The Western Conference has been a distinctly Golden story of late. The Warriors won another championship early this year, having been thoroughly dominant throughout the regular season.
Steve Kerr’s side clinched a playoff berth as early as February 25th, and finished the year with 67 wins. A record short of their very best the year before, but still miles ahead of their nearest competitors and with plenty in the tank as they headed into an immensely successful postseason.
In Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, Kerr has two former MVPs, and both are well in the running to win the award again this season. Klay Thompson was not his usual lethal self in the 2017 playoffs, but he and Draymond Green lead a superb supporting cast. The Warriors are 7/20 to win the Western Conference again, making them clear favourites.
Despite finishing third in the West and 12 games off the Warriors last year, the Houston Rockets are the closest competitors in the market this year at 13/2. The Rockets’ biggest news of the summer was attracting Chris Paul to play in the backcourt with James Harden, who was a Russell Westbrook distance from winning the league MVP trophy himself last year.
Houston fell in the semi-finals last year, as they struggled to compete even with an injury-riddled San Antonio Spurs. Harden has the support of Paul this year, but the 13/2 price is hardly a must-bet at this point. For the Rockets to really trouble the Warriors they will need Harden to replicate last season’s numbers, and hope that at least one of the Warriors’ magic four are under par or injured.
The Spurs could feel hard done by to sit third in this one given their impressive 61-21 record in 2016/17. As with any team, keeping their key men healthy is vital, but it’s especially relevant for San Antonio after some of the injury woe they had last season. A fully fit Kawhi Leonard could take them towards 65 wins, and is joint-favourite to win the MVP award at 4/1.
Outside of these three, we are entering the realm of longshots. The Oklahoma City Thunder come in fourth at a tempting 14/1. Given Westbrook’s heroic season last time around, and the acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, that price is one of the best in the NBA markets at the moment.
The Thunder were swept aside by the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs last year, but they have revamped their roster and could be a real contender this year. A lot, of course, depends on Westbrook’s season, but a year even close to 2016/17 supplemented by Carmelo and George could see Oklahoma shock a few in the West.
Following on as the final team even with a sniff of reaching the Finals are the Minnesota Timberwolves. At 25/1, there could be real value there for those who think Jimmy Butler and co. can end Minnesota’s postseason drought.
2004 was the last time the Timberwolves made the playoffs, but they are expected to feature this year. Their young roster is now complemented by a bit of experience; Tom Thibodeau’s team are ready to go head-to-head with the best. The 2015-16 Rookie of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns, is a two-way 7-foot monster and could be at the heart of a successful season.
Oklahoma’s 14/1 price is arguably the greatest in terms of value. Anyone beating the Warriors will be a shock, but the arrival of George and Anthony gives the Thunder the best chance of the lot.
With another signing the Rockets would be much closer to Golden State, but the Spurs are the team the Warriors will be most concerned about at this point.
* Odds subject to change