Bet smart this NBA season and go with the Golden State Warriors in June

Javier Cortez, Sports Editor

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Yes the NBA season has already begun, but that does not mean I can’t give out a belated prediction. Last season’s story lines were filled with injuries to star players, while this season’s early story lines seem to be more team centric.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are unsurprisingly the favorites to win the championship after their impressive run to the NBA Finals. Then there is the Western Conference. The West has four legitimate contenders to win the title: San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets.

Lastly, the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and Memphis Grizzlies all have outside chances. All these teams seem to be good, which makes for an interesting season, but there is one team that should be the large favorite.

The defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. Picking the defending champs in not a bold prediction, but it’s amazing to see how they have gone unnoticed before the start of the season.

Although picking the Cavs to win is a smart move considering their roster if healthy and weaker conference. But the Warriors not being the betting favorites to win the title is absurd.

They have retained the same roster, except for David Lee. Their three best players have not peaked, and most importantly, they are healthy.

Opening week was just a sample, but the Warriors have not missed a beat so far this season. Last season they won 67 games, had the league’s best offensive and defensive efficiency and the biggest point differential.

Even after a sterling regular season there were doubters, and even after winning the championship, once again there are doubters.

They have the best template for success for three reasons. They can play faster and score more efficiently than any team in the league. They can defend in the half court. Switch on any pick-and-rolls with their small lineup. And they can cut into a lead within a matter of a few possessions because of their otherworldly 3-point shooting.

Another 67-win season with league-leading efficiency and point differential seems a little farfetched considering the improvement some teams in the Western Conference have made. But do not take a slight step back by the Warriors as a reason to bet against them.

They will probably win fewer games and still be a better team than last year. Only three teams have a legitimate chance of beating the Warriors.

First is Cleveland. The Cavs pushed the Warriors to six games in last season’s NBA Finals with a depleted roster and a rudimentary style of basketball. If the Cavs are healthy in June they could rectify last year’s defeat.

They do one thing against the Warriors that most teams have trouble with; slowing the pace of the game. Cleveland plays a vastly slower brand of basketball in comparison to the Warriors and they do it well. They have three of the best offensive players for their positions in Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and LeBron James. Contrary to popular belief, the Cavs have the ability to defend well with these three on the floor.

Second is Oklahoma City. The Thunder, like the Cavs, if healthy are another strong threat. They can score with the best of them, and basically, all their offense runs through two players–Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Those two alone make this team a title contender.

Then throw in Serge Ibaka; a premier shot blocker and a legit stretch four, Enes Kanter; a low post juggernaut, and Anthony Morrow; one of the league’s best 3-point shooters and that puts OKC over the top.

Westbrook, specifically, could give the Warriors hell. Stephen Curry got a break in last year’s playoffs because he did not have to defend the likes of Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving and the monster Russell Westbrook.

Curry is not a bad defender, but he probably won’t catch a break this season if the Warriors play teams with healthy guards in the playoffs. Curry won’t be able to solely focus on bludgeoning teams with 3-pointer after 3-pointer if he has to worry about Westbrook speeding down the court.

The third is San Antonio. The Spurs have the best chance because they are the originator of the Warriors’ style of play. The constant cutting and moving, pass-happy offense that leaves defenses in a pretzel are still running smoothly. While their stout defense, which never commits fouls unless it’s against poor free throw shooters, is still intact.

They added LaMarcus Aldridge, just to pepper an already well-seasoned offense, and Kawhi Leonard looks like he is ready to lead. Leonard is the best perimeter defender in the league and his offensive game seems sharper through opening week.

They usually stay healthy because of their platoon-swapping rotations, and they are always are strong bet come playoff time because of their years of experience. If all goes well for the Spurs, they will have a date with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

These three teams will make the Warriors’ title defense tough. While the Rockets, Clippers, and Grizzlies from the West are not good enough to challenge them, despite the betting odds.

The Rockets don’t defend well enough. The Grizzlies play too slow with no shooting. And the Clippers are not reliable after Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

In closing, do not get bogged down by hot takes, nice paper rosters or ESPN. The Warriors are the best team with the best roster makeup in the league. The Warriors will be the team to beat in June.

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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