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Who can knock off Warriors

Mar 13, 2019 EST

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Oddsmakers continue to have the Golden State Warriors as the odds-on favorite to win their third straight NBA championship.

Online sportsbook Bovada has the Warriors (-210) at the top of its list followed by the Toronto Raptors (+850), Milwaukee Bucks (+950), Houston Rockets (+1100), Philadelphia 76ers (+1400), Boston Celtics (+1600), Denver Nuggets (+2500), Oklahoma City Thunder (+2800), Los Angeles Lakers (+5000) and San Antonio Spurs (+6000) to round out the top 10.

Instead of boring you by gushing about Golden State, let’s take a look at the nine teams behind them on the list and see what team might be able to play “David” to the Warriors’ “Goliath.”

Toronto Raptors +850

The trade for center Marc Gasol could be a home-run swing by GM Masai Ujiri and you have to give him credit for going for it this year with the uncertainty of Kawhi Leonard’s return. The Raptors are an excellent 27-7 SU in 34 home games and, on paper, have a starting lineup that could give the Warriors’ defense fits. Being able to have a shooter like Gasol, who can also play serviceable defense down low, should be able to give the Raptors the edge in most matchups in the East to get to the NBA Finals.

But like any team challenging the Dubs, can they limit the Warriors from the three-point line? The Raptors have ranked in the top 10 in opponent three-point percentage and attempts allowed this season but that’s easier said than done in a seven-game series against arguably the greatest shooting team in NBA history.

Boston Celtics +1600

Coming into the season, the Celtics were the darlings of the East with some analysts predicting they would win 60 games and dominate the Atlantic Division. They have enough talent to put out two NBA starting lineups and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final last year WITHOUT Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Well, winning 60 games is out of the question considering they have 27 losses already and they might now be the third-best team in their own division.

So, what went wrong? Stat comparisons from this season to last don’t show much variance as they actually average nine more points a game on offense and only allow three more points on defense but this actually comes down to a team chemistry issue. You don’t need to look further than the Celtics’ road record as they finished last year at 28-13 in 41 road games but this season, they’re 17-17 SU through 34 away games.

Milwaukee Bucks +950

My personal favorite of the nine teams listed, the Bucks have made a believer out of me. They own an outstanding 27-5 SU home record, have a transcendent superstar and matchup nightmare in Giannis Antetokounmpo and could possibly have home-court advantage in the NBA Finals if they continue winning at this pace.

Giannis will need to improve on his three-point shooting (24.8 percent) if they want to seriously contend with Golden State but Milwaukee’s offense has been so good this season that it almost gets lost in the shuffle that the Bucks also lead the league in opponent field-goal percentage. With those factors combined, the Bucks lead the NBA with an excellent +9.1 point differential. It’s also worth noting that the Bucks are 16-9 SU in 25 games vs Western Conference teams and beat Golden State on its home floor early in the season.

Philadelphia 76ers +1400

Adding a fourth piece to the puzzle has gotten some mixed results thus far in the City of Brotherly Love but since the NBA’s main adversary is overwhelming teams with talent, the Sixers decided to fight fire with fire. Adding in Tobias Harris should give Philly an added boost in the shooting department and complement pass-first guard Ben Simmons in running the offense.

On paper, the Sixers should be destroying teams because no other team (even the Celtics) can put that much talent on the floor at one time but the system that coach Brett Brown has implemented has made Jimmy Butler a bystander on offense. Butler is averaging 18.8 points per game since arriving in Philly and, similar to the Celtics, I’m not sure the Sixers have the team chemistry to get out of the East, let alone beat the Warriors.

Los Angeles Lakers +5000

I won’t spend too much time on the Lakers because, honestly, the Lakers sit seven games out of the final playoff spot in the West and I don’t think they’ll even make the playoffs.

Another issue is the lack of defense for the Lakers. LA is allowing teams to score over 114 points per game (ranked 25th) and dropped 11 of 15 games with LeBron back in the lineup. I just think the road is too hard for the Lakers to make the playoffs and, at this point, they have no shot. Fade accordingly.

