“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion” is one of the all-time great sporting quotes, and maybe it’s one that can help us unearth a decent priced NBA bet too.
Legendary coach Rudy Tomjanovich came out with those words after watching his Houston Rockets successfully defend their NBA title in 1995, despite a terrible regular season that saw them crawl into the postseason seeded only 6th in the Western Conference.
In fact, they became the lowest seed in basketball history to win the NBA Championship, starting every series of that title run as underdogs before beating each opponent, prompting Coach TJ to utter those immortal words as the ticker tape rained down after they’d swept the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals.
If that quote had come from another great champion in another sport, it would still feel somewhat relevant to the current NBA season, but the fact they were uttered about a great basketball team who struggled through the regular season but were confident that as long as they made the playoffs they had the experience and class - built round one of the game’s all-time greats - to repeat feels like it could have been written about this year’s Golden State Warriors.
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That 1995 Rockets team couldn’t have had it much tougher, coming through Stockton and Malone and the Utah Jazz in the first round, Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semis and the 62-win San Antonio Spurs - built around MVP David Robinson - in the Conference Finals. They started the Finals as underdogs for the 4th straight round, but upset the odds - and showed the heart of a champion - once again to beat the Orlando Magic - and Shaq and Penny - 4-0 to retain their title.
Fast forward today and again, last year’s champs have had a ridiculously up and down season. Maybe we should have seen it coming given it started with two of their key players, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole, having a punch up!
The Warriors have hovered around .500 all season due to their horrendous road form cancelling out how good they’ve been at Chase Center.
The recent 122-120 defeat of the high-flying Memphis Grizzlies - at home of course - saw Golden State move back to .500 at 24-24, but the Western Conference is so close that if they can click, a top 4 seed, and a home playoff opener is not out of the question.
The Warriors’ home/away differential is so amazing you have to look twice to check you’re reading it right - that win over the Grizz made them 18-6 at home and 6-18 away.
At home, only the top two teams in the West, Denver and Memphis, have a better record, but away, only the bottom two, Houston and San Antonio have worse.
Putting that road form right is of course a priority. Third placed Sacramento have only won four more games than the team in 13th, the LA Lakers, and Steve Kerr knows if his team can go on a run, that number 3 seed is in play.
It’s easy to say if any team can do it, it’s the Warriors, but there is some substance to that argument (over and above they have the best shooter in NBA history).
Injuries have prevented Golden State’s starting 5 playing much together, but when they have, they’ve been very, very good, rated top two in the league all season. Now fully fit, they’re primed to make that count.
In the meantime, some of the peripheral players have shown they have something to offer, which will prove important come the business end of the season.
Whether they run with the traditional starting line-up with Kevon Looney at center, or the ‘Poole Party’ that has Jordan Poole in for Looney, Golden State’s best 6 players - those 2 plus Steph, Klay, Wiggins and Draymond - are obvious. If Andre Iguodala can still add something that will be a bonus, but Donte DiVincenzo, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and even two-way player Anthony Lamb have shown promise.
There may well still be a deal to be done too, with James Wiseman, the number two pick in the 2020 draft, a chip that could be cashed in for someone who can contribute right away.
At 24-24, the Warriors are only three wins from third in the West, but also only one win ahead of the 13th-placed Lakers. It’s now or never for this team - if things go south, the dynasty that has seen them win four of the last eight titles is over. But at 10/1 I’m backing them…after all, history shows us never to underestimate the heart of a champion.
RECOMMENDATION: 3pts Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title
Latest NBA Championship Odds
Boston Celtics: 4.80
Brooklyn Nets: 7.50
Milwaukee Bucks: 8.00
Denver Nuggets: 8.00
Golden State Warriors: 10.00
Memphis Grizzlies: 11.00
LA Clippers: 13.00
Philadelphia 76ers: 13.00
Phoenix Suns: 19.00
Cleveland Cavaliers: 19.00
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By Max Bennett | 01/28/23
Follow Max Bennett on Twitter at @MaxBTheJumpHub