NBA running true to formFriday, February 26, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
WE'RE almost halfway through the 2020-21 National Basketball Association (NBA) (abbreviated) regular season and most of the contenders that were invited to the 'bubble' last year again find themselves at the forefront of the league this season.
In the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards are the only two teams of the nine that were invited to the bubble which are not currently in the top 10 – they are 12th and 13th, respectively and were 8th and 9th entering last year's bubble.
In the Western Conference, 13 teams were invited to last year's bubble and all, except the Houston Rockets, appear to have designs on the top 10 this year. The Rockets are currently 14th in the conference with a disappointing 11-18 record and looking less likely with every game. The Golden State Warriors did not make the list of thirteen teams from the West in the isolated end to last season but currently find themselves just within 'play-in' contention this year.
So, the NBA appears to be running true to form (for the most part), with the Western Conference still showing the way. Since 2020 a team from the 'West' has won 16 NBA titles compared to just 7 by a team from the 'East'. The best-possible evidence of the East winning it all this year is the Brooklyn Nets who, with their Big-3, are expected to win the conference.
The Nets went on a recent 5-game trip to the West and were very successful. They did it without Kevin Durant four of the five games, and without Kyrie Irving for their comeback win against the Phoenix Suns. The 5-0 record over that span included very impressive wins over the Warriors, Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers that catapulted the Nets to a number one NBA ranking in points per game (121.2) and number four in assists per game (26.9). Their three leading scorers on the trip (James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris) combined for an effective field goal percentage of 67 per cent over the five games.
But, while the Brooklyn offence has been thriving, the defence appears to be on life support. They are currently ranked number 28 at opponent's points per game (117) and number 21 at rebounds per game (43.5). They have had recent losses to the Washington Wizards, OKC Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons (all struggling teams) but have found a way to beat every good team they've faced this season. They are a dominant force offensively (even with one or two of the Big-3 in uniform) but will need to stem the opponent's scoring if there is any hope for this year's title.
In the West, the Utah Jazz (25-6) have the best record in the league and are ranked at number 3 in both points per game (116) and opponent's points per game (106.4). They are ranked number 2 in assists per game (48.2), and this may be the largest contributing factor for their current success. They take their NBA-leading record into American Airlines Arena this evening to take on last season's beaten finalists (Miami Heat) in an expected dogfight.
Their first meeting this season (February 13) in Utah saw the Jazz come out with a resounding 112-94 victory and their seventh-straight win (at the time). The Jazz have been in red-hot form from the start of the season and will look to sweep the series in Miami against a team who have been struggling for recent form.
The other major matchups for this weekend include Friday - Boston Celtics hosting Indiana Pacers; Saturday - Dallas Mavericks at Brooklyn Nets; and Sunday - Los Angeles Clippers visit Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics currently occupy third place in the East while the Pacers sit in fourth. The teams narrowly split the two matchups in December 2020, with very little points between them. This encounter is also expected to be very close and very physical.
The Nets are in the top echelons of the East (and in the NBA) while the Mavericks are trying to find their way at number 9 in the West. However, Brooklyn's defence leaves a lot to be desired and they were resoundingly beaten by Dallas (123-111) in January, with Luka Doncic having an outstanding game. The Nets will be looking for revenge but Dallas is 7-3 in their last 10 games and Doncic is not slowing down any time soon.
In the last six matchups between the Clippers and the Bucks they have won three each but the Bucks have won the last three, including a 119-91 thrashing in early December 2020. Two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 11 rebounds before exiting that game with 8:56 to play and his Bucks ahead by 36. The Bucks led by as many as 41 and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will make every effort to prevent a repeat this Sunday.
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Los Angeles Lakers 3.45
Brooklyn Nets 4.10
Los Angeles Clippers 5.80
Milwaukee Bucks 7.80
Utah Jazz 9.20
Philadelphia 76ers 15.00
Boston Celtics 24.00
Denver Nuggets 25.00
Miami Heat 35.00
Phoenix Suns 40.00
*Only top 10 odds shown
(see website for full list).
*Odds are subject to change.
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