In the wake of a manic NBA trade deadline, we can focus wholly on the play-offs. So what’s worth a punt following all the moves and shakes?
1 The title’s still wide open. Right out to the LA Clippers – an over-priced 21.00 – there are potential champions. But there was a big winner in the West’s trading frenzy. We saw in the All Star Game what damage Russell Westbrook could do so but now Oklahoma City Thunder, now cut from 13.00 to 11.00, have rolled the dice for trades that let Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins leave and Enes Kanter come in with DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler, giving them the outside shooters they need to push up their points average.
2 The parity in the East will mean some tough evenings for playoff scrappers. Just two victories separate Charlotte in 7th and Indiana in 12th. But the East’s winners on Thursday were the Miami Heat whose acquisition of Goran Dragic makes them much better. Detroit has eased forward. But Charlotte, Boston and Brooklyn have slipped back. And I forecast the Nets will score more but concede extra by ditching Kevin Garnett.
3 Keep an eye on the Southwest and Central Division races. In the latter, it’s between Cleveland and Chicago but while LeBron James and Co are hot on the heels of their rivals, the Bulls seem to be hitting their stride with some additional health. And at 2.25 to retain top spot, they deserve a look.
The Southwest is far from over with the Memphis Grizzlies supremacy under a three-way threat from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Expecting Amar’e Stoudemire’s arrival to transform the Mavericks is a reach but Rajon Rondo’s currently-slow integration could pay eventual dividends at 6.00.
4 The New York Knicks are going to be horrible without Carmelo Anthony. Already the third-worst offensive team after Philadelphia and Charlotte, NYC’s hapless squad are a mammoth 9.8 points worse off with their star out of the game. Putting up 92.5 points per night pre-All Star, it could get even uglier, especially on Sunday when the Knicks host the Cavs, when a -18.5 handicap on Cleveland might be an under-estimation. Ditto the Lakers, Magic, and Philly, who are set for some killer defeats.
Best bet: Back Golden State at -8.5 against San Antonio on Friday. But keep a close eye elsewhere on trade signings who aren’t available to make their debuts, leaving their new teams short-handed and under-strength.