With the NBA playoffs coming up, there’s one question on the mind of bettors everywhere: can anyone stop Golden State? Are there any teams that could stun the defending champs, and if so, will they come from the East or West? Are you looking for a team to bet on that isn’t Golden State to maximize your ROI?
Let’s look at the teams that we believe stand a chance at winning the 2018-2019 NBA championship. Since teams out West have to go through the Warriors to make the finals, we’ll judge them based on their ability to upset the defending champs.
Out west, there’s one team on everyone’s mind. Let’s go ahead and get them out of the way:
Golden State Warriors
After winning back to back championships, the Warriors managed to land Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins for cheap due to his injury last year. While he isn’t back to 100% health, he’s getting better every day and should be close to fully recovered by the time the second round of the playoffs arrive.
Rounding out their lineup, they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as guards and Kevin Durant and Draymond Green as forwards. The team has speed and length. They have three players that can shoot the ball from 40 feet out, along with Draymond and Boogie that can shoot the three as well.
If you try to slow them down, they can bang the ball inside with Draymond, Boogie, Andrew Bogut, and Kevin Looney. They also have Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston coming off the bench, making them hard to slow down when their starters take a break. They are also one of the best defensive teams in the NBA due to their speed and length.
To beat them you need a team that’s designed specifically for that reason. Unfortunately for the rest of the Association, that’s a short list.
The Denver Nuggets
There are two approaches to beating Golden State. One is to have a set of stars that can physically punish them over the course of seven games, as Cleveland did two years ago with Lebron and Kevin Love.
The second approach is to have a team without any superstars that focus on passing the ball, finding the open man, and rebounding. This is Denver’s approach, and it’s worked well for them this season.
Denver currently sits in second place in the West and could still wrestle home court advantage away from the Warriors. Their ability to space the court takes away some of Golden State’s length advantage while their lack of a superstar doesn’t allow the Warriors to focus on one person.
The problem is that Denver doesn’t have anyone that can go shot for shot with Steph, Klay, or KD if they go off. If two of them go off, which is likely in four out of seven games, it would be impossible for Denver to win.
The good news for Denver is that they are currently 27-6 on the road. The bad news? They are 16-16 on the road. If they can either secure home-court advantage against the Warriors OR Golden State finds themselves eliminated before Denver plays them, the Nuggets could make the finals.
Could they beat one of the top teams in the East though? They don’t match up well against Philly or Boston. They could win a series against Milwaukee if they’re able to slow them down and force them into a half-court offense. Too many things have to go perfect for Denver to win for us to consider them a top threat.
The Houston Rockets
There are only three things you need to know about Houston:
- They have James Harden
- They have Chris Paul
- They run ISO under Mike D’antoni, who pioneered the seven seconds or less offense
The first two are important because James Harden can go toe to toe with anyone in the world when it comes to scoring. Meanwhile, Chris Paul is an excellent floor general and under-rated defender that knows how to keep players like Steph in front of him.
The third fact is an important one as well because it’s what spells doom for Houston. When Houston can’t run the floor and execute the seven seconds or less offense, they fall back to ISO plays. The ball moves around before ending up in Harden’s hands, where he takes a shot.
Against Golden State, ISO is the worst type of play you can run. You can’t keep up with the Warriors by running ISO. They have too much length and too many bodies to throw at Harden. If Houston can keep the pace up and outrun the Warriors, they have a punchers chance. If they fall back to ISO like last year in their seven-game series against them, they’re done.
The statistics bear this out. When the Rockets hold on to the ball until the final six seconds of the shot clock, they average 1.06 points per possession. During the first six seconds, they average 1.22 PPP. Their low assists total for the season (they rank 29th with 20.9 apg) shows that they often rely on the heroics of one of their stars.
The same holds true if they make it past Golden State and into the finals. Trying to play ISO might work against Milwaukee and Toronto, but against Boston and Philly things would become more difficult.
