The Los Angeles Lakers have started with a record of 8-2 and are playing with a great deal of intensity.
The two-time defending champions did not make any changes to the starting five during the summer, but they did upgrade their bench. Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff were signed in an effort to solidify the second unit. I think these additions will pay huge dividends later on in the season.
The great Kobe Bryant is 31-years-old but he retains the enthusiasm of someone half his age. He has worked very hard during the off-season and looks razor sharp.
The media has virtually awarded the title to Miami this year but I suspect Kobe and friends have other ideas. The Lakers host the Heat on Christmas Day and it should be a cracker. This nationally televised game could be a preview of the NBA finals.
It is not easy to make money backing the Lakers as they are traditionally overbet, especially when playing at home. They have two interesting road games coming up against Minnesota and Utah which should provide much better value.
On the 19th they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves who are one of the poorest teams in basketball. They should run up the score and cover the advertised handicap easily. They will probably trade at around 1.8.
On the 26th the Lakers travel to Utah. The Jazz are in decent form but the Lakers match up very well against Deron Williams and company. The LA should be priced around 1.9 in the outright market.
The San Antonio Spurs are another Western Conference team that has started well. The Spurs currently have the best record in basketball at 8-1. This veteran team last won the championship in 2007 but they look very sharp this year.
The big three comprising of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been together since 2001. Over the years these gifted players have developed an amazing understanding and are a delight to watch.
The Spurs have been unusually aggressive in the early part of the season which is very interesting. In the past San Antonio has not placed a great deal of importance on securing home court advantage in the playoffs. San Antonio coach Greg Popovich has decided those days are over.
There are a lot of really good teams in the Western Conference at the present time. As a result it has become much more difficult to win a playoff series on the road than it was a couple of years ago.
This is probably the last chance for the current Spurs team to win another championship. Tim Duncan has two years left on his contract but there are rumours he may retire at the end of the season.
San Antonio are still one of the elite teams in basketball. They have the talent and depth to be considered serious challengers for the NBA championship. They are currently priced at 28.0 which is worth taking.
By Nick Shiambouros
(read more at betting.betfair.com)