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NBA Highs and Lows: Boston No. 1; Houston, We Have A Problem

Celtics Setting Pace Early; Rockets Bringing up the Rear

We are less than a week into the NBA season so things will change dramatically (the 76ers won’t go 0-82, for instance), but there’s no better time than now to take a first look at the top five teams and bottom five teams in the league. This weekly take should help those betting online for the first time as well as NBA betting experts alike.

Top Five:

1. Boston Celtics

Last season’s runners-up had their preseason thrown into turmoil with the suspension of coach Ime Udoka, but the players have stayed the course and appear motivated as all heck. They averaged 121.0 points in taking care of Philadelphia, Miami and Orlando to begin the season, and lead the league in shooting (52.0%).

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics | Megan briggs/getty images/afp

Jayson Tatum at +1200 is an outstanding selection for those of you at the sportsbook looking for an MVP wager. He’s averaging a league-leading 34.7 points per game on 58.7% shooting, looking every bit like the best offensive player in the game today. Jaylen Brown is a terrific Robin to his Batman, averaging 25 points through his first three games.

Malcolm Brogdon was the perfect addition for a team that needed another veteran at the point behind Marcus Smart, and Grand Williams is locked in from the perimeter (8-for-10 on 3-pointers). The Celtics are playing without starting center Robert Williams III, whose emergence last season made them into the best defensive team in the league. When he returns – perhaps around the New Year – there simply won’t be a hole anywhere with this team, barring injuries.

  • +600 NBA Championship Odds

2. Golden State Warriors

They had a pretty significant dust-up in training camp and an early hiccup against Denver at home, but the defending champs will find their stride, as long as they can find some edge defensively.

Opponents have scored an average of 120.7 points in the Warriors’ first three games. They ranked third in the NBA in that category a season ago, so there should be some normalization.

In the meantime, Steph Curry, another pretty great MVP pick at +1200, has scored at least 33 points in all three games, including 21 in Golden State’s 50-point second quarter against Sacramento on Sunday.

  • +600 NBA Championship Odds

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The 2021 champs saw superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo put forth a vintage effort Saturday against the Houston Rockets. The two-time MVP had 44 points on a remarkable 17-of-21 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds in a 20-point rout.

Antetokounmpo entered Monday with the best field-goal percentage (70.3) of any player with more than 20 shots on the season. Jrue Holiday, one of the many complementary pieces the Bucks need to return to the top of the heap, shook off a rocky opening to produce 19 points and 10 assists against the Rockets.

Although they’ve only played two games, the Bucks pulled into Monday with the top defensive rating (99.5) in the game. As long as Antetokounmpo is doing things like he did to Houston, that makes for a lethal combination.

  • +800 NBA Championship Odds
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks | Stacy revere/getty images/afp

4. Phoenix Suns

This spot (and maybe even one or two spots higher) was reserved for the Los Angeles Clippers if they were able to defeat the Suns on Sunday. Instead, Phoenix stormed into Arena and dismantled the Clippers, who look like they may need some more time to jell.

Devin Booker scored 35 points and Chris Paul became the third player in NBA history to reach 11,000 assists in the 112-95 win that allowed the Suns to bounce back from an overtime loss at Portland.

Because of an early exit in the 2022 playoffs, some might not recall that Phoenix was the best team in the league for pretty much all of last season. There might be a need for another depth piece later on, but there’s nothing to indicate the Suns won’t dominate for long stretches again this season.

  • +1400 NBA Championship Odds

5. Utah Jazz

Okay, we know they’re not the fifth-best team in the league. Probably not even close. They may be in the bottom five of this piece later in the season, for all we know. But in this current climate of tanking for Victor Wembanyana, it’s worth giving some props to the rebuilding-but-undefeated Jazz.

Few teams have ever cleaned house like Utah did this offseason, getting rid of franchise stalwarts Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and losing coach Quin Snyder. But behind a hot start by Lauri Markkanen (24 points per game) and some marksmanship by Kelly Olynyk (9-for-12 from the arc), the Jazz knocked off three Western Conference contenders in Denver, Minnesota and New Orleans to start the season – two of them on the road.

Let the Jazz have their top 5 glory this week.

  • +50000 NBA Championship Odds

Bottom Five:

26. Los Angeles Lakers

Can anybody around here make a shot? It took only one game for LeBron James to call out his team’s lack of marksmanship (and then one more for him to back off that criticism), as the bricks keep piling up in Los Angeles.

Entering Monday, the Lakers were last in the NBA in field-goal percentage (40.7) and 3-point percentage (21.2, more than eight percentage points below the next-worst team). They hit only 6-of-33 triples in Sunday’s 106-104 loss to Portland, going 0-for-4 in a fourth quarter that saw the Blazers rally to catch them in the closing seconds.

LeBron missed a 17-footer at the buzzer and Los Angeles was left with its first 0-3 start since 2018. Like Utah up above, the Lakers probably won’t stay here. For now, they deserve to have their brick-laying brigade called out.

  • +2200 NBA Championship Odds

27. Orlando Magic

The schedule hasn’t been too kind, with a pair of road games to start the season and then a home opener against the mighty Celtics. Perhaps this young squad will rise up the rankings, but there will be plenty of bumps in the road along the way.

No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero has three straight 20-point games to begin his career, but he’s just 12-for-37 from the floor over his last two as he figures out how to operate against NBA defenses.

The Magic are last in the East in assists per game (19.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.26), a sure sign of a team that needs time to mesh. Coach Jamahl Mosley, who is now 22-63 with Orlando, has his work cut out for him.

  • +100000 NBA Championship Odds
Paolo Banchero #5 and Franz Wagner #22 of the Orlando Magic
Paolo Banchero #5 and Franz Wagner #22 of the Orlando Magic | Douglas p. defelice/getty images/afp

28. Sacramento Kings

There is optimism that the longest playoff drought in the NBA (16 years) could end this season, but until the results change we’ll keep the Kings in the bottom five. An encouraging sign is that all three losses in their 0-3 start were by single digits, including a 130-125 defeat at Golden State on Sunday.

Perhaps a turnaround is on the horizon. De’Aaron Fox entered Monday one of nine NBA players averaging at least 30 points per game and rookie Keegan Murray – MVP of the NBA Summer League – looks the part of a franchise fixture.

First-year coach Mike Brown has plenty to work with and we expect this team to improve as the season goes along. For now, it’s one of just a handful of winless squads looking to break through.

  • +50000 NBA Championship Odds

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Like Orlando and Sacramento, the talent is there. So, too, is the youth, as the Thunder have nine players on the active roster who are either rookies or in their second year in the league. They were the lowest-scoring team in the NBA last season and have been among the worst-shooting squads early in 2022-23.

Who knows how much of an impact Chet Holmgren, who is out for the season following foot surgery, would’ve had on the win-loss situation in Oklahoma City. His absence may contribute to the team’s chances at landing Wembanyana, which would make a pretty remarkable combination of skilled 7-footers.

Until then, the losses will continue to pile up.

  • +50000 NBA Championship Odds

30. Houston Rockets

Another young, talented roster that has a lot of learning to do. Consider their effort at Milwaukee on Saturday, in which they were outscored 41-23 in the first quarter and never recovered. Learning how to come out punching is a big part of surviving in this league, something coach Steve Silas knows well.

“The start of the game was the game, the hammer that they hit us with right from the start,” Silas told the media.

Veteran squads can assess and overcome situations such as that. Houston, which is allowing an NBA-high 123.7 points per game, isn’t there yet. Not even close.

  • +100000 NBA Championship Odds
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