Timberwolves set to get competitive in Northwest division
Cleveland and Golden State difficult to oppose for title
Starts 1am Wednesday
After all the highs, lows, sub-plots and dramas of a compelling 2016-17 regular season in the NBA, we were left, as always, with Golden State and Cleveland contesting the rings and this year is set to be no different.
Over a game or two, occasionally the Cavs and Warriors can be beaten. But over a seven-game series? Forget it.
Cleveland needed only 13 games post-season to secure Eastern Conference glory and Golden State just 17 to take the title.
Challengers will come and go but unless something long-term happens to LeBron James or Kevin Durant, we're looking at a fourth successive Golden State-Cleveland shootout in the spring.
The layers are 10-1 bar the big two which means there are some big prices around if you fancy one of the top dogs to lose its bite, but save your money.
Perhaps look at the more open divisions instead for an ante-post punt with Minnesota definitely staking a claim in the Northwest where Russell Westbrook and his Oklahoma City are justifiably jollies.
That's going to mean quite a turnaround after a 31-51 season – probably ten more wins to make the playoffs and maybe ten more to see off the Thunder, Denver and the rest.
In fact, a 41-41 term is on the conservative side of estimates for the Timberwolves, who are a team on the up and with sights set far higher.
Offence clearly isn't a problem for a team who averaged 105.6 points per game last season. What they needed was help in defence, so step forward Jimmy Butler, a three-time All Star and named on three NBA All-defensive teams.
Butler's signing is a real coup. His presence alone should be enough to see the necessary improvements in teammate Karl-Anthony Towns in the low post, and with coach Tom Thibodeau working on several defensive schemes, a new-look Minnesota are poised to get seriously competitive.
There are those who think this is a team heading for third or fourth in the seedings – that's how promising the mix looks. If that is the case, punters can consider backing them to clear 47.5 wins.
In the east, transitional Atlanta might not be quite as poor as the numbers suggest. They should get 25 wins this season if some of the youngsters who helped the Hawks into the playoffs – notably Taurean Prince – train on.
They absolutely have the right coach in Mike Budenholzer and with plenty of weak-looking outfits in the east, Atlanta could easily clinch 30 wins.
Minnesota to win Northwest
1pt 7-2 Paddy Power
Atlanta over 24.5 wins
2pts 17-20 Hills
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