The NBA's most dominant teams are obviously heavy favorites to win the 2014 title, but the road to the NBA Finals is a long one that will take consistency right from the opening tip off of the playoffs.
Betting odds are only a small indication of how the playoffs are predicted to go. They take into account past successes, records and dominant players. Something they don't take into account, apparently, are recent stretches.
The Miami Heat enter the postseason with the best odds to win. They also crawled into the postseason with a record of 13-14 since the beginning of March. LeBron James might be the best player on the planet, but this Heat team isn't as sound as it has been in the past. It'll be interesting to see how much success they have.
Playoff odds only tell so much. Here are the odds for the top three contenders, along with some predictions as to how their playoff experiences will go.
|San Antonio Spurs||3-1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||19-5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||10-1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||50-1|
|Golden State Warriors||60-1|
Miami Heat: 19-10
Like I said earlier, the Heat stumbled into the postseason on a low note. Ending the year on a 13-14 run and still having the top odds for the NBA Finals speaks to how talented this team is—when healthy. Healthy is the operative word here, folks, as nobody really knows how much of a factor Dwyane Wade will be in the postseason.
Wade played in 54 games this year, and Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald broke down why he missed those 28 games:
Wade has missed 28 games this season, and the majority of those games were scheduled days of rest to reduce the wear and tear on his legs. Most recently Wade sat out nine games because of a hamstring injury. Wade has also missed time with a sore Achilles’ tendon.
I'm not sure if the Heat can afford to give Wade scheduled days off during the playoffs, but head coach Erik Spoelstra might give it a try. I would think if the Heat face a situation when they have three wins and the opposition has one then Wade might sit. But that's pure speculation.
The key to a Miami three-peat lies in the production they can get from Wade. When healthy, he's one of the top shooting guards in the game. He gives James a great second option either on the wing or near the basket.
If Wade can stay completely healthy throughout the grind of the playoffs, then I think the Heat's odds of winning the title are strong. If not, then it'll all go downhill.
San Antonio Spurs: 3-1
ESPN's Skip Bayless has made it clear who he thinks will win the NBA title:
... the San Antonio Spurs are about to ruin what shape up as all-time great, superstar-studded Western Conference playoffs by winning them, then wreaking revenge on the Miami Heat by beating them in six games in the NBA Finals in Miami, as they should have last June. The Spurs have waited for these playoffs since that nightmarish night of June 18, when they were up five, 28 seconds away from their fifth NBA championship, and blew it. Heat in seven.
Now: Spurs in six.
The veteran experience of this Spurs team is unmatched in the NBA today. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and head coach Gregg Popovich have all been there before. In fact, a vast majority of this team have also been there before (last year's NBA Finals).
They're another year older, however. While I trust them to get past the Dallas Mavericks in Round 1, the competition will only get more dynamic as the playoffs progress.
A team that San Antonio will struggle mightily to get past is Oklahoma City. The Thunder were 4-0 against the Spurs this year, and I think that success will carry over into the playoffs. Confidence is key for a younger team against a wily veteran squad.
While I think the Spurs would beat the Heat in the NBA Finals, I simply don't think they'll get the chance. The Western Conference will reign supreme this year, but it won't be the Spurs hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 19-5
When in doubt, put the vote to the people. That's what SportsCenter did to determine who the public thought would win the NBA Finals this season:
The votes are in! SC fans think Kevin Durant will win his first title. 1. Thunder 29% 2. Heat 27% 3. Spurs 23% 4. Clippers 11% 5. Pacers 10%— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 18, 2014
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are a dynamic duo capable of taking over games. The two combined for well over 50 points per game this season, and its conceivable for them to up that total to 60 per game during the playoffs. That type of production will be hard to match.
Bayless, a staunch opponent to the Thunder, doesn't think OKC are ready to make a push. He believes Durant and Westbrook are the reason why, via Erik Horne of NewsOK.com:
Westbrook, who often plays with unguardable rage, still has one rock rattling around in his head and remains highly capable of the kind of eight-turnover, 4-for-23 night that drives Durant to technicals.
Bayless is basically using their youth and immaturity against them here. While it's a bit extreme, the possibility for it to happen is there.
I'm hoping to see the Thunder and the Spurs do battle at some point during the playoffs. In such a matchup, I'm taking the youth over the age. The Spurs are great, but the Thunder are more dynamic. From there, they could conceivably win the NBA title.