• A welcome note from Dan Besbris:

    I am so beyond irritated that our season win totals mega-sheet was dumped into the toilet by COVID. I mean, I get it, other things were absolutely more important, but we worked HARD to come up with some of the favorites on that list, and a few OVERS had actually already hit even before the pandemic shutdown, while a couple more hit during the bubble. But, sadly, it was not to be, and our Celtics, Raptors and Thunder OVERS, which were among the easiest win totals I had ever handicapped, never actually happened.

    But we move along to this cockamamie 72-game season, where all our numbers need to be adjusted. Teams still play 30 games against the opposite conference, but now only 42 games against their own conference. There’s a certain parity to 14 opponents, 3 times apiece and 15 opponents, twice apiece, but for our purposes, what this does is it gives Eastern Conference teams 10 fewer games against whack Eastern Conference opponents (on average), and Western Conference teams don’t have to play the gauntlet-game quite as often against other west clubs. It’s small, but it’s not nothing – the west has a slightly easier time this year; the east, ever so slightly harder.

    So, this year, we bring you the SHOWDOWN. Dan versus Bru. Let’s have some fun. Let’s learn some stuff. Let’s win some cash.

    Let’s roll.

    Lines are from the Circa as of Dec. 8, 2020 when the guys wrote their battle passages.

    Official plays are listed at FAR BOTTOM, but can only be viewed by those with a subscription to the HoopBall WagerPass.


    Atlanta Hawks – 36.5

     

    DAN

    We’re going to have to do some math at the front end of basically every one of these breakdowns, so I’ll go longform here in the first and then every one hereafter will be shorter. Last year, the Hawks won 20 games, but only played 67, which comes out to about 30% of their contests. If we ran that math on 72 games this year, they’d be at 21.5 wins. Not great. But, of course, they’re not the same team. John Collins played in just over half their games last year, and they’ve dramatically retooled with Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, and, maybe, some growth from Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish. There’s a ton of buzz around this team as they try to make a run at the playoffs. But the question becomes, is buzz a good thing? 35 wins this year, which is what they’d need to hit the Over, is nearly a break even clip. Not many teams go from 30 to 50% in wins without adding a superstar, and while I like the aggression out of the Hawks camp, I’m still not convinced they can guard anyone, and chemistry is going to be a real mess at least to begin. Rajon Rondo and banged-up Kris Dunn are also useful to a point, but I think this team flames out before they get over the hump, especially with the diminished number of games against other East teams. I lean Under.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    The Hawks are a classic example of what happens when you throw a bunch of random ingredients together way too fast. They have good players who are going to see less minutes than they should ideally see. We might learn that Kris Dunn’s knee isn’t as healthy as it might seem, and then my question is what is the move that eases the rotation logjam that isn’t an injury. Is it a trade? And if nobody gets hurt how does everybody take to playing 5-10 mpg less than they should. Also: Rondo, a known team-wrecker, demands a leadership role wherever he goes and it only works out well when big time stars can keep him in check. So while the number is going one way based on the talent infusion, there are obstacles for them to get there.

    Lean: UNDER


    Boston Celtics – 46.5

     

    DAN

    Boston is a weird team to handicap. They generally get a public bump in the positive direction, but last year that 48.5 number wasn’t anywhere near where it needed to be, since they got tougher without Kyrie Irving and had a bit of a prove-it mentality. What’s nice for our math is that Boston played 72 games last year exactly (including the bubble) and won 48 games. They easily would have gone over 48.5 with 10 games left. Simple math tells us that this year they should hit 48 again. Shouldn’t they? Well, Kemba Walker is hurt and Gordon Hayward is gone. The Celtics still have their heart in Marcus Smart, but after a fairly deep bubble run, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys rack up bumps and bruises early and suffer some fatigue-related losses. Tristan Thompson is a decent enough acquisition to replace Enes Kanter, so that’s a small upgrade, but if you simply take last year’s Celtics team and assume you get maybe 50 fairly-healthy games out of Walker and nothing to replace Hayward, you likely have to dial back expectations. They play so damn hard they might still clear this mark, but like noted with the Hawks, 10 fewer games against the East while a number of teams around them got better.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    This team is battle tested and brings back most of the band, but with some key issues at point guard and power forward hanging over their heads. Kemba Walker’s knee issues put the spotlight on Jeff Teague, who last we saw was disappearing for an entire season. Playing in Minnesota and being traded to back up Trae Young can do that to a person, and Teague has done this in the past only to bounce back, so Boston is asking him right away to do exactly that (set aside the fact they could have just brought back Brad Wanamaker for another day).  At power forward they have an interesting and even mildly encouraging solution in Grant Williams, who’s proving that it’s not always dumb to take the guy whose measurables aren’t jumping off the chart. He and sharpshooter Aaron Nesmith need to play big minutes while next door at center Boston has a bunch of bigs that can’t play the four. Still, this team will be dangerous and their young legs will help offset the late bubble push, but their questions at key positions will determine the outcome of this play.

    Lean: UNDER


    Brooklyn Nets – 45.5

     

    DAN

    This was going to be such an easy Under to cash last year. The number was 45.5 and they weren’t close. Oh well. Let it go, Dan. This year, the number is still 45.5, but they’d have to do in a 72-game season. The analysis here is largely just a public fade. Everyone loves the Nets. Kevin Durant is back. Kyrie Irving is probably going to play most of the season. But… is this team really that good? Are they built to be a great regular season team? I think we see plenty of star rest days. I think they value the health of their two mega-stars over regular season wins, and I think they know that low-to-mid-40’s is more than enough this coming short season to get them into the middle of the East playoffs. I do think they value chemistry, so there’s an argument to be made that maybe they try to pile up some on-court playing time together early, but you’d have to work really, really hard to convince me that there won’t be growing pains for jamming these pieces together. New coach, too. Like, brand new… never coached before. I have to go back to the well.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    Kyrie, KD and a new coach – what could go wrong? This is a team that’s also got the James Harden situation lording over it, though that’s seemingly fizzling, and we pretty much have to ignore that here. They’re going to be a tough out every night if they’re healthy no matter how much they work against themselves. And, if there is an injury to either Durant or Irving they still have guys in Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie that can credibly step into high volume roles. As it was with the Hawks, can the talent overcome the frictional inefficiencies associated with this high leverage experiment.

