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NBA Top 5 Report: Nuggets Fortifying Reign Atop Wild West

Another week in the West and it’s still a three-team race with under three weeks to go. As you ready for your next round of wagering, consider some tidbits offered in this weekly NBA basketball update on the Western Conference.

 

NBA Top 5 Report: Nuggets Fortifying Reign Atop Wild West
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets | Amanda Loman/Getty Images/AFP

1. Denver Nuggets

The Boston Celtics remain the favorite among NBA title odds, but should they be? The Nuggets are on pace to soar past last season’s win total, they’ve already defeated the Celtics twice in two meetings and they’ve been victorious in 15 of their last 17 games.

Throw in a relative degree of good health and a pretty favorable path toward locking down the No. 1 seed, and you have every reason to back them with a long-term bet online.

Denver kicked off its current four-game winning streak with a victory over Minnesota on the road. It gets two more opportunities to bury the Timberwolves (in the race for the top seed only) and both of those games are in the Mile High City.

The Nuggets on Monday had one of those nights that coaches dream about in these situations. They built a huge lead at home against Memphis and had an opportunity to sit the big guns down the stretch. The closeness of the West race will make it hard to keep minutes down for Nikola Jokic and company, but Michael Malone will take advantage of every opportunity.

With games against Utah, Atlanta, Memphis, and two vs San Antonio remaining, there should be a few more easy ones.

 

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

The West leader for much of the season, the Timberwolves are now 1½ games out and currently the No. 3 seed. But don’t expect them to go quietly. They’ve won five of their last six and still have those two potentially big ones in Denver.

Oh, and they also have Anthony Edwards, who has the look of a guy who’s hell-bent on a strong postseason run. He’s played 49 straight games and since the start of February is averaging 28.2 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.

With a maturing Edwards and stable veterans such as Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert, not to mention the injured Karl-Anthony Towns, this is a team that feels its time is now. Unlike last season, when expectations, injuries, and discontent among the ranks derailed a once-promising campaign, this one is full steam ahead.

Give credit to those vets and head coach Chris Finch for the stability. The talent will do the rest. This is not a team you want to face in the playoffs, but it’s one worth a bet at the sportsbook.

 

 

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder took one on the chin at Milwaukee the other night, ending a four-game winning streak with a 118-93 loss. It was their season’s lowest-scoring game, and the stars did not shine.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 12 points – his lowest total since Oct. 29 – on 5-for-12 shooting and rookie Chet Holmgren was a putrid 1-for-10 from the floor.

It’s just one game and these guys are still only a game behind Denver entering Tuesday’s action. However, we’ve speculated all season that the heavy usage of Oklahoma City’s young stars, particularly Holmgren, might catch up to them. It’ll be interesting to see if/how they bounce back in a tough one at New Orleans on Tuesday.

Remember, Holmgren still hasn’t taken a game off, playing all 70 after sitting out a full season and playing just one year (32 games) in college. And the Thunder have one of the busier finishes in the league, entering Tuesday with fewer games played than all but Golden State (also 70 games).

Keep an eye on the NBA news and rumors page to see if/when Holmgren or others get a break.

 

4. New Orleans Pelicans

As we predicted recently, the Pelicans have seized the fourth spot in the West, at least for now, and they play each of their next six games at home. It’s a great opportunity for this crew to nail down homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

New Orleans displayed some cohesiveness and camaraderie in a runaway win at Miami last weekend, avenging an earlier loss to the Heat that set off a series of verbal spats between the teams. The Pelicans seemed pretty focused on winning the battle on the court and then took to their socials to lay it on Miami players, particularly Jimmy Butler.

Whether you like that sort of thing or not, it can’t hurt to galvanize a group. New Orleans is 18-6 over its last 24 games and getting stronger – and seemingly closer as a unit – by the day.

 

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Whenever your head coach feels the need to call out his players near the end of March, you know things aren’t going well.

Days after Paul George questioned his team’s identity, here was Lue following a 113-116 home loss to Indiana:

“So identity for us, it’s got to be toughness. Which means physicality, mental and physical toughness, a high-powered offense — we can score in a lot of different ways — and we got to have a defensive mindset. And so right now, do we have an identity? I think, yeah, we’re soft.”

Yikes, not what you want to hear with about 10 games to play and still plenty to be decided in terms of seeding. Los Angeles begins a big four-game road trip at Philadelphia on Wednesday. Maybe things can get sorted out away from home, where the Clippers have lost five in a row.

 

 

Questions of the Day

Which NBA game stands out on Tuesday, March 26’s schedule?


Dallas visits Sacramento with both teams sitting at 42-29. The Kings currently own the tiebreaker and therefore sit in the sixth spot in the West, while the Mavericks would be forced to engage in a play-in game if the standings stay the same. A Dallas win flip-flops the two teams.

What injury situations in the NBA West bear watching?


LeBron James is listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s game at Milwaukee and both Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon sat out Denver’s game vs Memphis on Monday (not that it mattered).

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