A team-by-team look at the rest of the NBA, now onto the Pacific Division
Hi Bucks’ fans! To wrap up the Western Conference, I will be talking about the division that has won the West since the 2013-14 season, the Pacific Division. Looking from a distance, that doesn’t seem too likely to change, since the division is a three-horse race (maybe four) between the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles Lakers) and the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. And don’t forget about the most underrated sleeper team in basketball, with a real chance at finally making the Finals, the…I can’t type that with a straight face, the Sacramento Kings are still here to lose the division. Let’s get started.
2021-22 Odds: 150 to 1
My odds were right, but that was probably the only thing I said about this posting that was. I said this might be the “best team since the Chris Webber days”, and even with shortened seasons, they were actually worse than the past three. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that the talent is not there this season. I was correct by saying that Tristan Thompson was a “random Sacramento signing”, and I also said they would not necessarily end the playoff drought just because they appeared to be a better version of Kings’ past. They also might have been the best last-place team in the NBA, that can be debated between the New York Knicks. Either way, congrats to the Kings on being better than Orlando, Oklahoma City, Houston, Detroit and maybe New York.
Heading into this season, the Kings do look intriguing again, but I will not say that they are going to be back in the postseason. They appear to have four teams in the West that are for sure worse than they will be, so that means that they have a chance on the play-in. Having a full year of Domantas Sabonis to go with De’Aaron Fox means they should be competitive, and Summer League MVP Keegan Murray looks to follow up that campaign with Rookie of the Year. The Kings do have some nice pieces around them, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, and Terence Davis return, and then there is the perhaps reason why they gave up on Tyrese Haliburton in Davion Mitchell. Both are good players, but we’ll see who ultimately is better for the Kings.
They also brought in Malik Monk from the Lakers, Kevin Huerter came in from Atlanta, and they also have former Buck Matthew Dellavedova now. I thought he retired. Anyways, this team intrigues me, but I will not admit to them breaking the (real) postseason drought until they actually do it. If they somehow get the 7th seed or 8th seed and then lose, I’ll give it to them, but if they get the 9th or 10th and lose in the play-in, they didn’t make the playoffs. I don’t care.
As for how they stack up to the Bucks, I’m not even going to entertain that at this point. I think I’ll keep it with last season’s odds, not too bad but not great.
2021-22 Standings: 33-49
2021-22 Odds: Even
It wasn’t just me last year that had the Lakers as a favorite over the Bucks. In fact, me putting them lower than the national pundits makes me smarter by default. So there. I stated that age would be a concern, and didn’t really think that Russell Westbrook would be an issue. He does have an MVP, but everywhere he goes, his old team gets better and his new team gets worse. Still, the Lakers are just two years removed from a championship, so let’s see what they have in store here.
First, I find it really funny that Patrick Beverly got acquired to join (for now) Russ, LeBron James and the Lakers. I have a conspiracy theory at the end of the post that I will bring up about Patrick Beverley, and it directly relates to James and Westbrook*.
But, taking a look at the Lakers, is this a better team heading into the 2022-23 season? They did bring former top Bucks’ assistant Darvin Ham in as the head coach, and while it is well deserved for Ham, I wouldn’t wish being LeBron’s fall guy on anyone. Aside from that change and Beverley, I’m not really sure where the improvement is on this team. Thomas Bryant, Damian Jones, Troy Brown, Lonnie Walker IV and Juan Toscano-Anderson replace Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Avery Bradley and more. They got younger, but they don’t have the shooting they really need here.
They do now have the option to not play Russell Westbrook and get away with it, but even with Beverley out there I’m not sure who the other two guys are for this team to go with LeBron and Anthony Davis. I think they are almost a postseason lock at this point since LeBron can’t miss twice in a row, but they won’t get past the play-in. Against the Bucks, I’ll give them high odds credit just for having the superstars, but I don’t think there is as much of a chance as I’m showing.
2022-23 Odds: 20 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 42-40
2021-22 Odds: With Kawhi 2 to 1, Without Kawhi 20 to 1
This kind of is going to go along with the same theme here, will Kawhi Leonard actually play for this team? Will John Wall play for this team? Is John Wall still good? What about Paul George and his injuries? Do they have/need a backup center?
This is Eric Bledsoe’s last known sighting, and he kind of faded out and then became a part of that Norman Powell-Robert Covington trade from Portland. I think that duo, along with Leonard, George and Wall could make this team one of the scariest in basketball if they get all of their pieces back. The defense and switchability here should make analytics nerds drool, adding in Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey and more. They also have extra scoring punch from Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard. Add in the big man in Ivica Zubac, and this roster is 12 deep easily, and they proved it last year by having a winning record in spite of not having Kawhi and not having Paul George the entirety of the season.
