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NBA Week 16 In Review – Clippers & Cavaliers Climbing Into Championship Contention

The Trade Deadline marks another milestone in the NBA calendar. As we cross it, the LA Clippers are announcing themselves as contenders.

LA Clippers Climbing Into Championship Contention

Winning the NBA championship was always the ceiling for the LA Clippers when they traded for James Harden. History aside, he’s a superstar of the league and joined Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook in a stacked roster.

You couldn’t help but doubt how it would all come together, though. Given Harden’s issues in the playoffs, some doubts remain. However, they’ve won 18 of their last 22 games to now be 3rd in the Western Conference and knocking on the door of the No.1 seed.

Right now, the Clippers are playing with a 121.0 offensive rating (3rd in the NBA) and 114.8 defensive rating (12th) for a +6.2 net rating (4th). They’re unquestionably one of the best teams in the league and are only getting better the more they play together.

On the second line of betting to win the Western Conference at $4, the Clippers are climbing the NBA championship winner market to be behind only the Boston Celtics ($3.60) at $4.80.

They’re a classic ‘need to see it’ team, though. We need to see Harden, George and Westbrook, in particular, do it in the playoffs before getting too excited about their championship credentials. But the fact there is three of them is what appeals.

Harden and George have had their post-season struggles. It’s an area that somewhat defines both of their careers at the moment. As number one guys, or even number two guys, they’ve failed to get their team over the hump too often. This is different, though. They can have a bad game, and it won’t necessarily define the series. With the three of them, assuming Kawhi does Kawhi things and leads the way when it matters most, the Clippers have options.

Leonard’s usage rate has dropped from 27% last season to 25.9% in this one. It comes as no surprise to see him sacrifice time with the ball for the betterment of the team. That sacrifice with the ball has led to an improvement on the defensive end, too. The numbers aren’t always great for measuring defence. His defensive win shares are the same and his defensive box plus-minus has jumped from 0.9 to 1.2. But you can see it in the way he’s playing. The energy he has been able to preserve carrying less of the offensive load and has instead shifted to the defensive side of the ball. Having a player of Leonard’s calibre defensively can play a massive role in the playoffs.

The Clippers are coming. It looked as though the trade for Harden and pairing with Westbrook could be a nightmare, but the pair seem to have settled on their roles within the rotation.

They’re 31-9 since trading for Harden. Had the Clippers started the NBA season in that way, they’d be on pace to win 60 games for the first time in franchise history. They still might…

With no moves made around the trade deadline, this is the group the Clippers expect to challenge for the championship. We need to see the first and second rounds before riding their $4.80 home, but it’s worth looking into right now, given their current form.

LA Lakers Climbing Slowly, Too

Surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers held firm at the trade deadline.

They’ve since signed Spencer Dinwiddie, but the big news is that D’Angelo Russell remains on the roster. It felt like a lot of the rumoured deals on the table moved the Lakers sideways rather than forward. Replacing Russell with a player only marginally better removes the cohesion that has slowly started to develop within this group while taking on the risk of that new player actually improving the team.

Averaging 17.5 points, 6.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and connecting on 41.8% of his three-point attempts, Russell hasn’t been the only problem for the Lakers to start the NBA season.

It appears as though he’s more likely to be part of the solution.

With Russell and some improved injury luck, the Lakers are still slowly climbing the standings. At 28-26 for 9th in the Western Conference, they’re firming for a spot in the play-in tournament at the very least.

A big 139-122 win over the New Orleans Pelicans further adds to the optimism. The 87 first-half points scored in that one was their highest-scoring half of the NBA season. The live total shot up to a massive 283.5 points shortly before halftime. LeBron James and the Lakers can pile up points and compete in the playoffs if they can find ways to support Anthony Davis on the defensive end.

Los Angeles’ $41 to win the championship suggests that’s all a little bit unlikely.

Cavaliers Firing

Last week it was the New York Knicks. This week the LA Clippers are the talk of the town. But winners of eight in a row and 17 of their last 18 games, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the hottest team in the NBA right now. They’ve shot up to 2nd in the Eastern Conference at 35-16 to be on the sixth line of betting to advance to the Finals at $26.

Most notably, JB Bickerstaff is among the favourites for Coach of the Year at $4.50.

The Cavaliers rank 16th in offensive rating but are improving on that side of the ball as injuries heal. Donovan Mitchell, in particular, is playing some of the best basketball of his career. It’s the 2nd-ranked defence allowing only 110.6 points per 100 possessions that is doing the job, though. If the Cavaliers can maintain that level on the defensive end and continue to improve with the ball, they’ll be a significant factor in the playoffs.

They’re the team to watch in the coming week.

NBA Trends & Championship Odds

The early-season trends have levelled out as both home/away and favourite/underdogs splits hold relatively even.

Away teams are covering the spread at 50.3% while favourites are slightly better at 50.6%. Pair them together, and away favourites are covering at 51.2%. There might be some value in seeking Unders, though. The final score has fallen Under the total in 52.2% of non-overtime games so far this season.

In the championship market, the Knicks are the big movers. They’ve replaced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Top 6 this week. Notably, the Clippers have shortened into the second line of betting at $6. As the Boston Celtics hold as firm favourites in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks have drifted for a second week in a row to be $6.50 to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

TOP 6 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS

TEAMCURRENT PRICELAST WEEK’S PRICE
Boston Celtics$3.60$3.75
LA Clippers$4.80$6
Denver Nuggets$5$5
Milwaukee Bucks$6.50$5.50
Phoenix Suns$17$14
New York Knicks$17$-
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