James Harden would have a tough time driving to the lane and facing Joel Embiid night after night, and Ben Simmons has the length to keep him in check and wear him down. Meanwhile, Boston could use either Brown or Tatum to check him on the outside and Al Horford would anchor the middle against his ability to drive. For Houston to beat one of those two teams, they would need to keep the pace up-tempo and get four big games from someone not named Harden or Paul.
The Oklahoma City Thunder
Russel Westbrook and Paul George, two great players that can keep up with Golden State scoring wise and defensively, lead the thunder. This team has length and speed along with a point guard that can defend Steph. Paul George is a top-notch defender, meaning that the Warriors have to rely on Klay, Draymond, and Boogie. Those are still great options to rely on, but if OKC can take away two of the three top threats, they have a fighting chance.
Steven Adams is also an excellent inside defender that can take rebound the ball and guard the perimeter in a bind. Out of all the teams in the West, OKC is the one that poses the greatest risk to Golden State if everything clicks for them.
OKC is in a unique situation. If they make it to the finals, they would also stand the best chance against the big four of the East. Paul George’s elite defense and Westbrook’s constant motor would pose a serious threat to any Eastern Conference opponent. However, in the west, they would actually play right into Denver’s hands.
The NBA is all about matchups. OKC’s chances are directly tied to the seed that they fall into.
The Eastern Conference
The Milwaukee Bucks
Believe it or not, the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. They also have one of the best players in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo, along with Khris Middleton and an under-rated Malcolm Brogdon. Those three players can give anyone a run for their money. They are long, fast, and physical players that can spell trouble for the Warriors.
Their problem is that the might not make it out of the east. Toronto, Boston, and Philly are all on the rise and have the talent to beat Milwaukee. Teams with high scoring point guards that can penetrate a defense give the bucks trouble.
Even if they did get out of the East, Steph Curry has the handle and the speed to drive the ball to the lane as well. They would also face problems against Houston, which has a deeper bench than the Bucks. OKC would give them fits. Milwaukee might be the top seed in the East, but in a seven-game series, they’ll have a hard time taking on an experienced team.
There is some good news for Bucks fans, however. The team leads the league in rebounds per game with 49.3 and have a field goal percentage of 47.7%. Offensive rebounds give the team extra possessions, which is valuable. The problem is when the Bucks fall behind a high-scoring team like Golden State, OKC, or Toronto and are forced to shoot threes. Milwaukee shoots more threes than any team other Houston, but they are sixteenth in the league for 3-point shooting efficiency at 35.2%. In other words, if they get behind against a high-scoring team, there’s a good chance they are staying there.
After trading for Tobias Harris, Philly could argue that they have the second-best lineup in the NBA. They have Ben Simmons running point alongside Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, and Harris. Their team is fast and everyone on the floor can play at least three positions when needed.
The offense runs around Ben Simmons and his ability to make fast decisions. If he penetrates with the ball and a teams’ defense collapses, he can kick it out to Butler, Redick, or Harris for a three. He can also drop it off to Embiid. The team plays exceptional defense and might have the best chance in the entire league to beat Golden State or any other Western team this year if they can find a way to make it past the next team on our list.
The Boston Celtics
Philadelphia and the Celtics have met three times this season, with the same outcome each time: a win for Boston. With a lineup featuring all-world PG Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jalen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, Boston is another team that can argue that they have the best starting five in the league.
Boston’s problem this year has been that they suffer from too many riches. Last year, the team was a win away from reaching the NBA Finals without Kyrie or Gordon Hayward. When those two came back this year, the young guys who played more minutes last season felt like they had earned a right to be in the starting lineup.
Boston has yet to fracture, however. They still seem like a team that could put it together at any point and give Golden State a tough series. They blew the Warriors out the last time they played them, but would they beat them in a seven-game series? Probably not. They could, however, beat any other Western Conference team, although Houston and OKC would give them trouble. If you’re going to bet on one team dethroning the Warriors, Boston would be your best bet.
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