    Lean: UNDER


    Charlotte Hornets – 25.5

     

    DAN

    Last year the Hornets were the lowest total on the board at 23.5. We went with the Over and it would have hit easily had they played their final 17 games. Charlotte finished with 23 wins in just 65 games. I’m likely going back to the well on this play, too, but I’ll admit, a lot of this handicap relies on a not-awful start to the year. If Charlotte falls out of the gate to a record of something like 2-10, the bet is dead. We need this team to open up the year believing they can compete. Not so much for a title, but for a playoff spot. All we need is for the club to SNIFF the 8-seed at the half-way point, and we’re in. Charlotte brought in Gordon Hayward on a monster deal, and he will be quite useful for them. Lamelo Ball… meh. I could take him or leave him. My Over lean with this club is just about confidence. I think we’ll see them playing hard, and I think this is a team that wants to slowly move up the board. The way to get there is to fight every night and they’ll steal some wins along the way.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Hornets took the Basketball Twitter PR hit signing Gordon Hayward to such a big deal and it’s Charlotte – they’re in contention for the most anti-public team. The line isn’t moving too much because of that but it is sitting kind of low just because of general disrespect. There’s no improvement built into the line for a team that has continuity and a handful of good players. Can they build off of James Borrego’s second season? Can they find anything in a faster paced offense? It’s one thing to say you want to do that and it’s another thing to do it as a young team without becoming a shit show. Obviously depth could be an issue if injuries strike.

    Lean: OVER


    Chicago Bulls – 29.5

     

    DAN

    Boy did we whiff on this one last year. I truly underestimated how terrible a coach Jim Boylen was. I thought, at some point, the Bulls talent would overcome the toxic work environment, but nope! Suffice to say, firing Jim Boylen and remaking the Bulls front office will likely have a bigger impact on this team’s success than anything they do with personnel. And that’s good, because they basically just lost Kris Dunn and did almost nothing else. Billy Donovan is fine – he’s got name recognition and he knows how to keep his troops working hard. But really, he’s just anybody-but-Boylen. Funny thing is that the Bulls could have probably won about 6 more games last year than they did. They failed to show up consistently and blew close games when they did finally decide to play. Wipe a lot of that nonsense away this year, get Lauri Markkanen some confidence, use Wendell Carter Jr. as more than just a rim-runner, and you’ve got something cooking. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… and yet, here I go again.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    For as much as I’m in the Billy Donovan is not a top tier coach camp, the jump from Jim Boylen to Donovan actually matters here. Boylen was dead money from Day 1 and now the Bulls are being projected to have a big improvement. There are very nice pieces here to work with and Coby White really turned it on late last season. They have decent depth and can sustain an injury or two, and even went out and did something smart in bringing in Garrett Temple, a guy who actually moves the needle in the always oversold veteran leadership department. Now they just have to make it all work because the expectations have pushed the number real high.

    Lean: UNDER


    Cleveland Cavaliers – 22.5

     

    DAN

    I said the Cavs were a hard one last year, and I’m inclined to say that again this time around. They lost Tristan Thompson and Andre Drummond opted into a one-year player option, but otherwise, they’re the same team. Collin Sexton and Kevin Love lead the bunch, with Darius Garland coming along, and Larry Nance and Andre Drummond providing, we think, some measure of stability. I’m extremely curious how the Cavs fit their pieces together. I hate betting Unders on the lowest total on the board (tied), so I don’t think I can talk myself into that. It’s also hard to think a team just won’t win any games when this year is going to be a clustermess of teams losing focus, infections, arenas without fans, and so forth. Here’s what I keep coming back to: Collin Sexton was, inarguably, getting better last year. Andre Drummond has one chance to prove to the league he deserves one more beefy contract. Nance can play SF. They have just enough “stuff” to hang in there with the host of mediocre teams in the east. My reason for concern is that I don’t think this team even believes themselves that they can make the playoffs, so a losing streak in January might just shelve every veteran on the roster. But look, they’re probably better than last year, and last year they won 19 out of 65 games. Flip another 7 games in there, even on last year’s pace they win 1 or 2. That gets us to 21. Can they get 2 wins better? Yeah, probably.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    J.B. Bickerstaff takes over and hopes to get rid of the John Beilein stench after a season that was as tumultuous as it gets. Within that they had some nice storylines though with Darius Garland surviving NBA minutes and Collin Sexton continuing his development. Then you have the oddity of bringing Andre Drummond in, adding JaVale McGee, another season of mediocre Kevin Love on an incredibly stupid at the time deal and a decent player in Larry Nance in the frontcourt. The small forward position brings in high draft pick and defensive stopper Isaac Okoro and that sits against the backdrop of the nightmare offseason for Kevin Porter Jr. These guys aren’t going to be dead money on a nightly basis and there is plenty of talent to get over this number, but they’ll have to navigate some style of play issues and try to make the jigsaw puzzle in the frontcourt work – and in particular managing Drummond’s value as the trade deadline approaches.

    Lean: OVER


    Dallas Mavericks – 43.5

     

    DAN

    Had the season played out, this one would have been pretty close last year. They probably would have hit, but the number was tight. And I admit, I thought Kristaps would miss more regular season time than he did. In any case, the Mavs went 43-32 in a 75-game sample last year, so it’s a little interesting to see this line aim higher in a season with 3 fewer games. That said, as we mentioned before, Western Conference teams get a little reprieve with the 42/30 split, and we can only assume Luka Doncic gets even better. The Mavericks had an all-time great offense last year, and had minimal roster turnover, unloading some superfluous guards in favor of bringing in Josh Richardson. Baby steps. I admit, I’m a little concerned about the beating Luka takes night in and night out, and we already know Porzingis isn’t healthy to start the year. They lost a lot of winnable games last season, so I have forces pulling me in two different directions, but because I’m forced to make a call on every team for this exercise, we’re going to just barely hedge to the Under. I happen to think they go 43-30. Let’s see if I’m right.

