The 2013-2014 NBA season kicks off tomorrow night and there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch over the next eight months.
In the Eastern Conference, LeBron James will try to lead the Miami Heat to a third straight NBA title, while 2011 MVP Derrick Rose is set to return from a torn ACL in his left knee and turn the Chicago Bulls back into championship contenders. In the jam-packed West, the Oklahoma City Thunder will attempt to cope with the loss of Russell Westbrook for at least the next six weeks, and at least a half-dozen teams will compete for the top spot in the conference.
The beginning of a new season also means new opportunities to gamble, so this week's top-10 is devoted to the best NBA bets offered by online sportsbooks.
Note: All bets are based on odds offered by online sportsbooks on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
10. Philadelphia 76ers under 16.5 regular season wins (+105) -- Paddy Power Sportsbook
Even though I'm a Sixers fan, I'm rooting for them to win as few games as possible. Philly is tanking this season with the hope of "earning" the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, where they'll eventually select Canadian sensation Andrew Wiggins. And for a team that has no shot of competing for a playoff spot -- much less an NBA title -- the top draft pick is a great consolation.
The Sixers, despite having a strong outlook for the future under new general manager Sam Hinkie, are going to be absolutely dreadful this year. Jrue Holiday, the team's leading scorer last season, now plays in New Orleans. First-round pick Nerlens Noel is out for the season. And Evan Turner, who sadly projects to be the Sixers' top scoring option this year, will likely be traded before the February deadline.
Though only four teams have finished with fewer than 17 wins in the last 10 years (we can count the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats, who won seven in the 66-game lockout-shortened season, which projects to just nine wins over 82 games), this year's Sixers squad seems ripe for a historically bad campaign.
9. Roy Hibbert to win rebounding title (+7400) -- Unibet Sports & Racebook
This is a total shot in the dark, as evidenced by the ridiculous 74-to-1 odds. Hibbert's 8.3 boards per game were 19th in the league last year, and his 13.9 rebounds per 48 minutes finished tied for 20th.
But Hibbert's numbers improved in the playoffs, where the 7-foot-2 center averaged 9.9 boards in just over 36 minutes per contest. He had double-digit rebounds in four of the six Eastern Conference semifinals games against the Knicks and in five of the seven conference finals games against the Heat, including a 17-board performance in Game 3.
Hibbert has the potential to dominate on the glass, and Pacers head coach Frank Vogel focuses on offensive rebounding perhaps more than any other coach in the league. Like I said, this bet is a long shot, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hibbert makes a run at the rebounding title.
8. Western Conference team wins NBA title (+110) -- bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook
The Miami Heat are the favorites to win the championship this year, meaning that any Western Conference foe they face in the finals will be an underdog. And while that may be true, there are so many top-flight teams in the West that it seems prudent to take the 55 percent equity on what I think is a coin-flip bet.
The San Antonio Spurs, dogs against the champion Heat in last season's finals, were one made free throw away from winning the title in Game 6. This year, I think at least five, if not six, Western Conference teams have a legitimate shot at winning the title. The Heat are older and more vulnerable than ever. I like this price.
7. Stephen Curry to win scoring title (+1400) -- Paddy Power
I think Kevin Durant will win the league scoring title this season. But Curry, whose 22.9 points per game were good for seventh in the NBA in 2012-2013, could sneak to the top if things break the right way. It will take a lot for Curry to leapfrog the six guys who outscored him last year -- in addition to Rose -- but I absolutely love the 14-to-1 odds on this bet.
Curry has the potential to go off for 40 points every night. He's one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the league and drains 90 percent of his free throws. With the league moving more and more towards a pace-and-space style of offense, it should create even more three-point-shot opportunities for Curry.
Let's also not forget that Curry won the NCAA scoring title in 2008-2009 when he averaged 28.6 points per game as a junior for Davidson. I'm feeling a potential repeat.
