There’s no question about it — the Northwest Division is the best and most competitive division in the entire NBA. The worst team in the division last season (the Denver Nuggets) still went 46-36 and just missed the postseason. Every squad in the grouping won between 46 and 49 contests a year ago.
How will the division shake out in 2018-19? For one, it’s doubtful that all five teams will finish within three wins of each other again. But all the squads should at least be pretty competitive again.
We’ll preview the 2018-19 prospects for each of the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. Then we will come up with some Northwest Division betting predictions and picks based on one of the top USA sports betting site’s odds.
Utah Jazz (+285 at 5Dimes)
Utah is perpetually one of those under-the-radar teams that often fares better than most people expect. This year is no exception. The Jazz have an amazing defensive team that will be led offensively by budding star guard Donovan Mitchell.
In 2017-18, Utah finished the season winning 29 of its last 35 games. Mitchell, a rookie last year, found his groove as the campaign wore on, and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert dominated the paint once he recovered from a knee injury. The Jazz also have some excellent role players (Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors) who complement their stars perfectly.
Depth and offensive variety are slight issues for this squad, though. Some bench members have been injury-prone in the past, as have Rubio, Gobert and Favors.
- Projected record: 52-30 (48-34 in 2017-18)
Oklahoma City Thunder (+200 at 5Dimes)
The Thunder were supposed to be legitimate Western Conference contenders last season. Instead, they finished several wins behind expectations and lost to the Jazz in the first round of the postseason. Russell Westbrook took a pretty significant step back on the offensive end of the floor, and the team’s effort was inconsistent from night to night.
However, OKC’s X-factor, Andre Roberson, didn’t play a game after he injured his knee in late January. The Thunder’s defensive stopper on the wing had helped the team to 16 wins in the last 19 contests he played.
If Roberson is healthy and new additions Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel fit in well, the Thunder could be the best team in the West aside from the Golden State Warriors. However, there is some potential to crash and burn with some big personalities on the team. Also, the Thunder core outside of Roberson stayed very healthy last season. Will that happen again?
- Projected record: 51-31 (48-34 in 2017-18)
Denver Nuggets (+420 at 5Dimes)
The Nuggets made a nice step forward last season, but they still missed the postseason by one game. They should be able to make the playoffs in 2018-19.
Denver’s young core of Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray is improving quickly. Veterans around them like Paul Millsap, Isaiah Thomas and Will Barton are also capable of playing at a high level. The Nuggets should benefit especially from better health from Millsap, since he played only 38 games a year ago.
The big question with Denver is still defense. The squad doesn’t have the long, rangy defensive wings that so many other good teams in the league possess. Without those type of players, the Nuggets can only take a small step forward in an unforgiving Western Conference.
- Projected record: 47-35 (46-36 in 2017-18)
Minnesota Timberwolves (+520 at 5Dimes)
The Timberwolves have a nice star duo of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. But there have been rumors of Butler’s unhappiness with Towns and the other young players on the team. Butler has always been an underdog type who had to earn his success, while Towns and Andrew Wiggins are former No. 1 overall draft picks with the hype machine following them since they were in high school.
On paper, Minnesota’s bench is a bit better this year. Anthony Tolliver is a slight upgrade from Nemanja Bjelica, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings. Rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop should challenge for minutes immediately. However, head coach Tom Thibodeau is notorious for not playing his reserves much. Will anyone off the bench even get the minutes necessary to find their groove?
The chemistry issues here are believable, considering how badly the young Timberwolves, specifically Towns and Wiggins, have played on defense in the past few years. Will the Wolves work through those potential issues and can they actually utilize their depth properly?
- Projected record: 45-37 (47-35 in 2017-18)
Portland Trail Blazers (+670 at 5Dimes)
The Blazers are the smart choice to take a step back in this division. Portland had the best health luck of its rivals in 2017-18, and it lost three key reserves in Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton during the offseason.
Getting Seth Curry will help, but he is a question mark after missing all of last season with a leg injury. Really, Portland is just trying to run back its core from the past couple seasons, even though the ceiling of said core is obviously limited. Remember, the Blazers got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the New Orleans Pelicans this spring.
It is not enough to mostly stand pat in the Western Conference these days, especially when you’re losing some key depth. The Blazers will once again rely heavily on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but they will be just an average team in 2018-19.
- Projected record: 41-41 (49-33 in 2017-18)
Our Northwest Division Preview’s Predictions & Picks Verdict
Utah stands out as the best value from this division. The Jazz have the fewest and least significant question marks of this five-team grouping. They were also a dominant squad in the second half of last season.
None of the other teams are really worth putting money on. The Timberwolves could easily outperform this Northwest Division preview’s expectations and make a run at the division title, but I’m convinced that they will have some chemistry problems. If you don’t think those rumors are real, they would be a smart second betting option given their odds.
However we are going with just the one Northwest Division betting prediction and pick:
- Bet on Utah Jazz to take the division @ +285 with 5Dimes.