    Lean: UNDER *shrugs*

    BRU

    The Mavs have become a trendy pick to jump a tier or two in the West and a lot of that is because the West has been hollowed out a bit behind the Lakers. The star power of Luka Doncic is driving this as is a coach that’s respected around the league in Rick Carlisle. The move to bring in Josh Richardson was a great pairing if Richardson can accept the role he had in Miami as a multi-purpose player that gets buckets off of cuts and on the catch. Kristaps Porizingis isn’t being counted on to play 72 games for the Mavs to get to this number, but he’s the biggest question mark both health-wise and also as a No. 2 player that can move the Mavs into a definitive second tier behind the Lakers.  There was some parts swapping that cost the Mavs some depth and arguably overall value depending on one’s view of Seth Curry and Delon Wright, but otherwise the frontcourt is solid with the low usage guys doing what they do very well. This is a tough call any way one slices it.

    Lean: UNDER


    Denver Nuggets – 44.5

     

    DAN

    The Nuggets were another club that was on pace to just barely clear their number last year, which would have been a loss, but again, it was going to be close. They won 46 games in 73 tries, and needed 5 wins in what would have been 9 remaining games in a normal season. Likely? Yes. Guaranteed? No. This year the number is being yanked down quite a bit to just 44.5. I would say it’s because of their deep bubble run, but I think that’s giving way too much credit to the general public. This number is probably low because the Nuggets failed to make any real splash in the offseason and people just don’t trust Nikola Jokic. Frankly, I’m upset. I thought we’d see a pretty high number after their nice bubble run, and we could fade that on the basis of fatigue, but now here we are, staring down what I think is a damn accurate number and a team I thought we’d be able to fade is, instead, on the cusp of forcing me into an Over position that I don’t want to take. Losing Jerami Grant was a medium-size deal. Getting JaMychal Green was a nice replacement, but different. But look, this wager comes down to whether or not we think Jamal Murray and Jokic have anything in the tank after their performance in August and September. I’m inclined to say they don’t, but also, maybe the regular season just seems easy now? I hate this play, but oh well.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Nuggets showed that they are a very good basketball team and proved themselves at multiple levels with the players, coach and front office all getting out of the season with high marks. They might have wished after the fact that Jerami Grant wasn’t as individually good as he was in the playoffs as any chance of keeping him was lost at that point. And we’re going to see how they bounce back from that with only a washed Paul Millsap and a lumbering JaMychal Green to replace him with. It’s also a prove-it year for Michael Porter Jr. and how he fits with the 1-2 punch of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will be a year-long work in progress. They’re not as deep this season without Torrey Craig and what they lose with him they’re definitely not making up with Porter, who is going to struggle on defense even if he improves there nicely.  This is a Western Conference Finals puncher price and the pressure is on the key guys to will the Nuggets over this number.

    Lean: UNDER


    Detroit Pistons – 23.5

     

    DAN

    Last year I took the Pistons Under for the third time in a row. I had lost the first two and was finally on track to get one right with this slappy team and COVID took it away from me. Fie on you, disease! Well, guess what, we’re going… NOPE! Tricked! On our fourth year of doing these write-ups we are finally taking the Pistons Over for the first time. Why? First, they have the second lowest total on the board, and people forget how easy it is for teams to just bumble into a few wins here and there. Second, they went wheeling and dealing and I’m guessing many folks don’t even know who’s on this team. Third, Blake Griffin sat out basically all of last year and he’s playing to get moved… which means, he needs to show he can win a few games and look good doing it. Fourth, I actually like some of the lowest-profile things they did: Jerami Grant is good, Mason Plumlee is a nice passing big, Derrick Rose is still able to score a bit, Delon Wright is solid… this is, by all accounts, a very bad basketball team. But they have pride and enough veteran leadership to help usher the kids into a slightly less disgustingly bad year than oddsmakers are predicting.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Pistons are catching a lot of heat for basically turning over their entire team outside of their big names in Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. They got blasted a bit for the Jerami Grant signing, which was a real smart move. That and a bunch of low-respect players who are wearing nametags has this number in the basement. Still, there are enough decent players here to be competitive on a nightly basis. They’ll need to get explosive offense out of Rose and rookie Killian Hayes to keep teams from loading up on players like Griffin and Grant that don’t have much wiggle, but everywhere you look there’s simple competency at a minimum. Mason Plumlee has played important NBA minutes. Svi Mykhailiuk is a solid eighth man in an NBA rotation and folks simply don’t know that. Delon Wright has been giving a good 20 mpg for a few years now. Rodney McGruder was valued in Miami and got buried on a deep Clippers squad. Sekou Doumbouya looked like he took a big step forward in early preseason action. They’re going to sneak up on more than a few teams who consider them an easy out.

    Lean: OVER


    Golden State Warriors – 36.5

     

    DAN

    When Steph Curry got hurt 4 games into an already-poor looking season, last year’s bet was caput. Pandemic saved us a rare defeat here. The plan, at least in my mind, last season, was that the Warriors were going to be hungry to show the league that they were still good without Kevin Durant. But what I neglected to note was that Klay Thompson’s injury gave them a clear opportunity to go for what at the time was meant to be a one-year tankathon, give their studs some much-needed rest after long season after long playoff run, and then come back beefed up for this year. Everything was right on schedule until Klay blew out his leg again, and the Warriors are now stuck between wanting to compete and knowing that they’re just not the same team without their best two-way guy. Let’s break it down to the nubs. The Warriors were flat-out horrible even when Steph was playing the first few games of the year. They weren’t defending anyone, shots weren’t dropping, it was ugly. Balance that with the idea that, yes, they got a promising rookie, Dray and Steph are both rested, Wiggins and Oubre are available to fill out the wing, and they can probably convince themselves they’re a competitive team. Which Warriors do we get? This team had given up on regular season fighting long ago, but they just might not have a choice this year. Without Klay, I think the Dubs are set up to be fighting for the last few playoff spots, and in a 72-game season, you’re probably looking at cracking 500 to get there. This number is fairly spot-on, but I’ll lean with the competitive juices.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Warriors are going to have issues with additional playmaking needed out of everybody not named Steph, but it’s not like the Warriors are down and out. Draymond Green, if restored and confident in his shot, can still be a very good offensive facilitator. He looks amazingly thin right now, too, so he’s probably tired of not winning.  Andrew Wiggins has handled big workloads in the past (how successfully is debatable) and he figures to continue improving next to players that are going to push him and make him better. Kelly Oubre has enough talent on both sides of the ball to make this rotation potent, which is before you get to the pogo stick they drafted at No. 2 overall in James Wiseman. Brad Wanamaker was also a very good pickup for them. There are going to be speed bumps getting all of these players to play a style that Steve Kerr has already said is going to be new for them. The one thing we know for sure is that they don’t want to lose this season.

