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2021 Western Conference Predictions & Best Bets

 
Oct. 12, 2021
by Michael Crosson
NBA Expert
VegasInsider.com

Last year’s NBA season was a long and battered journey. Ultimately, the Jazz and Suns were the only healthy contenders left to tightly jockey for the top spot in the Western Conference – which was a highly sought-after position due to the second place-finisher potentially earning a first-round date with LeBron James and the Lakers.

It turns out though, the Jazz ended up dodging the wrong L. A. squad, as the Clippers handled Utah somewhat easily in the second round despite the injury to Kawhi Leonard (knee) in Game 4 – and then valiantly fell to Phoenix in a six-game set the next round during the continued absence of their superstar.

To start the new season, the oddsmakers have wiped the slate completely clean, considering the Lakers (+175) already stand as favorites to win the West at most shops – and the Warriors (+425) typically follow directly behind.

The odds currently indicate that Vegas is projecting a dramatic shift within the overall outlook of the Western Conference this year – so, let’s see if we can beat them to the punch and find value in a few preseason future bets.

2021-22 Eastern Conference Predictions & Best Bets

Conference Winner Best Bet - L.A. Clippers (+750)

If everything works out seeding and health-wise, this might finally be the year that we get a WCF showdown between L.A. squads – but as we’ve seen before, so many things need to happen perfectly.

Despite earning the seventh-seed through last year’s play-in tournament, the Lakers (+175) enter the new season as overwhelming favorites to win the West – and rightfully so, as King James and company still strike me as the most dangerous team in the conference when fully healthy.

It seems like the Lakers haven’t played at full-strength in ages though, considering Frank Vogel’s squad almost missed the playoffs due to a constantly rotating door of injury concerns last year – and never really stood a chance against the Suns due to their superstars’ nagging health issues.

On the other hand, the Clippers juggled a similar set of circumstances last year and nearly reached the Finals anyway, as Leonard suffered a devastating knee injury in Game 4 against the Jazz – but Ty Lue’s team still ended up advancing past Utah, and then fell just a few bounces short of stunning Phoenix in the next round.

This year’s Western Conference is a toss-up between a handful of options if everyone heads into the playoffs healthy. Unfortunately though, that is seldom the case – and whichever team best compensates for its extenuating circumstances typically comes out on top.

The Jazz and Suns primarily rose to the top of the standings last season because their key pieces managed to stay relatively healthy, which is incredibly rare in today’s NBA – and shouldn’t be relied upon when placing future wagers.

The Clippers experienced a worst-case-scenario by losing Kawhi in the heat of last year’s playoffs though – yet still closely battled down to the wire against Utah and Phoenix in the postseason, which is mainly why I’m considering L.A. the best long-term betting option in the West.


Paul George and the Clippers are coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals before losing to Phoenix. (AP)

Western Conference Odds - Top 8 Teams

Per BetMGM - Subject to Change

  • L.A. Lakers +175
  • Golden State Warriors +425
  • Phoenix Suns +700
  • Utah Jazz +750
  • L.A. Clippers +750
  • Denver Nuggets +1100
  • Dallas Mavericks +1400
  • Portland Trail Blazers +2500

Best Win Total - Utah Jazz – Under 52.5

For my win-total best bet, I’m taking Utah’s under. The Jazz’ win-total is set directly above the number last year’s squad finished at (OU 52.5), as Utah claimed the top-seed in the West by posting an incredibly impressive 52-20 tally across the regular season – which ended up topping the Suns by a narrow one-game margin in the final standings.

Will Utah improve upon that number this season though?

The Jazz should continue to develop and improve as a whole – but I’m still skeptical about Utah’s ability to eclipse a higher win-total than last year’s squad.

The Jazz are typically streaky throughout the regular season – but they didn’t dip last season, as Utah posted three separate winning streaks of nine games or more, and never lost more than two consecutive matchups.

Everything worked out perfectly for the Jazz during last year’s regular season – making it seem as if their latest result was best-case-scenario for them, which is why I’m backing Utah to travel down a slightly bumpier road this time around.


Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz hope to avoid a letdown this season after a terrific 2020-21 campaign. (AP)

To Make Playoffs Best Bet - New Orleans Pelicans – No (-210)

The Pelicans wrapped up last season with a disappointing 31-41 record, which fell just two games short of the Spurs for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

New Orleans wields an incredibly talented core anchored by superstars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, which is primarily why Pelicans’ future odds are offered at such a conservative price before the season begins – but that may be the best time to tread in the opposite direction.

The Pelicans gleam with potential – but they suffer from a critical lack in depth at the defensive end, and shipping away Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, and two first-rounders in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas probably won’t solve many problems.


The Pelicans fell short of the playoffs last season as Zion Williamson looks to lift New Orleans to the postseason in 2022. (AP)

MVP Best Bet - Luka Doncic (+400)

Luka Doncic will open this year’s regular season as the stand-alone favorite to take home the league’s MVP award – and I think the oddsmakers have this one pinned perfectly.

The Lakers, Sixers, Nuggets, and Nets completely ran out of the gas during last year’s playoffs, so I expect to see some teams overcorrect and play things ultra conservative with MVP candidates this go-around – potentially ruling out perennial contenders such as James, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Kevin Durant this season.

That leaves only a handful of contenders realistically eyeing this year’s MVP award, as Luka (+400) ranks alongside Stephen Curry (+900) and Damian Lillard (+1100) to make-up the top three contenders in the conference – followed by the reigning award-winner, Jokic (+1600).

In just his third NBA season, Doncic posted averages of 27.7 PPG, 8.1 AST, and 8.6 REB – and if he continues slightly improving upon those numbers, it’s only a matter of time before the 22-year-old earns his first MVP award.


Luka Doncic is coming off another solid season as the Mavs' star seeks an MVP trophy this season. (AP)

Coach of the Year Best Bet - Steve Kerr (+1100)

Coach of the Year is always somewhat of a shot in the dark, as there aren’t many traditional stats floating around that typically dictate who receives this award season-to-season – but mainly focuses on which individual coach successfully overcame the most challenges throughout a given tenure.

Ever since Durant’s departure, Golden State has been a mess, considering the Warriors were the league’s top dog just a few years back – but lately, Steve Kerr’s team has struggled even to reach the playoffs.

Kerr has stuck with Golden State through thick and thin though, and if Klay Thompson ends up returning to the Warriors’ lineup and they make some noise this year – it wouldn’t surprise me if Kerr takes home his second COY award.


  
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