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Jazz Still Favored to Win Northwest, But Challengers Lurk

Eric Rosales

by Eric Rosales in NBA Basketball

Updated Mar 26, 2020 · 10:12 AM PDT

Donovan Mitchell
The Jazz are off to a slow start this season, in part to an injury to Donovan Mitchell. Photo by Frenchieinportland (Wiki Commons).
  • Utah’s slow start hasn’t hurt their division-winning odds
  • Do the upstart Nuggets have staying power?
  • What Northwest Division team offers the best odds?

It was expected that the battle for Northwest Division supremacy would be between the Utah Jazz and OKC Thunder, who met in a spirited first round playoff matchup a year ago.

But as both those clubs have stumbled out of the gate, only one appears to have staying power as a favorite. Let’s break this down.

Odds to win the Northwest Division in 2018-19

Team Record Odds to Win the Northwest Division
Utah Jazz 4-6 +220
Denver Nuggets 9-2 +275
Oklahoma City Thunder 6-4 +325
Portland Trail Blazers 8-3 +450
Minnesota Timberwolves 4-8 +800

Why are the Jazz Still Favorites?

Perhaps track record and continuity count for something. Last year, the Jazz were a run-of-the-mill 19-28 through 47 games, before they ripped up the league with a 29-6 run to close out the season.

This was a team that also led the league in defensive rating and tied with the Spurs for the fewest points allowed per game – the only two teams in the Association that were able to keep the opposition to under 100 points per game.

And they’re running back virtually the same group. They’ve been hobbled by star guard Donovan Mitchell missing three games with an ankle injury, but he looks to be back in fine form, handing out a wild poster Wednesday night against the Mavericks – earning Utah its first win at home in five games this season.

If you’re wondering about the Thunder, it’s shocking they’ve somehow been given shorter odds than the Trail Blazers (more on them below).

Don’t be fooled by a nice win stretch after a rough start: OKC is fatally flawed, beginning with the head coach and a system that would do well in 1997. It’s one wager I’d avoid at all costs.

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Nuggets, Blazers are Real Contenders

The Denver Nuggets have to be the Rodney Dangerfield’s of betting right now. They are the only team to hang an L on the Golden State Warriors, and are just one game off the pace of both the Dubs and Raptors.

But in the Northwest? That only gets you the second shortest odds.

Denver is taking a page from the Jazz, as they are doing it on defense early on. They’re second in defensive rating and points allowed, and have limited the opposition to just a 33% clip from deep (8th in the NBA).

It helps when you have the most talented all-around big man in Nikola Jokic, and a budding star in Jamal Murray out on the wing. It’s a question of whether they can sustain this Rocky Mountain high over the course of an 82-game grind.

Nuggets vs Trail Blazers Statistical Comparison

Trail Blazers
109.8 (11th) Offensive Rating 114.2 (7th)
109.5 (13th) Points 117.3 (7th)
24.7 (11th) Assists 20.5 (27th)
45.9 (13th) Field-Goal Percentage 47.0 (9th)
30.8 (28th) Three-Point Percentage 36.1 (11th)
101.6 (2nd) Defensive Rating 104.8 (5th)
101.2 (2nd) Points Allowed 107.4 (6th)
45.1 (13th) Field-Goal Percentage Allowed 42.7 (3rd)
33.0 (8th) Three-Point Percentage Allowed 33.4 (11th)
48.8 (14th) Points In The Paint 48.7 (13th)

And what about the Portland Trail Blazers?

There were some serious doubts as to whether Terry Stotts could reignite a team that many believed had gone stale following a crushing sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last season.

But after dusting the Bucks Tuesday, Portland is sitting pretty at 8-3, and a roster largely untouched is now looking like a better idea than blowing the whole thing up.

We all know the Portland goes as Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum go, but it’s nice to know that there is some additional shooting on this team.

Taking a chance on Nik Stauskas has paid early dividends, as he’s firing at 42.5% from beyond the arc, giving Portland additional spacing to let their guards do work. Stauskas delivered the game of his career opening night against the Lakers.

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While Portland is more balanced on both ends of the court, Denver’s offense should improve, particularly their three-point shooting. If both keep up their torrid pace and the Jazz can’t pick up steam, these could very well be the teams battling it out for the division crown.

Pick a Winner

If we’re going strictly on value, how can you not  lay a wager on the Blazers at +450? Get on it while it’s at that figure, because another hot month and these odds shorten quickly.

Overall, I like Denver (+275) right now, as they have a roster built to handle the long grind of the season. It’s also an altitude advantage on their home court, where they can really club teams on the tail end of a road trip, and those Ws will add up.

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