The Oklahoma City Thunder are big favorites to win the Northwest Division, with the Denver Nuggets looking like long-shot value heading into the season. The rest of the division is a bit of a mystery with playoff potential in a few teams.
Denver Nuggets (2012-13: 57-25 SU, 49-32-1 ATS)
Odds to win division: +550
Season win total: 47.0
Why bet the Nuggets: This team won 57 games year ago and was virtually unbeatable at home, going 38-3 SU at the Pepsi Center (won final 24 regular season home games). They were 24-4 SU overall after the All-Star break. Despite losing Andre Iguodala, the Nuggets still have tremendous depth and a healthy Danilo Gallinari returning. Since the ABA-NBA merger, there have only been five instances of a 57-win team failing to make the playoffs the following season.
Why not to bet the Nuggets: After that tremendous regular season, they were eliminated in the first round by Golden State. I expect there to be a carryover to this season. The Nuggets’ defensive issues were exploited by the Warriors and the loss of their best player (Iguodala) will hurt a team that has no stars to begin with. But most concerning is losing both their coach (George Karl) and GM (Masai Ujiri). They will probably have to fight to make the playoffs this year.
Season win total pick: Under 47 wins.
Minnesota Timberwolves (2012-13: 31-51 SU, 38-41-3 ATS)
Odds to win division: +1000
Season win total: 41.0
Why bet the Timberwolves: The return of a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. That duo didn't even start a single game together last season. Four T-Wolves starters missed at least 18 games in 2012-13 and leading the way was Love, who played in only 18 games. Overall, the team lost a combined 346 games and nearly 9,000 minutes to injury. Thankfully, the organization decided to fire GM David Kahn, whose history of poor drafting makes him a case of addition by subtraction.
Why not to bet the Timberwolves: This team has won fewer games the last two seasons combined than Oklahoma City did all of last year. In fact, Minnesota's win total (57) from the last two seasons only matches that of Denver last year. This is a franchise that has not made the playoffs in a decade (longest active drought in the league) and seems snake-bitten. Ricky Rubio, while an excellent passer, is not a great shooter.
Season win total pick: Over 41 wins
Oklahoma City Thunder (2012-13: 60-22 SU, 49-31-2 ATS)
Odds to win division: -400
Season win total: 50.5
Why bet the Thunder: We are getting tremendous value on the season win total because of the injury to Russell Westbrook. They are still going to be favored in most games and, as long as they can go .500 without Westbrook, they should go Over this total with room to spare. Going back to the 2007-08 season, every Western Conference division winner has won at least 54 games (excluding the lockout-shortened season of 2012). Don't forget that OKC beat Houston last year in the playoffs without Westbrook.
Why not to bet the Thunder: What if the Westbrook injury lingers? They also lost Kevin Martin, who was James Harden's replacement, so not only is there no longer a "Big 3" in Oklahoma City but for the first several weeks it will be only Kevin Durant and a bunch of so-so players. The top of the West has gotten stronger and I don't see the Thunder getting the No. 1 seed.
Season win total pick: Over 50.5 wins
Portland Trail Blazers (2012-13: 33-49 SU, 34-44-4 ATS)
Odds to win division: +1800
Season win total: 38.5
Why bet the Blazers: I think this team is going to fight with Minnesota (and probably Dallas) for the final playoff spot out West. They won 33 games last year, a terrible finish that saw them lose their final 13 games. They have two of the best 30 players in the league with LaMarcus Aldridge and last year's unanimous Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. There were two underrated acquisitions this offseason, Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson, who the team got for next to nothing.
Why not to bet the Blazers: The West is still loaded and I don't see this as a playoff team (although they should finish at or near .500). Compared to some of the other teams out West, the Blazers have very little depth. They finished dead last in bench points last season (18.5 per game) - 5.6 PPG fewer than the second worst team. C.J. McCollum was drafted 10th overall this past June to be the team's sixth man, but has already undergone foot surgery.
Season win total pick: Over 38.5 wins
Utah Jazz (2012-13: 43-39 SU, 42-39-1 ATS)
Odds to win division: +1800
Season win total: 27.5
Why bet the Jazz: Well, they did win 43 games last season, which may not have been enough to make the playoffs, but that number is still way more than the books are predicting for this year. They did lose both of their starting forwards, Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap, but can quickly replace them with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors without much of a drop off.
Why not to bet the Jazz: In a division where four of the five teams are capable of producing 40-plus wins, the Jazz are the outlier and probably a lock for last place in the Northwest. Their top draft choice Trey Burke is going to miss up to six weeks after fracturing his right index finger. Coupled with having to replace your starting forwards from the previous season, this could be the ugliest year in some time in Utah. Four starters from last year's team are gone (56.1 PPG, 20.2 RPG, 12.9 APG) and in their place are a bunch of expiring contracts. Head Coach Ty Corbin may not last the season, which would be a far cry from the proud tenure of Jerry Sloan before him.
Season win total pick: Under 27.5 wins