do-it-all type of veteran that the team needed in order to progress while the youngsters develop. Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee are solid worker bee types willing to do the dirty work. There is a ton to like about this roster.
The Northwest Division is arguably the deepest in basketball, but I think the Nuggets are for real. It won’t be easy to win, but I like Denver to do just that. They’re a legit contender, so hop on betting the Nuggets at 4/1 to take the Northwest while you still can. Not only can the Nuggets absolutely win the Northwest Division, I think the Nuggets will win the Northwest Division.
- Charlotte to Win Southeast Division 2/1
We go from the toughest division in basketball to what looks like the weakest. The Washington Wizards were listed as the preseason betting favorites almost by default. Of course, Washington has gotten off to one of the most disastrous starts of any team in basketball, yet that hasn’t stopped oddsmakers from continuing to list the Wiz as the Southeast Division favorites. Washington is currently 7/4 to win it.
The Hornets are your current division leaders with a not-so-great record of 11-12, tied with the Magic. Could a sub-.500 team actually win this division? I think it’s definitely possible. That’s how uninspiring it looks. The Hornets have gotten stellar play out of Kemba Walker, who may have made the leap from “star” to “superstar” in his first season under new head coach James Borrego.
Walker, who used to struggle with his shot, is averaging a healthy 26.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent shooting from 3-point range. His efficiency has come down as the season has gone on, but he’s still a far more efficient shooter than he was during his early years. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s brass hasn’t done a great job of surrounding him with talent. The team’s second-best player might just be Jeremy Lamb, which is…not ideal.
The only team that looks out of the race is Atlanta, who is listed at 100/1. We have a 4-horse race that includes 4 mediocre horses here. Do any of these horses actually want to win this race?
Miami is a fine value here, but nothing about their collection of talent has me thinking they’re capable of running away with things. Orlando is a bit of a wild card considering most expected them to be finding their way into the lottery again. Washington has all sorts of problems, but they still have the most overall talent. Charlotte probably has the best player of any of these teams, but after that their overall talent level drops off considerably.
I think the Heat have the best shot at winning the Southeast, so I’ll side with the betting value you can get on Miami at 4/1. Charlotte would be the next-best choice at 2/1, followed by Washington (7/4) and Orlando (4/1) in that order. This division is a complete crapshoot at this point, so just about any bet except the Hawks makes some sense.
My favorite value bets to win their respective divisions this season are listed as follows:
- Denver Nuggets (4/1 to win Northwest)
- Memphis Grizzlies (12/1 to win Southwest)
- Miami Heat (4/1 to win Southeast)
- Charlotte Hornets (2/1 to win Southeast)