With Dwight Howard’s move to Houston, the Southwest Division is shaping up to be the NBA’s toughest stable of teams. The Rockets, Spurs, and Grizzlies should all make the postseason and even the Pelicans, projected to finish last in the division, look like they could be respectable.
Dallas Mavericks (2012-13: 41-41 SU, 48-34 ATS)
Odds to Win Division: +1600
Season Win Total: 44.0
Why Bet The Mavericks: They finished .500 last year despite missing Dirk Nowitzki for a good chunk of the schedule. Once Nowitzki returned, they went 18-12 SU (.600) after the All-Star Break, which over an 82-game season would mean 49 wins. That would have been sixth place in the Western Conference. This year, Nowitzki will be healthy from the start.
Why Not To Bet The Mavericks: This was not a good defensive team to begin with and they may actually have gotten worse with the additions of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis. The West is still loaded and I don't believe the Mavs will be a playoff team. Maybe they are the eighth seed at best.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 44 Wins.
Houston Rockets (2012-13: 45-37 SU, 41-40-1 ATS)
Odds to Win Division: +130
Season Win Total: 54.5
Why Bet The Rockets: Thanks to the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets have become the (slight) favorites to win the Southwest Division as they now have two of the best 15 players in the league (James Harden). I am a big fan of GM Daryl Morey, who has built a nice roster that can contend in the stacked Western Conference. We already know the team can score (106 PPG last season), but with Howard and likely sixth man Omar Asik, they will now be a good defensive team as well.
Why Not To Bet The Rockets: I'm going to come out and say it. You are not going to win an NBA championship with Dwight Howard as your best player. When Orlando made the NBA Finals in 2009, Howard was not the main reason why. It remains to be seen how head coach Kevin McHale will manage the minutes. While they'll be better in 2013-14, I'm not convinced that they will improve to the level the oddsmakers are calling for. Howard's poor free-throw shooting will also cost the Rockets ATS wins during the regular season since they'll be favored in most games.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 54.5 wins.
Memphis Grizzlies (2012-13: 56-26 SU, 46-34-2 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +400
Season Win Total: 49.0
Why Bet The Grizzlies: This remains a very good, under the radar team. They were No. 1 in the league in points allowed (89.3 PPG) last season and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, ousting both the Clippers and the undermanned Thunder, needing only 11 games to do so. While they were swept by the Spurs, two of the games went to overtime. They will always be underrated because they don't have a superstar.
Why Not To Bet The Grizzlies: Well, they don't have a superstar and the West is probably tougher this year than last. They did fine last year after trading Rudy Gay, but can they do the same over a full season? Their advancement through the Western Conference playoffs last year was aided by the Clippers being coached by Vinny Del Negro and the Thunder being without Russell Westbrook. Houston and Golden State will both be better this year, resulting in a likely drop in the Conference standings.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 49 wins.
New Orleans Pelicans (2012-13: 27-55 SU, 40-42 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +2500
Season Win Total: 40.0
Why Bet The Pelicans: While still far from a top-tier contender, the Pelicans figure to be one of the most improved teams in the Conference. They will be one of the better defensive teams in the league thanks to last year's No. 1 overall draft choice, Anthony Davis. They also are much improved in the backcourt with the additions of Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans.
Why Not To Bet The Pelicans: They’re stuck in the wrong division. In the Eastern Conference, I would say this would be a playoff team. But in the West, they're not and in the Southwest Division they're buried and probably doomed for last place. A last-place team is unlikely to win 40 games in any division. Last year, the six last place teams averaged just 26.8 wins, none topping 34.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 40 Wins.
San Antonio Spurs (2012-13: 58-24 SU, 39-41-2 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +140
Season Win Total: 55.5
Why Bet The Spurs: C'mon. We write this team off every year and every year they finish near the top of the Western Conference. They were one Ray Allen missed 3-pointer from winning a fifth NBA title last June and over the last eight non-lockout seasons, they have won: 58, 61, 50, 54, 56, 58, 63 and 59 games. They are the most proven commodity among the top teams in the West, have the least question marks and have the best coach.
Why Not To Bet The Spurs: Eventually, father time has to catch up with this team, right? Maybe I'm wrong and Houston is going to be better and with Memphis still in the mix, this is probably the toughest division in the league.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 55.5 wins.