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Assessing The Giant Killers In The West, Lakers Looming & Embiid Returns

The NBA regular season is nearing the end, so we’re looking into who might be able to topple the Denver Nuggets at the top of the West. Plus, Joel Embiid returns and James declares for the draft.

Dallas, The Denver Destroyers?

The Denver Nuggets are $2.50 favourites to win the Western Conference and on the second line of betting to win the NBA championship at $4. They’re the team to beat in the West. Nikola Jokic is the overwhelming favourite to win the Most Valuable Player award, and until a team really has their way with the Nuggets, it’s assumed they will be the team fighting for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But who is the most likely to upset the Nuggets in the playoffs?

The markets suggest the LA Clippers at $4. However, it’s difficult to trust them at the moment. The shine has well and truly worn off their mid-season run. As so many expected, the big names aren’t having a big enough positive impact on winning basketball. James Harden, in particular, has lost his way. Most notable is the Clippers defence. Throughout March, the Clippers gave up 118.9 points per 100 possessions – the fifth-most in the NBA. You’re not beating the Nuggets with that defence.

While the Oklahoma City Thunder have impressed throughout the regular season, they have a lot to prove in the playoffs. Young teams often need a year. This isn’t a group accustomed to the post-season. The Thunder as a franchise has been a non-factor for too long. They’re a ‘we need to see it in the playoffs’ team, which doesn’t create a lot of excitement for their $7 to win the West.

Anything is possible with the Phoenix Suns at $9.50. Like young teams needing a year, it’s a similar story for super teams. It takes time for big players and big personalities to gel. When they’re injury-prone and unable to develop cohesion on the court, it can take even longer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been the surprise team of the NBA season. Only 12 months removed from ‘the worst trade in NBA history’ discussions, the Timberwolves have become the best defensive team in the league. Led by $1.01 Defensive Player of the Year favourite  Rudy Gobert, Minny allows only 107.7 points per 100 possession – almost three fewer points than the Celtics at 2nd. However, we’ve seen this with Gobert teams before. For all of his defensive impact throughout the regular season, his offensive limitations are exposed in the playoffs. With Karl-Anthony Towns also a post-season concern, it’s difficult to believe in them beating the Nuggets four times in seven games if the get that far.

The Dallas Mavericks, however, pose as a smokey.

They’re one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. Remarkably, trades for P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford have worked wonders. Dallas quickly conceded that the Grant Williams move wouldn’t pan out and pivoted. That pivot has led them to win 13 of their last 15 games and rise to 5th in the conference.

The battle for the Most Valuable Player award also deserves another mention. We’ve been long believers in Luka Doncic’s credentials. He has the numbers and the narrative. The wins are starting to pile up enough to be considered, too. Currently 47-30 for 5th in the West, that should remove any doubt around whether or not the Mavericks are high enough in the standings. Doncic’s numbers are incredible. He leads the NBA in scoring at 33.9 points per game. Averaging 9.2 rebounds per game, he leads all non-centres in the category. He’s second in the league for assists at 9.8 per game. Meanwhile, he’s shooting a career-high 38.1% from beyond the arc.

MVP voters got it wrong last season. There is a chance the try too hard to rectify that mistake by handing Nikola Jokic the award with little thought. He’s deserving, no doubt. But what Doncic has done in Dallas this season has been historic and unexpected. His $19 to win deserves serious consideration as the regular season comes to a close.

With a genuine MVP candidate, Kyrie Irving back to his best, the rotation working itself out and the team overall coming into form at the pointy end of the season, the Mavericks are best-positioned to upset the apple cart in the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals.

Bet Now Dallas To Win The West @ $14

Maybe We Shouldn’t Forget About The Lakers?

Here come the Los Angeles Lakers…

By the numbers in their last 10 games:

– 9 wins, 1 loss
– Offensive Rating: 116.4 (9th)
– Defensive Rating: 107.1 (5th)
– Net Rating: +9.3 (4th)

LeBron James is still required to do a little too much for his age, but he’s getting more support more often as the season progresses.

Anthony Davis should be a much bigger part of the DPOY conversation than he is at $176. Offensively, he’s averaged a team-high 26.8 points throughout LA’s recent run while dragging down 16.1 rebounds and blocking 2.4 shots per game. He’s coming good at the right time.

The Lakers have a trio in D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, and Austin Reaves that can all step up behind James and Davis at the front. Further down, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie are capable of playing above themselves when required. The Lakers have the playoff rotation to compete, and their defence has improved to a championship-contending level at their current pace.

A lot needs to go right for the Lakers. They’re $1.08 to make the Play-in Tournament, but they still need to get through it and earn a date with the Nuggets, Timberwolves or Thunder. Still, you’d be silly to write them off based on the roster and how they’ve performed of late.

NBA Highlight Of The Week

Malachi Flynn is averaging 5.4 points per game in 14.1 minutes of action this season. He’s a role player in one of the worst teams in the NBA.

The majority of NBA fans won’t have known the name before this week, but when a relative unknown drops 50 off the bench, the NBA world as a whole takes notice.

Embiid Returns

Joel Embiid is back for the Philadelphia 76ers – sort of…

He returned to the court last week but has since missed back-to-back games due to left knee injury recovery.

However, from what we’ve seen, the 76ers are still a threat in the Eastern Conference. Embiid has averaged 27.7 points in only 28.2 minutes in the three games he’s played since returning from injury, and the 76ers won all three.

We will get into the giant killers in the East and who could possibly upset the Boston Celtics next week. Depending on how Embiid looks in the coming games, it won’t be a surprise to see Philly’s $10 to win the East shorten before the playoffs tip off.

James Declares For NBA Draft

Bronny James, the son of LeBron James, has declared for the NBA Draft while maintaining his NCAA eligibility.

The freshman out of USC averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 19 minutes per game. They’re hardly lottery numbers. James has fallen off many NBA Draft boards since following health issues and underwhelming play on the court. Still, his name carries gravity. Depending on who drafts him, it could carry another James with him, given LeBron’s well-known desire to share the court with his son.

ESPN’s Mock Draft currently puts Bronny at 39th, six spots ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers pick at 45th. While he might not be ready for the NBA and is unlikely to feature in any meaningful minutes in his rookie season, a year spent on the road with his dad, and one of the greatest players in NBA history, would do wonders for his development.

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