    Lean: OVER


    Houston Rockets – 37.5 adjusted down to 34.5 post-trade

     

    DAN

    Had to re-write this one. Sure glad I did a paragraph 2 hours before Westbrook got moved! This number was at 37.5 and adjusted down 3 wins on the news that Russ is being replaced by Wall. But let’s be honest, this number is built on the notion that Harden is gone. If James is there, the Rockets have seen him will the team to wins for years. But it’s a risk. No doubt. If Harden gets moved early in the year, this team might win 25 games. If he makes it to the deadline, maybe they get awfully close to this number but probably still fall a bit short. We don’t really know what we’re getting out of John Wall but if he proves to be marginally useful, they could hit this number. The additions of Christian Wood and Boogie dramatically retool how this team plays offense, once again using some big men alongside Harden’s isolation for some kind of lob threat or interior production but also bigs that can step out if needed. It’s unclear if this team can play any defense at all. Seems like probably not. But I also don’t see Harden being satisfied just rolling over, and I do genuinely wonder if he’s now happy with the moves just seeing some new faces and changing up how things are done. I think he stays in Houston this year, but I’ve been wrong before on trades.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Rockets are getting hammered by the marketplace after the exodus from Houston and that alone should give folks cause for pause. But the doomsday vibe associated with James Harden wanting to get out of Houston makes it seem like he doesn’t have some talent next to him, and Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Christian Wood and newly acquired John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are going to make contributions. Their bench is better than folks know, including the slowly improving Ben McLemore, Mr. Meet Me In My Hotel Room Danuel House and Sterling Brown, who was buried in Milwaukee’s deep rotation last season. The recent loss of Chris Clemons to a torn Achilles is low key important here as they are thin at the guard spot and he was set to surprise some folks this year. Overall, Russell Westbrook’s impact on winning is very overestimated by the marketplace and basketball fans in general. If you make it past a Harden trade that seems to be dying out, at least for now, you have a good shot at passing the number here.

    Lean: OVER


    Indiana Pacers – 39.5

     

    DAN

    Funny thing about the Pacers – they overachieved by most metrics and probably would have hit the Over, and still fired their head coach. I know they had issues with a stagnant offense, but they played hard, didn’t have Oladipo basically the entire year, lost Jeremy Lamb, and … well, doesn’t matter now. McMillan is gone, Oladipo hasn’t been traded. No one has. Justin Holiday re-signed. Domantas Sabonis is apparently recovered from his plantar fasciitis, and things just quietly rumble along. Last year, Indy’s number was 48.5/82, a win clip near 59%. This year, they only need to win 55% of their games. I find that downward adjustment odd. It could be connected to a coaching change that folks believe make this team worse. It could be an expectation of injury or trade taking a toll. Or it could just be a bad number. Last year the Pacers won 45 games in 73 tries, a win clip of almost 62%. Is that step backward tied to the larger share of games against the other conference? Do folks believe the east got a bunch better? I’m just not seeing it.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Pacers got the band back together and Victor Oladipo has had more time to recover. Perhaps it’s the discord and reporting that he wasn’t happy this offseason, but it seems Oladipo’s being rated as being gone with this bet. There’s also something brewing in this number that speaks to a regression but I’m not seeing it. Sure, there are a lot of injured dudes among this group. Malcolm Brogdon is always dealing with something, Jeremy Lamb isn’t coming back until sometime in the middle of the season and both big name bigs have dealt with stuff. That said, they have depth with the Holiday brothers that, especially in the case of Aaron, really needs more minutes.  There’s a new coach that could make this thing spin in either direction, too. But if the Pacers run into anybody other than Miami in the first round of the playoffs this number is probably higher.

    Lean: OVER


    Los Angeles Clippers – 46.5

     

    DAN

    The Clippers had the highest number on the board last year, and were, amazingly, on pace to hit it, right on the nose. This year, they’re not the highest, but they’re not far off. This year, the Clippers played exactly 72 games (including the bubble) and won 49. This year, the Clippers were sleep-walking through the regular season and still registered that mark. This COMING year, I like to look at storylines. This was a team embarrassed in the playoffs, dealing with bad press, losing key players in free agency (before nabbing Serge Ibaka in a nice twist), and going through a coaching change. I believe the Clippers are, with a possible exception in Milwaukee, the most motivated team going into this year. And the Bucks’ story isn’t about proving anything until the playoffs. The Clippers want the #1 seed, I believe. I believe they want to make sure their chemistry is locked in before the playoffs begin. I believe Ty Lue is going to revitalize an iso and PnR-heavy offense with some other ideas. As a Laker fan, I hate to admit it, too… but I believe the Clippers are winning the title this year. I really hate to grab Overs on teams with really high totals, but I just can’t see the Clippers not taking a workmanlike attitude to every damn game all year.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    Oh are they taking a beating this offseason. Usually that would be a ripe condition to pounce on the overcorrection but they’re still getting tethered to the Lakers if not for any reason other than the public’s question of ‘who else.’   Losing Montrezl Harrell might end up being a blessing in disguise as he has passed peak value and that locker room needed to get rid of somebody, and it’s usually not the high priced players you paid a boatload to get.  Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris were not who you wanted to see if you were a Clippers fan and all of a sudden a team defined by depth is short in that area this year. But still, if this team gets angry after it got humbled and plays the ‘us against the world’ card they can easily hit their number. The question is just whether there’s been so much damage done internally that they cannot recover, whether it’s this season or into their draft-strapped future.