6. Kevin Durant to win scoring title (+120) -- Unibet
Forget everything I just said -- Durant is winning the scoring title. The Thunder star led the league in scoring for three straight years from 2009-2012 and finished just 0.6 points behind Carmelo Anthony for the title last year.
Durant is going to play angry this season. His Thunder have fallen short in the playoffs the last two seasons, with last year's coming to an end after Westbrook went down with an injury. Westbrook will miss at least the first six weeks of this season, meaning Durant will have to carry the scoring load ordinarily split between two of the game's top players.
Durant became just the seventh player in NBA history last year to hit the 50-40-90 club (50 percent field goal shooting, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul line). I think he'll do it again this year. And he’ll also eclipse the already massive 1,433 field goal attempts he had last year. The world is about to see one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the league.
5. Boston Celtics to not make the playoffs (-450) -- Paddy Power
I'm willing to lay the big odds here because, quite frankly, the Celtics don't even want to make the playoffs. Rajon Rondo will keep them relevant for a while, but I have to imagine he'll be traded, along with Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, by February if not sooner.
Boston, under new whiz-kid head coach Brad Stevens, has its eyes on the future and a top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The C's will be tanking this year, and with 10 other Eastern Conference teams having legitimate postseason aspirations, Boston seems like a sure bet to be watching the playoffs on TV come late April. I'm willing to lay the odds on it.
4. New Orleans Pelicans under 39 regular season wins (+100) -- BetVictor Sports
There's a lot of optimism in New Orleans right now, following the offseason acquisitions of Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Last June's first-overall pick Anthony Davis is primed for a breakout season, and the Pelicans are sure to be one of the most exciting young teams in the league.
Only they might not play any defense. Davis is a monster in the paint, but a bulk of the rotation is filled by Evans, Holiday, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson -- offensive juggernauts but weak on the defensive end. And New Orleans plays in quite possibly the most competitive division in all of sports, with three championship contenders in San Antonio, Memphis and Houston and a playoff hopeful in Dallas.
I think the 39-win over/under is inflated by the hype, and I'm happy to take an under when getting even money.
3. Washington Wizards over 39.5 regular season wins (+105) -- Bovada Sportsbook
The Wizards played better than .500 basketball when guards John Wall and Bradley Beal were both available last season. Washington went just 29-53 last year, but their Pythagorean expectation gave them 32 victories.
Unlike the Pelicans, Washington plays in one of the worst divisions in the league, minus the world-beater Miami Heat at the top. The Wiz should compete for the playoffs this season in an East that has three spots up for grabs between six teams. I think they get there and come into the postseason as the No. 7 seed -- that's a definite 40 wins.
2. Kevin Durant to win MVP (+400) -- Bovada
Remember when I said the world is about to see one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the league? Well, Durant will still have to play a complete game if he wants to cease playing second fiddle to big bad LeBron James.
Durant, James and Rose, and maybe Chris Paul, are the only legitimate candidates to take home the MVP hardware this season. I think Durant gets there if the aforementioned offensive outburst happens, and if he continues to improve in filling out the stat sheet. Durant's assists-per-game jumped to 4.6 last year to go along with his 7.9 boards. If he goes 30-8-5 this year, the MVP is his.
1. San Antonio Spurs to win NBA title (+1400) -- Paddy Power
This is such an unbelievable price for a team that was the 2012-2013 NBA champion until a missed free throw, a crazy offensive rebound and an off-balance Ray Allen sent the finals to a Game 7.
The Spurs' odds are deflated by the fact that they play in an insanely tough division in an equally insane conference. When the playoffs get going, Tim Duncan will be 38 years old, Manu Ginobili will be 36 and Tony Parker will be 32. But if those guys can stay fresh -- and head coach Gregg Popovich always makes sure they do -- the Spurs will be contenders come spring time.
With another year for Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter to develop, San Antonio should once again be a clinic in efficiency this year. They'll outwork and outthink their opponents all year, and when the playoffs start, they'll be ready.