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West looks wide open after Warriors’ decline

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LeBron James ruled the Eastern Conference eight straight years – four with the Heat then four with the Cavaliers – until going to Los Angeles last year. That left a power vacuum in the East last season, and several teams raced to seize LeBron’s vacated crown. The Bucks dominated at times. The 76ers rose throughout the season. The Celtics drew attention as a potential sleeping giant. The Pacers fought until the end. Ultimately, the Raptors emerged on their way to the 2019 NBA title. It was wonderful, intriguing competition.

Now, the Western Conference will get its turn.

The Warriors have won the West an incredible five straight years, but their hegemony appears over. Kevin Durant left. Klay Thompson is injured. D'Angelo Russell creates fit issues.

With Golden State downgraded from overwhelming favorite into a member of the pack, the field looks wide open. Each team’s odds of winning the West:*

*All odds in this article are derived from Sports Odds History. I converted the listed odds so the odds add up to 100% to effectively remove the vig.

  • L.A. Clippers: 27%
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 20%
  • Houston Rockets: 10%
  • Jazz: 10%
  • Warriors: 9%
  • Nuggets: 7%
  • Trail Blazers: 6%
  • Dallas Mavericks: 3%
  • San Antonio Spurs: 2%
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 1%
  • Sacramento Kings: 1%
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 1%
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 1%
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 1%
  • Phoenix Suns: 1%

Here’s how that distribution looks:

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And here’s how this year’s preseason odds (orange) compare to last year’s preseason odds (blue):

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The line is far flatter since the decline of the Warriors, who were favored over the field to win the West each of the previous three seasons.

Even relative to a larger historical sample that mostly predates Golden State’s dominance, this year’s odds are quite flat. Here are this season’s preseason odds (orange) and the average preseason odds based on conference rank in the previous decade (blue):

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This is the first time since 2008-09 that… five teams had better than 9% odds… six teams had better than 7% odds… seven teams had better than 5% odds of winning the West.

Of course, preseason odds don’t dictate how the season will play out. The 2014-15 odds were fairly balanced, the Spurs leading (30%) and Golden State sixth (6%).

The Warriors earned the No. 1 seed by 11 games and mostly breezed through the playoffs.

In retrospect, that season usually gets lumped with presumptions of Golden State dominance. But the Warriors didn’t enter that year much hype. Heck, even after winning the 2015 NBA title, they fell behind San Antonio in the preseason 2016 Western Conference-title odds.

Few would be surprised if the Clippers or Lakers ran away with the conference this season. Maybe one of those Los Angeles teams will start a dynasty. Maybe the Warriors will extend theirs. Maybe some other team will emerge.

We often don’t have a clue, and predictions are even more difficult this year.

It should be fun.

Jonathan Isaac out for Magic-Spurs because he sprained ankle during orange-uniform unveiling

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The Magic just unveiled orange uniforms that don’t at all fit the team’s identity.

And it’s even worse than that!

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

It’s unfortunate Jonathan Isaac is dealing with this. He doesn’t deserve to be sidelined.

With that out of the way… HAHAHAHA. This is the funniest NBA injury since Andrew Bynum went bowling.

Lakers’ Anthony Davis expected to return Friday; Avery Bradley out 1-2 weeks with fracture

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Anthony Davis sat out Wednesday night’s comfortable Lakers win over Golden State, the star letting a sore shoulder and ribs heal.

Apparently, that’s all he’s sitting out. While nothing will be official until close to game time, Davis went through shootaround and looks to be a go Friday night against Sacramento at Staples Center. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Went through shootaround today,” Davis said Friday morning. “Felt good.”

Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game, anchoring a Lakers’ defense that has been best in the NBA this season. It goes without saying the Lakers are better when he is on the court.

Only Davis knows his body and how he feels, but he also has a history of missing games due to minor but nagging injuries. Should the Lakers consider giving Davis another night off to make sure he is fully healed, plus give the rest of his body some time to rest?

“What, like, load management? No,” Davis said…

“I want to play,” Davis said. “But obviously saying that, the training staff will probably be more reluctant to [let me play]. If it’s still bothering me a little bit, [they’ll] have me sit out. Or if it’s feeling good, I’m going to play. … Just to know that the way the team played when I sat out, I don’t have to be in a rush to get back.”

For some fans — and LeBron James (in a shrewd PR move with the team down the hall) — have pushed back on the idea of load management. Which has somehow become a dirty phrase around the NBA, despite the science showing it can help reduce injuries, improve performance, and lengthen careers.

Lakers fans buying into and parroting the anti-load management argument may want to go find a Toronto Raptors fan and ask if they would trade the 22 games Kawhi Leonard missed last regular season for that championship parade. Or, just wait until the Lakers do some of it later in the season (but, like all teams now, will mask it with “sore back” or some other minor ailment that could be played through, just to avoid the PR hit).

While Davis is back, the Lakers are going to miss Avery Bradley for at least a week with a hairline fracture in his leg. From the official Lakers’ press release:

An MRI last night revealed a hairline fracture in a non-weight bearing bone of Avery Bradley’s right leg (on the fibular head). Bradley will be re-evaluated in 1 to 2 weeks.

Bradley has started all 10 games he has played in for the Lakers, averaging 9.4 points a game and giving them an active perimeter defender. Fortunately, this doesn’t sound like it will sideline him for long.

Other teams reportedly eyeing Magic’s Aaron Gordon, Orlando not interested. Yet.

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Orlando’s offense is dreadful. In the past week it finally moved into scoring more than a point per possession — just barely — but they are ranked 29th in the league. They just can’t hit shots. The Magic have the worst team three-point percentage (28.5 percent) and the worst true shooting percentage. It’s not that they’re taking bad shots, they are just not making them.

When a team struggles, other teams start to look at what players they like and may be available in a trade. Other teams watching the Magic stumble to a 4-7 start have their eyes on Aaron Gordon, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic — and he adds the Magic are not going there.

Multiple teams are monitoring Magic forward Aaron Gordon with interest should an opportunity present itself, but the Magic have shown no interest in moving him, sources said. Orlando is 4-7 and working to turn the corner early this season. Gordon signed a four-year, $76 million deal to return to the Magic in 2018.

At least not yet.

The Magic reportedly have been interested in DeMar DeRozan, but Orlando would have to move a lot of salary to land him (DeRozan makes $27.7 million this season).

One thing that has been good for Orlando this young season is the emergence of Jonathan Isaac as a player — he is already outstanding defensively, and his offense is improving (but still has a long, long way to go). Sean Deveney notes at Forbes that Orlando could change its mind about trading Gordon because of concerns about how he fits with Isaac (the team is basically net neutral when they are paired this season).

The Magic could give up forward Aaron Gordon, because there are concerns that he might not fit well over the long term with forward Jonathan Isaac, but Orlando won’t trade away Gordon for a few months of renting DeRozan, who is hardly the guy to help fix the Magic’s 3-point shooting troubles.

Gordon has two fully guaranteed years left on his contract after this season, however, it declines in value (down to $16.4 million the final season) making it very tradable.

Deveney mentions another potential target: D'Angelo Russell of Golden State. Much like Gordon, the Warriors are not interested in talking Russell trades yet, but that could change depending upon how the season evolves.

It’s early. Teams are just in the first stages of assessing their team and thinking about potential players who can help. The Magic, and Gordon, are a team to watch, particularly if the offense doesn’t turn around.

 

 

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.