    Lean: OVER


    Los Angeles Lakers – 46.5

     

    DAN

    You might have thought the Lakers would have a higher total than the Clippers given the trophy, the dazzling free agency period (Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Wes Matthews), and yet, here we are. A freakishly attainable number for a team that won a ridiculous 52(!) out of 71 games last year. This has stinky fish odor all over it. You mean to tell me, oddsmakers, that even the inflated Lakers line is STILL almost 6 wins lower on pace than what they were doing last season? And LA was even better than that final mark would indicate after a lackluster 8-game bubble run. The only way to make sense of this line is to consider the fact that oddsmakers believe NOT what is being said, but what is between the lines. That is, LeBron has said, in the past, that if he’s healthy, he will play. But we also know he was one of the biggest proponents of waiting to start the season until January and even mentioned resting early. Anthony Davis is another highly likely rest candidate after racking up 40mpg marks during the later playoff rounds. Where the Clippers have been slighted and feel they have much to prove, the Lakers are transitioning from last season’s chemistry-focused, defense-first smashing into a mode we’ve seen from many a champion: glide through the regular season, stay upright, go bananas in the postseason. I expect the Lakers to give away a few games this year, settle into the 2-4 seed area and handle themselves just fine even without full-time home court.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    The only reason this number isn’t a lot higher is because there should be enough missed games by LeBron and AD to keep the win total chill. That said, we’re talking about a team that is in its own tier after the offseason. They’ll need some combo of resting their players more than the number can hold and some stinker seasons from new acquisitions like Marc Gasol and Wes Matthews to not go over. While Montrezl Harrell was not good in the bubble he’s going to feast inside with the attention that LeBron and AD attract. They have depth that can handle additional minutes and they’re even showing up to the party with found money in Talen Horton-Tucker.  The way I see it — the question here is do LeBron and AD miss more than a quarter of the season.

    Lean: OVER


    Memphis Grizzlies – 31.5

     

    DAN

    Our Grizzlies Over from last year was the cakewalk bet of the century. Their number was 27.5! Once again, curse you, pandemic. This year, their number climbs to 31.5 despite 10 fewer games. Last year, Memphis went 34-39, which would clear the number for this season, but you can begin to understand why there’s not full-throated belief in the Grizzlies from the betting community. For one, they were flat-out awful to end the year and just as bad in the bubble. The trade deadline departure of Jae Crowder really seemed to hurt, along with the fact that (and we’ve seen this before) teams make adjustments and the Grizzlies stopped catching teams by surprise once the league began to realize that while they weren’t world-beaters, they also weren’t bad. Sadly, as much as I love the core of this team, I can’t get behind the leap they need to make to sustain winning over a full year when teams aren’t taking them lightly. Jaren Jackson Jr. is hurt to begin the season, Ja Morant will likely take some steps forward, but beyond that and the predictably solid contributions from Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, does this really look like a plus-500 team in the west? I hate to be that guy, but Memphis could very easily finish as the #13 team in the conference, ahead of the Thunder… maybe the Wolves.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    The Grizzlies had practically no roster movement and are coming off a season where they played a tiny bit over their heads in terms of the outcome. They got hot in the middle of the season when teams around them in the standings were imploding and managed to make the play-in game in the bubble before bowing to Portland. There’s some dissonance there in terms of their real value vs. the perception that playoff talk brings but the question here is whether they’re going to improve or not. They’ve been on the injury report a bit — can they avoid losing big guns for long portions of the season. Will bringing Justise Winslow back in the fold disrupt chemistry. Can Dillon Brooks keep from shooting them out of too many games? Can Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke stay healthy amidst the physical demands of the personnel they do battle with.

    Lean: OVER


    Miami Heat – 44.5

     

    DAN

    Miami was another easy Over winner taken away from us last year. Jerks. That was a team that desperately needed a star to powerboost them, and it worked, carrying the Heat all the way to the Finals! This year, the Heat are no longer upstarts. Their number went from 42.5 in an 82-game season to 44.5 in just a 72-game season. Holy overadjustments, Batman! You’re trying to tell me that a Heat team that won 44 games in 73 tries this year is going to improve upon that again? Not with the factors working against them. The Heat replaced some 3-and-D stuff with Crowder leaving and Harkless entering, but they’re largely, in Pat Riley’s own words, running it back. And that’s not a great boat to float in after Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic all nearly played themselves into the grave in the bubble. Jimmy Butler is going to miss games this year. Bam Adebayo will try not to, but he’ll miss time, too. Dragic is getting older (aren’t we all?), so relying on him heavily becomes a more dicey proposition each season. Tyler Herro is going to get better, and that’s cool, but that ain’t enough. Roll up the missed games and a higher percentage of games against better teams (the west), and the Heat probably even take a tiny step back. I have them around 40-41 wins.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    The Heat enter the season banged up after we won however many bets we won with them in the bubble. It was great. Some role players shuffled around but there’s no big difference between this year’s team and last year’s squad. Bam Adebayo probably improves again but has he passed his peak physicality? That’s possibly a no but it’s hard to bet that way with the injuries and mileage he piled up last season. There are similar conversations heading that way with Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler. It’s encouraging that Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are extremely well-positioned to continue improving, but Kendrick Nunn looks like he’s going to a question mark after a rough bubble. There is a lot of reason to believe in the Heat, but they’re going to have to push through some stuff to hit that number.

    Lean: UNDER


    Milwaukee Bucks – 49.5

     

    DAN

    I didn’t think the Bucks were going to be as locked in on the regular season last year as they ultimately turned out to be. They’re just a regular season machine, obliterating most teams with stifling defense that forces teams to beat them with jumpshooting while getting a ton in transition and spacing the floor around Giannis. But it all came crashing down again in the playoffs when Giannis as “only ball-handler” offense went stagnant. Will the Bucks use the regular season to try out some new ways to use their superstar? Will Jrue Holiday be the difference-maker as a second, or third, creator? It’s hard to say. One thing is for sure, though. This team is going to win a ton of regular season games even if they’re rolling at 85% effort. Still, 50-22 is a hard mark to achieve, even after going an insane 56-17 last season. One thing worth noting on the Bucks is that they rarely let bad teams take a shot at ‘em. The Bucks were 13-1 in the Central Division last year and 37-7 against the East, overall. Some simple math tells you that if you yank out the crappalicious likes of the Pistons, Cavaliers, Bulls, and less whack Pacers, the Bucks were a much less shimmering (but still quite good) 24-6 against the rest of the East, and 19-10 against the West. If the Bucks go 20-10 against the West this year, they’d have to go 30-12 against the East. It’s doable, but it’s a lift.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    The Bucks are either going to take the adversity of this offseason and channel it or they’re not. Jrue Holiday is going to help – plain and simple – and he’s not sticky with the ball so from that perspective he’s a good fit with Giannis. But they really need somebody to take the ball out of his hands a lot more than Jrue will, and they’ll need a ton of shooting around Giannis if they don’t. It’s unclear if they have that or not, at least to continue piling up wins at the rate they’ll need to in order to make this mark.  Their calling card depth from last season has taken a serious hit.

