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NBA Top 10 Rankings -- Christmas Edition

   by Al McMordie - 12/26/2014

With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, we now have a substantial amount of data on which to rank the NBA teams. Here are my Top 10 (with current odds to win the NBA Title (per Bovada Sportsbook)).

1. Golden State Warriors, 23-5 record, 18-9-1 ATS (5-1 odds) (previous ranking: 1)

2. Portland Trail Blazers, 23-7 record, 17-12-1 ATS (20-1 odds) (previous ranking: 2)

3. Toronto Raptors, 22-7 record, 17-2 ATS (22-1 odds) (previous ranking: 4)

4. Oklahoma City Thunder, 14-16 record, 15-14-1 ATS (8-1 odds) (previous ranking: NR)

5. San Antonio Spurs, 18-12 record, 14-16 ATS (11-2 odds) (previous ranking: 6)

6. Houston Rockets, 20-7 record, 15-12 ATS (14-1 odds) (previous ranking: 8)

7. Atlanta Hawks, 21-7 record, 18-10 ATS (22-1 odds) (previous ranking: NR)

8. Los Angeles Clippers, 20-10 record, 12-18 ATS (12-1 odds) (previous ranking: NR)

9. Chicago Bulls, 20-9 record, 15-14 ATS (7-1 odds) (previous ranking: NR)

10. Memphis Grizzlies, 21-7 record, 14-14 ATS (16-1 odds) (previous ranking: 7)

Let's take a look at our rankings. At first glance, my ranking of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are tied (with Miami) for the league's 16th-best record at 14-16, at #4 might seem high. But this is a team which has been injury-riddled all season, yet still should find a way into the Playoff picture by season's end. The Thunder's victory, without Kevin Durant, at San Antonio on Christmas, served notice that this is a team which will be feared come April.

Similarly, my ranking of the 18-12 Spurs, at #5, may seem high. But San Antonio has also had to deal with injuries, not to mention complacency after winning last year's title. Yes, San Antonio's lost five of its last six games, but it was missing two key players: Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and back-up point guard Patty Mills. When those two return to the fold (both will be back in January), the Spurs should start to return to the form which enabled them to win the Championship last June.

Golden State, though, has earned its number 1 ranking. The Warriors have the league's longest win streak this season (16 games), and are the only team to be holding its foes to less than 1.01 points per possession, and they also rank among the Top 10 in offensive efficiency.

Portland also received consideration for the Top spot. It has sustained its great play throughout the season, and has won six of its last seven games. Among its recent victims were San Antonio (twice), as well as the Thunder (at OKC). Portland also ranks (along with Chicago, Atlanta and Memphis) as one of just four teams among the Top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency.

Interestingly, four of the 10 teams in my rankings were unranked in my standings five weeks ago. And I correctly forecast in the last rankings that Memphis (then ranked 7th with a 10-1 record) would come back down to earth, as its gaudy record belied its more-pedestrian margin of victory. Indeed, Memphis has fallen back to the pack, and is 10th in this edition of my Top 10.

If someone wants to take a "flyer" on a team, certainly Atlanta or Toronto, each at 22-1 odds, represents decent value. Both play in the much-weaker Eastern Conference. And, as I mentioned, Atlanta has strong balance this season, as it ranks in the Top 10 in both Offense and Defense. Coach Mike Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant, is quietly building a nice team, and Atlanta's won 14 of its last 15 games (including wins over the Clippers, Rockets, Mavericks and Bulls). Toronto doesn't have the balance Atlanta does, but the Raptors do boast the league's #1 offense. Generally, I favor teams with stronger defenses to win the title. But Toronto could certainly win the East, and what if it faced off against the Clippers or Mavericks in the Finals, both of whom have worse defenses than Toronto? In such a situation, Toronto's defensive issues would be rendered moot.

Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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