I do think it still hinges on Kawhi being able to play, and until he steps foot on a basketball court and plays in a playoff series, I can’t consider this team to be better than the Bucks. If I were a Clippers fan and an optimist, I would be arguing for the Clippers to be the best team in the NBA and I’m sure many of you can see that on paper they have a loaded roster. I just don’t trust them.
2022-23 Odds: 8 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 64-18
2021-22 Odds: 3 to 1
This was pretty accurate. Phoenix was the best in the NBA in the regular season last year, but as we know from seasons past, being the best in the NBA doesn’t always mean that they are making the Finals. I didn’t say much about the Suns, we knew they would be good, but weren’t sure how good. All that really came down to it was my question on whether or not they would regress.
They progressed, from a regular season standpoint, and then lost to Dallas in the conference semifinals. They also had a lot of drama with DeAndre Ayton, and he was the last big name free agent to sign after they signed him to his rookie scale extension. So now, the Suns are going to give the Chris Paul experiment a third try, and even though he has aged incredibly well, you have to think he will fall off at some point. I look at the Suns’ roster, and assuming a healthy CP3 and Dario Saric, I don’t see a lot of holes on the roster. They have the players to get back to the Finals, some of them are going to be better and some will be worse, but I think many of us forgot that this team was a Jrue Holiday steal or a regular free-throw shooting night from Giannis away from making the Finals much more interesting, at minimum. This team is still dangerous.
2022-23 Odds: 2 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 53-29
2021-22 Odds: Odds: 5 to 1
The Warriors are the defending champions, again, and while my five to one odds are not perfect for predicting, I did state that this team “definitely can stop the Bucks” and a “return to the Finals is not out of the question”. It basically came down to how many injuries they would have, how good Klay Thompson would be, and that the roster was incredibly deep. The odds assumed Klay Thompson would become himself, Steph would be Steph, Draymond would be Draymond and Andrew Wiggins would be a better version of Harrison Barnes. All of that happened. I didn’t predict the breakout of Jordan Poole, but I did mention him as a player to watch.
Going into this season, veterans have departed like Otto Porter, Andre Iguodala, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II and Juan Toscano-Anderson. So this team will rely a lot on internal development from Jonathan Kuminga and others, a return of James Wiseman, solid drafting, and the two outside additions of JaMychal Green and former Buck Donte DiVincenzo. A note on Donte, he played his time with the Kings perfectly. He played so bad to not make the Kings want to keep him, and now is out on a short-term deal where he can flourish and get a contract upgrade next season, instead of being stuck in Sacramento (as I suggested he should do). Whether on purpose or not, kudos to Donte.
I think the question is, and this is my Finals prediction, do the Bucks have the ability to beat the Warriors? I think the answer is yes, we do seem to be able to beat this team often, and I think a main reason is they can’t stop Giannis. But with Curry, Thompson and Poole on the floor together (assuming Poole is for real), it makes the defense challenging. If Jrue guards Steph, do you put Middleton on Thompson or Poole? Is Wes still capable of guarding one of them? Do we turn to Jevon Carter in this situation? That’s not even counting Wiggins or Green. Is this a time when we use Joe Ingles as the four and Giannis at the five? This would be a fun series, and I’m going to lean against my Bucks’ bias a bit here with this prediction.
2022-23 Odds: Even
Okay, so the conspiracy theory I have is this, and I was actually thinking it all the way back in 2013 when Russ got injured in that play in the 2013 postseason, what seemed to be intentionally, by Patrick Beverley. Beverley was playing for Houston at the time, and in short, knocked Russ out for the postseason.
What does LeBron James have to do with this though? According to Patrick Beverley, LeBron James is the reason why he got cut from none other than the Miami Heat. Now, I do believe Beverley that LeBron is why he got cut, but I don’t believe it is for the reason Beverley said. I believe LeBron got him cut to be a trojan horse kind of player, and he was positioned in Houston to be just that in 2013.
The Thunder were one of the biggest threats to LeBron getting his second ring in 2013. With James Harden now traded, the offense solely ran through Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Beverley hurt Westbrook to appease LeBron and/or the Heat, and that’s why Westbrook got hurt, and thus led to LeBron’s second championship. It’s totally just a conspiracy, and I’m not making any real accusations, but it just seems fishy to me.
* 21+ (18+ NH/WY). AZ, CO, CT, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, LS (select parishes), MI, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, TN, VA, WV, WY only.
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Odds to Beat the Milwaukee Bucks in a Playoff Series: Part Three, the Pacific Division – Brew Hoops