    Lean: UNDER


    Minnesota Timberwolves – 28.5

     

    DAN

    Welp, KAT missing a healthy majority of last year was kind of the only story we needed out of Minnesota. Or was it? Sure, Andrew Wiggins was a bit more efficient before his midseason move to Oakland, but perhaps the biggest story was that this team just wasn’t good at all without Jimmy Butler. And, frankly, we should have known because they weren’t good after he left the previous year. They were able to cling to relevance but only by a hair. I’ll say this: I like the direction the Wolves are headed. They have fun pieces, exciting offensive ones in KAT, Russell, and Malik Beasley (who will miss some time with a likely suspension coming). They brought in Ricky Rubio to stabilize half-court sets and run some transition. But at the end of the day, this team still can’t guard anyone. They’d be slightly sub-midpack in the East, but in the West, they could very easily be bottom 3 in the entire conference at season’s end. That’s not a guarantee, by any means, but bottom line is that this deep isn’t deep enough to compete with the good teams night in and night out. They have some firepower but if the opponent bothers to play a lick of defense, they’ll lose. I worry what might happen to best buds KAT and D’Lo as losses mount but it seems like that would only mean more losses. There’s just no key set of hard-hat guys to keep things on track. Like, toss a Jared Dudley or someone on that team to get everyone in line. But nope, just guys who love to score. I have this team closer to 26 wins.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    Right off the top the Wolves are getting nearly 10 extra wins over the course of an 82-game season over last year’s performance. The expectation via Vegas is that the influx of talent with D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Ricky Rubio, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez will make them respectable. They’re going to have some compelling lineups and in an uptempo attack they can probably be irritating to a lot of good teams, especially if some of the more streaky players get on a roll. But there are a lot of names that are bigger than their games here. Russell, Rubio and Edwards will all be less effective than the perception, though there’s always a bit of a wild card element to projecting an explosive rookie like Edwards.  Fit is something that gives you pause and the decision to bring Rubio into a place where there aren’t a lot of basketballs or minutes to go around speaks to the issues there. There are more individual scorers and less basketball IQ than one would like. In terms of top-end performance, they’re not good enough to play suboptimal ball and make noise in the West.

    Lean: UNDER


    New Orleans Pelicans – 36.5

     

    DAN

    This one is strictly a hype fade. There’s so much chatter about Zion, even after an underwhelming debut season, it just hurts a little. Brandon Ingram made huge leaps, there’s no denying that, and bringing in Stan Van Gundy to try to teach defense is a good move, as well, but moving Jrue Holiday is a gut punch for the short-term success of this team. Yes, they have a ton of fun, young pieces. You can throw Lonzo Ball on that heap, too. They have some veteran leadership in JJ Redick and Steven Adams, so they won’t be a ship without a captain… I just don’t think they’re as good as the playoff pack in the west and the number set here means they have to be an above-500 team.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    Everybody’s trendy team from last season took a hit when Zion more or less redshirted last season, and when he did play the results were mixed. Does he actually run up and down the court or just for leaked out alley oops? The good news is that he looks very explosive early in the preseason. The other good news is that Brandon Ingram established himself as a strong shooter and star in this league. Wow. After such a big jump one is contractually obligated to wonder about a regression but the quality and quantity of shots he made just make it hard to believe he’s a one-hit wonder. Set that against a backdrop of quality players like Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, and a coach-management combo in Stan Van Gundy and David Griffin and what’s not to like, right? There even added one of my top affordable free agent pickups on the board in Wenyen Gabriel. J.J. Redick still plays. There is good young talent beyond that. But while the West has been hollowed out a bit near the top, it’s still plenty deep and wins are going to be hard to come by. This actually all comes back to Zion and whether he can efficiently handle a big-time role in what’s effectively his rookie season. Because everything is revolving around him and that has potential to jack everything up.

    Lean: UNDER


    New York Knicks – 22.5

     

    DAN

    I feel like the stat from this entire article that is going to surprise the largest number of you readers is hearing that the Knicks actually won 21 games last year before the shutdown. Crazy, right? There were 5 teams with worse (or markedly worse) records than the hapless Knicks. We had taken the Over 25.5 last year, and they had a very real chance of getting there, though, in reality, the number was probably about right. They were on pace for exactly 26 wins. That same exactly clip this year puts them at 23 wins. So, we have to ask ourselves, did the Knicks get better faster than the teams around them? Or, rather, if you put the Knicks delta for the offseason at some arbitrary figure, did the rest of the league do better or worse? I’m actually inclined to say that the Knicks finally did a couple small decent things. They released and then re-signed Elfrid Payton, who I don’t love but was definitely a stabilizing force at PG. Julius Randle was beginning to play better as the season progressed, and young blockmeister Mitchell Robinson continues to make small strides. Signing Nerlens Noel was a shrewd budget move, as was bringing on Alec Burks to get a few buckets. I don’t know enough about Obi Toppin to care but apparently folks like that pick, and RJ Barrett should be at least a little better. As we’ve noted on other bad teams… they’re not good! But you don’t have to be good to win 32% of your games. In fact, I think they win 24.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The public sure does hate the Knicks, and why not, they suck. And looking at this roster without clear-cut starters and a new coach in Tom Thibodeau who picks favorites and runs them into the ground every night, there is all sorts of potential for hilarity here. He certainly didn’t take the job to be nice to everybody in his first season as coach. He’s going to try and establish tone early and often. What’s different about this Knicks team than last year or other shitty versions is that the pieces fit. Austin Rivers and Alec Burks can clean up any messes made by starters Elfrid Payton and R.J. Barrett, who incidentally have a year playing together under their belt. Reggie Bullock will try to stay healthy and Kevin Knox probably won’t be forced into a role he can’t handle anymore.  They have four bigs that perform very specific functions that, in theory, can co-exist.

