NBA Western Conference Finals Preview
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors will begin the Western Conference Finals on Monday night. The collective opinion of the betting market is that the Warriors will roll easily - they're a (-500) favorite to win the series - and that number will translate into the game-by-game pointspreads as well. Is this really that big of a mismatch?
If we look at the regular season records the answer is yes. Golden State's NBA-record 73 wins stands in contrast to Oklahoma City's 55 victories. The Warriors have Steph Curry back in the fold. But when you combine current form with digging underneath the numbers, you can find a good case for the Thunder to at least cover pointspreads on a game-by-game basis and perhaps even steal the series itself.
The Warriors have the best offense in the NBA, but the Thunder are right behind them in second. While Golden State is the superior defensive team - ranking fourth in the league compared to Oklahoma City's twelfth - the Thunder are significantly better rebounding the ball, where they're at the top of the NBA and the Warriors are eighth.
And while Curry is the game's best player right now, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the second and third-best players in this series and it's hardly difficult to imagine them playing at a higher level than Curry.
When we look at current form we see Oklahoma City playing their best basketball of the season, with three straight wins over San Antonio to close out the conference semifinals in a dramatic turn of events after being humiliated in the series opener. The Thunder covered in all three of these games, including a road victory as a (+7.5) underdog.
Meanwhile, the Warriors final two wins in their own second-round series with Portland indicated some ATS problems. Golden State needed overtime in Game 4 to narrowly cover a (-6) line, 132-125. They did not come close to covering a (-15) number in a home Game 5 win, 125-121. Note that Curry was in the lineup for both games and dropped 40 points in Game 3.
Some of the cracks showing in Golden State's ATS armor are reminiscent of what happened in another sport nearly a decade ago. Remember the 2007 New England Patriots and their history-making 16-0 regular season. The Patriots ultimate Super Bowl defeat was foreshadowed by two non-cover wins in the playoffs. They also had a star player nursing an injury, with Tom Brady's high ankle sprain. Could Golden State, with Curry's knee issues, be the 2016 version of this story?
It could be, but there are compelling reasons to like the Warriors in this series and it starts with ball movement. During the regular season, Golden State averaged 20.5 assists per game against only 13.5 turnovers. The (+7.0) margin was easily the league's best.
By contrast, Oklahoma City's ratio was 16.8 assists to 14.0 turnovers. Their (+2.8) margin was 24th in the NBA and comparable to the Philadelphia 76ers. Being compared to the Sixers is never what you want to see from a team before they play the Warriors. The dramatic OKC turnaround against San Antonio was triggered by Westbrook's acceptance of the fact he was shooting too much and focusing on getting his teammates - particularly the explosive Durant - involved more.
If Westbrook and the Thunder build off what they did over the last week against the 67-win Spurs, they can certainly compete with the Warriors and win this series. They can certainly cover pointspreads as a road underdog.
Golden State finished the year 43-36 ATS. Oklahoma The question for handicappers is the confidence level that what took place over the last three games can override an entire season's body of work. City was 37-43 against the number. That's the case for the Warriors. Current form makes the case for the Thunder. What do you value most? Answer that question correctly and you can make money betting the Western Conference Finals.