NBA Hardwood Handle: Books waste little time

Those sportsbooks certainly don’t waste any time do they?

No sooner had Dwyane Wade John Elway-ed the ball into the cheap seats at Dallas’ American Airlines Center Tuesday night than the books had released future odds for next year’s NBA Championship.

Unfortunately, there were no real surprises with the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons, at +400, the odds on favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at about this time 365 days from now. Next up is a group containing this year’s finalists the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks who, along with the Phoenix Suns, are listed at +500.

Now if history is any indicator, next year’s champion will come from one of these teams. The NBA is not a place where the George Mason’s of the world come out of nowhere to make it all the way to the big dance. Heck, it isn’t even the NHL where an eight seed goes on some incredible run to come within one game of winning it all.

No, the NBA is all about the elite teams and ever since Michael Jordan disposed of the Seattle Supersonics in six games of the 1996 NBA Finals, no team has gone from a first-round playoff exit one year to even making the NBA Finals.

However, there are several teams who have gone from a conference semifinalist to NBA champion the next, with the Shaq-led Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs being the most recent teams to do that.

Now I’m not saying the Los Angeles Clippers are in a class with these two teams but if they re-sign Sam Cassell, Shaun Livingston continues to develop, and they find another forward with veteran experience to complement their depth and size, they may just be. Not to mention at +3500, they have the best value of any team with a chance to win it all.

Who will be next year’s Bobcats?

What a season the Charlotte Bobcats and the Toronto Raptors had.

It was like the Perfect Storm of betting - two teams that were short on talent but played their hearts out every game ended up a combined 89-67-8 ATS. That`s largely because they rarely won, so oddsmakers never felt it necessary to adjust their lines.

Now who will be next year’s Bobcats or Raptors? Well, it could be either team again. Emeka Okafor seems to always be battling injuries and the Raptors floundered when Chris Bosh went down. If either of these guys gets injured again, look for their respective teams to have similar seasons.

But if you want my real opinion I’d have to go with the Portland Trail Blazers. There is no disputing they’ll be terrible, but they are young and Nate MacMillan has a habit of getting the best out of his players.

It all depends on what they do with the tumor-like combo of Darius Miles and Zach Randolph. Needless to say, neither are positive influences on an impressionable young squad. If they can unload these guys to say the Knicks, which is entirely within reason, then MacMillan is left with a young club that will battle every night.

But they will still have little talent and will definitely win only a handful of games. Which is beautiful. Let them lose while continuing to cover and no one will ever pay them any attention.

The new NBA

The Miami Heat won the NBA title playing traditional NBA basketball. Shaquille O’Neal anchored the middle while superstar Dwyane Wade ran everywhere and coach Pat Riley had the rest of the team filling in the gaps.

But those days are fast coming to an end. The Phoenix Suns are proving that you can win with offense and once they get Amare Stoudmire back for a full training camp they should be one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference.

Don’t look now but the Raptors, led by former Suns boss Bryan Colangelo, are becoming the Eastern Conference’s version of the Suns. There is even a rumor they’ll go after Seattle’s Luke Ridnour, considered by many to be a poor man’s Steve Nash.

Not to be outdone, teams like the Washington Wizards, and the Seattle SuperSonics are teams known for their offense. While squads like the Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets are led by energetic young point guards in Raymond Felton and Chris Paul, who operate much better running the ball than they do in half-court sets.

So it will be interesting to see how this affects totals going into next year. My guess it there will be an adjustment period before books figure out what to do with this new style of play.

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