    Lean: OVER


    Oklahoma City Thunder – 23.5

     

    DAN

    This bet and the Raptors Over from last year are the two that are going to irritate me for years. The Thunder were some 11-odd wins over their mark last year without even needing 82 games to get there, and we’ll never see a penny on it. And now, they’ve blown the thing up, getting nice hauls for every player with a pulse. Let’s be straight, here. This team got bad. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, to see that they have one of the lowest totals on the board. It made all of our heads spin, collectively, but the Thunder lost Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder from the backcourt, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams from the frontcourt, Nerlens Noel from the bench, and then immediately traded away veterans they acquired in Ricky Rubio, Danny Green and not-so-veteran Kelly Oubre Jr. In fact, the only player with a notable basketball reference page left is Al Horford, and he’s only there to rehab his value. I love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a player, but as a floor leader, we’re not there, yet. And beyond that it’s a real smashed up pile of youth. The Thunder will be dead last in the west and won’t look great getting there. Again, it’s hard to slide under this winning clip, but I really believe this is an intentional tank year.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    There are players here to go over this total. Al Horford has nothing to do but re-establish his value and he’ll get run of the yard with this team. Not nearly as much as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but he doesn’t want that much yard anyway. George Hill and Trevor Ariza can each give you 20 good minutes, though you gotta make sure Ariza doesn’t mail it in and/or do too much. There are some compelling young players in Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley. The problem is that there is no reason for the Thunder to win big with a good draft staring at them. They have a brand new coach in Mark Daigneault who’s going to be in line with management’s desire to develop for the future. SGA is going to have a much tougher road with teams homing in on him every night.

    Lean: UNDER


    Orlando Magic – 31.5

     

    DAN

    I like betting season win totals on teams with turnover. It creates perceptions, and we can exploit those. The Magic might be the most boring team to handicap in the league. They lost DJ Augustin and signed, what, Jordan Bone? Jonathan Isaac is out, as is Al-Farouq Aminu, so they come into this next season basically the same club that rolled out late last year. It does seem like they’re intent on playing faster, which is great for actually watching the games, if that’s your thing, but from a wins/losses angle, I would just take last year’s clip, adjust it down ever so slightly due to improving competition and fewer games against the East, and call it a day. Let’s also note – the 8-seed in the East is probably going to be a few games under 500 again, so just because I think the Magic only win 30 games doesn’t mean they won’t be fighting at the end. That’s probably the one way this bet loses… wins over good teams in the silly season.

    Lean: UNDER

    BRU

    This is the same team as last year but with a little less depth and their frontline in Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic is trending toward less effective rather than more effective. The same can probably be said for Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross isn’t changing his trajectory overnight. The number is appropriately set and to me this comes down to whether Markelle Fultz can take multiple steps forward this season. I like him to take a step or two, but I’m not sure if it’s enough to get this number over the mark.

    Lean: UNDER


    Philadelphia 76ers – 44.5

     

    DAN

    This is a hard one. I still think Philly is a dark horse to win the East, written off because of an ugly flame-out in the playoffs this last year and a wildly erratic regular season that saw one of the largest home-road splits in the history of professional sports (31-4 vs. 12-26). But what we could see from the Sixers was that they weren’t afraid to step their game up against the best competition. And what Doc Rivers and to a lesser extent, Daryl Morey bring to the table, is clout. The type of power at the top that gets the troops to fall in line. Doc will beseech his guys to fight every night and they’ll play for him in a way they weren’t for Brett Brown. 45 is a big number, so that stinks. I was hoping we might see a slight fade on this team after the way things dissolved, but most folks still realize they’re loaded. They also made very sharp moves to shore up shooting around the key players in a way that more closely resembles the furiously sprinting Sixers team from two years ago that was one cockeyed Kawhi bounce from knocking off the eventual champs. Not only do I like the Over on this team, but I also like them as a East Futures wager. They’re really, really good… when they try.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Sixers are among the most interesting teams in the league after grabbing Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey from other high-profile dumpster fires. They have a pair of dumpster fire stars when one considers that Ben Simmons refuses to shoot and Joel Embiid is a ticking injury time bomb that saunters up and down the floor at varying levels of fitness. That said, he looks thin heading into the preseason so maybe some amount of a message has been received.  Morey immediately brought in shooting and sent out Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who never really fit. They add Dwight Howard after he had an impact bubble showing and with Brett Brown out perhaps it’s time for them to unleash Matisse Thybulle. The moves are good and the talent is there not just to go over but if everybody did everything the right way they could be right at the top of the East. But lingering behind that is the fact that Simmons and Embiid aren’t ever going to be a good long-term plan for this team and that means trigger-happy Morey is correct to make a move.

    Lean: UNDER


    Phoenix Suns – 38.5

     

    DAN

    I actually love the Suns this year. But good gravy that’s a BIG jump. I’d be curious to know more about public perception of this team. Are we getting this monster number because the Suns went 8-0 in the bubble? Are we getting the big number because they traded for Chris Paul? Or is this just a genuine power ranking without any real inflation baked in? What are we on, now, team 23 or 24 in our breakdowns and this is finally a club where I just can’t quite feel the number. For what it’s worth, I think the Suns probably are, now, close to a 500 team. The west is a gauntlet, but this is a team that’s fired up, ready to go, and has a TRUE winner to guide them now in CP3. The dude just wins. Look what Paul did with that rag-tag bunch in Oklahoma City! I would venture to say the Thunder probably had less talent than the Suns do, here, or even if you want to argue about it, it’s damn close. Compare Schroder, Gallo, SGA and Adams to Booker (easily the best player in this bunch), Ayton, Bridges and, I guess, for our argument, Jae Crowder. I think I’m probably taking the team with another star in Booker. Oh it hurts my heart to chase a crazy-high number, but I think the Suns can do it. After all, the Thunder went 44-28 in a 72-game sample, and if Paul stays fairly healthy, why can’t he lead the Suns to 40? Man, it feels so public. This is going to burn us, isn’t it?

