The San Antonio Spurs put an end to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, officially giving way to the 2017 Western Conference Finals. They did so without a healthy Kawhi Leonard (ankle), who they will understandably hope is ready to take on the best team in the conference.
The Spurs look to have their hands full for a number of reasons, as Golden State has looked like a well-oiled machine after racing through the first two rounds of the playoffs without a loss (8-0). The Dubs seem to be on a collision course with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers (also 8-0 in the playoffs), but have a stiff test first against one of the few teams that gave them true troubles during the 2016-17 NBA regular season.
Can the Spurs get off to a fast start and rattle the Warriors with a surprise 1-0 lead, or will Golden State stay perfect as they continue what feels like an inevitable path back to the NBA Finals? Let’s find out as we take a look at this series as a whole and break down how we’ll want to bet on game one:
This could be a really fun series, not just because it looks like a good matchup that could go back and forth, but the Spurs might have what it takes to derail the Dubs. It’s still not likely, but the profitability associated with a really experienced and talented Spurs team is insane.
For one, the Spurs hold a ridiculous +700 Moneyline at Bovada just to win this series. If they can do that, they’d end up facing the Cavs and they have a history of success against LeBron James. Their +1200 NBA Finals odds obviously shouldn’t go to waste.
The odds are obviously that way for a reason, of course. Leonard is not 100%, the Spurs lost Tony Parker (quad) for the rest of the year and the Warriors – on paper – still look like the better team.
It still seems weird that Vegas is backing the Dubs so hard going into game one, though. After all, the Spurs do defend really well, took out a good Rockets team in just six games and also gave these very Warriors fits during the regular season.
More specifically, San Antonio was the first team to take on these new Kevin Durant-led Warriors during the season and it did not go well for Golden State. It was just the first game of the year, but a 129-100 beating can’t be ignored. The Dubs had zero answer for Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in that game (35 and 26 points, respectively), while San Antonio’s strong perimeter defense held the normally hot-shooting Warriors to 21% from long range.
Both teams benched their star players for what was supposed to be a high profile rematch (which the Spurs won) and Stephen Curry led the Warriors to a nice road win sans an injured Kevin Durant. So, really, we’ve seen both teams get a road win, both teams display their ability to play elite defense and both offenses shine in a tough spot.
That might make the numbers from the regular season – at least in this specific matchup – impossible to trust.
Still, the Spurs know they can hang with the Warriors and given the fact that Tony Parker wasn’t playing a lot and wasn’t particularly effective, it stands to reason that his absence won’t be felt as much. In fact, Patty Mills arguably is an upgrade as the full-time starter.
Game one and this entire series is still going to boil down to one thing, however, and that’s which team can execute better against some really good defense. Neither of these defenses are for chumps. The Spurs had the most efficient defensive unit in the entire league during the regular season and sitting right behind them was, of course, Golden State.
The kicker is probably the home court edge and the Warriors’ ability to burn any defense from anywhere on the floor. NBA experts suggest the Dubs could be negatively impacted by an “easy” path to the Finals this year, but they dispatched a really good Utah defense and hardly broke a sweat. That could have them ready for the Spurs, especially considering this offense ranked as the most efficient unit in the NBA.
Needless to say, Kawhi Leonard is going to need to be a total beast, LaMarcus Aldridge can’t fall asleep and San Antonio’s defense needs to be on point. That’s a lot to ask for a team that is older and slower overall than the Warriors. Once you factor in that Leonard can only assign his elite individual defense to one of Golden State’s many offensive weapons, and the tightness of this series starts to loosen up fast.
Golden State won’t be sweeping the Spurs and there is enough evidence here to bet on (and hope for) a Spurs upset across the board. The odds are fairly even for that in game one, as the Warriors could be a bit rusty and the Spurs will have some momentum after handling a very similar offensive team just days ago.
That is enough to get me to bite on a flier bet for game one and for this series, but the Dubs are still winning this thing and it’s tough to actually buy them dropping game one. Those bets still need to be made due to the upside involved, while I do think the Spurs are going to keep this a lot tighter than this gaudy spread suggests.
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