Houston Rockets +1100

The one West team that actually gave the Warriors a scare during their four-year run of dominance, the Rockets barely resemble that squad from last season. For one, Chris Paul looks to have slowed down and is not the impactful force in the backcourt like he’s been in past years. His regression along with the James Harden Show taking over Houston has effectively made the Rockets a volume three-point shooting team that is playing basketball’s version of Moneyball.

I don’t think this current formula can beat the Warriors, and the Rockets’ defense has been awful compared to last season when they had the best record in the NBA. Houston held opponents to 103.9 points per game and its ability to switch and close out on shooters was a key factor in holding the Warriors to 107 points per game in the Western Conference final, even though they lost in seven. I think I need to see more of the Rockets with Clint Capela back in the lineup before I write off their title chances but it looks like their window to win a championship may be closed.

Oklahoma City Thunder +2800

Based on value alone, bettors should take a hard look at the Thunder. OKC has been on a rampage by climbing to fourth in the West standings. Paul George has been on a tear and his game reminds me of a peak Tracy McGrady with his ability to defend and shoot the three.

I think they can match up well with the Warriors but the Thunder’s chances will hinge on Russell Westbrook. Westbrook in his career may be averaging 23.1 points per game vs Golden State but his three-point shooting is atrocious (27.4 percent) and he’s only hit 28.4 percent from deep this season. He has too high a usage rate to trust in big games and if the score is close, we’ve all seen the moments where he has an awful shot selection and essentially shoots his team out of the game. Maybe this year, things will be different but that’s not something I’m willing to count on given the 11-year sample size we have of Westbrook’s game.

Denver Nuggets +2500

One of the more pleasant surprises of the NBA season has been the Nuggets, who missed the playoffs by one game last year. The Nuggets are an outstanding 27-6 SU in 33 home games this season and have gone 17-3 SU in their last 20 games at the Pepsi Center.

Home-court advantage will be crucial in the Western Conference playoffs and I expect the Nuggets, led by center Nikola Jokic, to be in the thick of it in the postseason. The Nuggets are 17-4 SU in 21 home games this season vs West teams but when it comes to the second round and the West final, I worry about their lack of experience. Denver’s most experienced postseason player is Paul Millsap and he’s been a shell of himself since coming over from Atlanta. I think they could possibly get to the West final but I am highly doubtful they can beat the Warriors in a seven-game series.

San Antonio Spurs +6000

While it’s cute that the Spurs still remain competitive and have snuck their way back into the playoffs by shooting a blistering 40 percent from three-point range this season (ranked first), the fact remains that they are severely undermanned. The Spurs have been going with a point guard by committee since Dejounte Murray was lost for the season and while Derrick White has filled in admirably, he has been injury-prone and wouldn’t be the caliber of a guard to take down the Dubs.

There’s a reason why the odds take a big jump from a contender like the Thunder (+2800) to the Spurs at +6000, and that’s because oddsmakers believe what I believe: the Spurs are not a legitimate threat to win the title. If you want to take them, you must know something I don’t and I’d actually be more inclined to back the next team on the list – the Utah Jazz at +6600 – over San Antonio.

  • Golden State Warriors -210
  • Toronto Raptors +850
  • Milwaukee Bucks +950
  • Houston Rockets +1100
  • Philadelphia 76ers +1400
  • Boston Celtics +1600
  • Denver Nuggets +2500
  • Oklahoma City Thunder +2800
  • Los Angeles Lakers +5000
  • San Antonio Spurs +6000
  • Utah Jazz +6600
  • Indiana Pacers +9000
  • Brooklyn Nets +10000
  • Detroit Pistons +10000
  • Portland Trail Blazers +10000
  • Los Angeles Clippers +12500
  • Miami Heat +12500
  • Charlotte Hornets +15000
  • Orlando Magic +15000
  • Sacramento Kings +17500
  • Washington Wizards +20000
  • Minnesota Timberwolves +30000
  • New Orleans Pelicans +100000
  • Dallas Mavericks +150000
  • Memphis Grizzlies +150000
  • Atlanta Hawks +200000
  • Chicago Bulls +500000
  • Cleveland Cavaliers +500000


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