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Oddsmakers pick the Lakers to top the league

Oddsmakers pick the Lakers to top the league

At season’s start, oddsmakers pick the Lakers to top the league
By Jeff Haney

Here’s how strong the defending champion Boston Celtics look from a betting perspective this NBA season, which begins today:

If you go by the Celtics’ regular-season victory over/under figure, the team is expected to win 12 fewer games than it did last season. That’s the largest projected drop-off on the entire NBA betting board.

Yet Boston’s season-win total of 54 victories is still the second-highest in the league, according to odds posted at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book.

Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with a season-win over/under of-54 1/2 victories, have a higher number attached to them at the Hilton.

The Celtics’ season-win total for the 2008-09 regular season incorporates several key factors for the defending champs. Any team that achieves a record of 66-16, as the Celtics did last season, figures to return to Earth at least to some extent the following season. The Celtics also lost James Posey, a key contributor on offense and defense in last season’s title run, to free agency. They were mostly free of major injuries last season as well. (Not surprisingly, the Celtics also performed well vis-a-vis the point spread, going 52-28-2 against the number.)

And the heart of the team returns, led by the big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. In addition to the lofty season-win total, Boston’s high expectations are reflected in the team’s odds to win the Eastern Conference title (3-2, the lowest on the board) and to repeat as NBA champions (4-1, second only to the Lakers at 5-2).

The Lakers’ season-win total, though the highest on the board, would place them in the same neighborhood as last year’s finish, 57-25 in the regular season.

Along with the Celtics, the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets figure to experience downward slides, judging by their betting numbers.

Golden State, which finished 48-34 last season, opens with a season-win total of just 37. The Warriors had an offseason marked by turmoil, losing guards Baron Davis to the Los Angeles Clippers and Monta Ellis to an injury and a subsequent 30-game suspension involving a moped accident. He’s scheduled to return Dec. 17. It’s telling that despite the Warriors’ strong straight-up record last season, they were just 34-48 against the spread.

Sacramento, which won 38 games last season but has a figure of 28 attached to it by oddsmakers for this season, appears to be facing a transition year with a young nucleus under second-year coach Reggie Theus.

Denver made the playoffs with 50 wins last season but opens this season with an over/under figure of just 41 1/2. The Nuggets return stars Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson but sustained a big loss when they traded center Marcus Camby to the Clippers.

The Clippers, thanks largely to the acquisitions of Davis and Camby, and the Miami Heat head the list of teams projected by the oddsmakers to improve their regular-season records most substantially.

The teams share an important trait: After disastrous performances last season, they have virtually nowhere to go but up.

The Clippers went 23-59 last season, while the Heat finished a league-worst 15-67. Adding to the ignominy, both teams were also money-burners against the point spread. The Clippers went 33-49 against the spread, the Heat 35-46-1.

The Heat, which drafted Michael Beasley with the second overall pick and expects Dwyane Wade to return to health, opens this season with an over/under of 37 1/2 victories. The figure for the Clippers is 34 1/2.

A couple of other laggards, the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks, are also projected to improve at least somewhat.

Pity the Memphis Grizzlies, who won 22 games last season but open this season with a season-win total of just 23 1/2 — the lowest number on the betting board.

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