Tue, Mar 13, 9:21am by Staff Writer
With less than one month remaining in the NBA regular season, recent NBA Finals mainstays Cleveland and Golden State are facing challenges they have not seen in their respective conference for over three seasons.
Golden State ($1.62) remaining the overwhelmingly short favourites at Sportsbet to win the NBA Championship, but will be without Steph Curry for at least two games after he suffered an ankle injury last Friday.
Without Curry, the Warriors lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday and look a shadow of themselves.
The Warriors are a game behind the Houston Rockets, who have maintain top seed in the West for majority of the season.
The Rockets ($5) are playing tremendously this season, and look far more threatening than in season’s past with the addition of Chris Paul.
A Warriors-Rockets conference final may be as good as an NBA Finals series, with both teams incredibly talented.
In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland ($8.50) continue to be the best priced team on Sportsbet, largely due to the star power and experience of LeBron James.
The Cavs (38-28) are sitting in fourth place in the East, but could slip as low as eighth, with only 2.5 games separating fourth from eighth.
After a number of trades at the trade deadline, it is hard to see the Cavs competing for a title with the likes of Larry Nance and Rodney Hood in their starting lineup.
Cleveland lack another star player outside of LeBron and will be fortunate to even make the conference finals given their play this season.
The Toronto Raptors are a huge price to win their first NBA title at $14 at Sportsbet.
Toronto hold a handy 3.5 game lead ahead of Boston in second place in the East. The Raptors have benefitted from Celtics injuries and excellent form, including a narrow win against the Houston Rockets last weekend.
The Raptors bench has been a revelation all season long and they have greater depth than the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers.
Where the Raptors struggle is in the experience department, with the team regularly failing to advance deep into the playoffs, despite having a talented team.
The Celtics ($15) season threatened to be over when it just began after a gruesome injury to free agent Gordon Hayward.
The Celtics have rallied all season long, but are suffering when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have missed games through niggling injuries.
Look out for the Celtics to be a contender next season, but they have appeared to look short on talent this season, especially in the past month.
Of the other teams in the Championship picture, the Oklahoma City Thunder at $26 would be the only other team with serious finals credentials.
The trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony certainly have the pedigree to go all the way, and have been able to beat the Warriors and Rockets this season.
The key for the Thunder is consistency, with the team regularly going through multiple winning and losing streaks throughout the season.
The Thunder bench is one of the worst in the league, which forces even more pressure on their stars to deliver.
The playoff race is all but over in the East, with Detroit ($501) five games behind the eighth seeded Milwaukee Bucks ($101).
Australian Ben Simmons’ Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of their best stretch of play all season as they are currently sixth seed in the East with a 36-29 record. Despite this, they are still huge outsiders ($101) to make any inroads in the playoffs.
In the West, the competition for playoff spots is fierce as always. Only 1.5 games are separating fourth placed New Orleans ($276) from 10th placed Utah, so anything is possible in the final stages of the season.
Minnesota ($61) and San Antonio ($36) appear the two teams most likely to drop out of playoff contention, with injuries potentially proving costly to both teams.
The Los Angeles Clippers ($276), Denver Nuggets ($126) and Utah Jazz ($276) are all tied in eighth place, but the Clippers hold the head-to-head tiebreak advantage against both teams.
NBA Championship Odds – Sportsbet
Golden State Warriors $1.62
Houston Rockets $5
Cleveland Cavaliers $8.50
Toronto Raptors $14
Boston Celtics $15
Oklahoma City Thunder $26
San Antonio Spurs $36
Minnesota Timberwolves $61
Washington Wizards $76
Milwaukee Bucks $101
Philadelphia 76ers $101
Denver Nuggets $125
Indiana Pacers $126
Portland Trailblazers $126
Miami Heat $151
Utah Jazz $276
LA Clippers $276
New Orleans Pelicans $276
LA Lakers $501
Detroit Pistons $501
Charlotte Hornets $501
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