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Suns pushed all their chips in the middle to keep Devin Booker, more or less. Get him into the playoffs and continue the upward trajectory and he’ll like the results and want to stick around. Chris Paul and Jae Crowder are both overrated by name value but they’re still great additions for this squad, though the wing rotation got complicated because Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are players you wanted more minutes for this season rather than less. Still, the big man rotation is solid with Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric and Crowder, leaving one to wonder how they can’t possibly hit this mark. The answer is that the West is tough and a big part of this number was the outlier run in the bubble. It’s a very big jump built into this number.

    Lean: OVER


    Portland Trail Blazers – 41.5

     

    DAN

    Year after year I assumed the Blazers would run out of competitive fire, and for a few years, Dame singlehandedly upended my wagers. But not last year. We were going to finally collect on a Portland Under… and then COVID. Moving on. The number this year is 41.5, and with Nurkic healthy again and Rob Covington in town, Portland has a couple reasons to play with purpose again. And let’s be honest – how many teams can defend them the way the Lakers did in the playoffs? Not that many. Portland will outscore a ton of clubs, and Covington breaks a new type of defense they haven’t had before, at least not at his level. Think the Harkless/Aminu pair, but way, way better. Injuries could derail this one, but I expect Portland to come out firing to start the year and set themselves up nicely with, as we’ve mentioned a million times now, fewer games against the west in the short season.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    Everybody loves the Blazers this season as Damian Lillard became an unstoppable inside the gym shooter and the team’s core is solid. They added some nice pieces this offseason that are very complementary – to the point where deserving players aren’t getting enough minutes. Gary Trent Jr. went off in the bubble and proved he’s a legit starting-level wing with some upside. Derrick Jones Jr. just got done manning the top of the Heat’s treacherous 3-2 zone and lands in Portland as a perfectly rangy defender behind a suspect guard corps. Everybody is focusing on Robert Covington in that same regard, which is a bit oversold, but the depth is going to help keep his knees and body from breaking down as the year goes on so maybe he won’t lose another step until next year. They have useful and versatile big man depth. Oddsmakers are giving them a big season but do they have the defensive fortitude to rattle off the equivalent of just under 50 wins in an 82-game season?

    Lean: UNDER


    Sacramento Kings – 27.5

     

    DAN

    I had bet the Kings Under pretty large last year, fading Luke Walton and the Kings backing off from their run-n-gun offense the year before. And it was on pace to hit. This year, their number has been adjusted down quite a bit. Frankly, perhaps, too much. I know the Kings lost Bogdan Bogdanovic, but a healthy De’Aaron Fox in an Alvin Gentry-run offense is going to be rad. I don’t fully understand the Hassan Whiteside signing, but Marvin Bagley might finally put together a healthy year, and Richaun Holmes is sneakily one of the best big men in the NBA that no one knows about. I would put this team on last year’s pace, most likely, which had them at 31 wins. Oh, also, Buddy Hield is back in the staff’s good graces – that’s a big get if he’s locked in and back to firing with confidence out of smarter offensive sets and open court situations. Run Kings run.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    I have ridden about .500 betting the Kings but the general theme is that I never account for how bad their strategy is going to be. I’ve reported on them for years and I should know better. But at some level you can’t just bet ‘worst case scenario’ every single time. And the year I faded them they were better than the number.

    What makes this hilariously simple is that their season comes down to whether they run or not. Despite the fact that they’re talking about running 24/7 am I 100 percent convinced they actually do it? No. They talked about running all last year and did nothing that a running team does, and Walton fed into that with personnel decisions and the like. In preseason action they’ve had their foot on the gas pedal about half the time and they’re not being coached up to run. It’s still not an identity. The Kings had their typical head scratching offseason moments adding Hassan Whiteside and overloading their center position after Richaun Holmes was predictably a revelation for them, but also had some nice moments with a solid draft. They freed up Buddy Hield, in theory, by correctly letting Bogdan Bogdanovic walk for a deal that would hinder them. They have Marvin Bagley back, presumably as a power forward only this season. They have to avoid the tanking bug late in the year. But still, if they simply run the ball they run right past this number.

    Lean: OVER


    San Antonio Spurs – 29.5

     

    DAN

    I’m terrified of the Spurs line. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are both on the block, and if either one gets moved, the team has no shot of hitting 30 wins. Even with both healthy, it’s not clear they’ll get there. I think if someone could promise me the old goats are with the Spurs all year, I’d probably take the Over, bet on Pop to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and hope guys like Dejounte Murray and Derrick White can pick up the slack. But there’s no guarantee, there, and the giant red flag of uncertainty puts a cloud on this one. A note: last year, the Spurs won 32 games in 71 tries with Aldridge and Trey Lyles sitting out the bubble. You’re not betting this one, but because this is a 30-team exercise, I have to make a lean, and we’ll just roll with Pop magic.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Spurs have two seasons ahead of them. The one with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan and the other most likely without them. But they’re going to pick up the pace and play with more of their young guns and it looked great in the bubble. This team is simultaneously getting the San Antonio ‘they always figure it out’ bump while also getting nowhere near enough credit here. The backups are solid. The number is fair here but beatable.

    Lean: OVER


    Toronto (Tampa) Raptors – 41.5

     

    DAN

    Ah, the other half of the “easiest bets ever that we won’t get to cash” pair with Oklahoma City from last season. The Raptors are a good team, people! They didn’t need Kawhi Leonard to win regular season games, and they won’t need Serge Ibaka to win them next year, either. Toronto won 53 games in 72 tries last year. Okay, fine, maybe they won’t hit that lofty mark again this year with fewer games against the east, but it’s also worth noting that they were good on the road, good against the division, good against the west… they were just good. One caveat with this club, of course, is that they’ll be playing their home games in Tampa Bay this season due to Canadian COVID restrictions, so you remove home court. If this bet doesn’t cash, ultimately, that’ll probably be the culprit. But, look, they still have Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell and OG Anunoby. They’ll be fine. I also think Aron Baynes fills in just fine at center. Continuity helps with Overs, too.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Raptors went deep into the playoffs and got exposed quite a bit in the process. Pascal Siakam wasn’t just beat but he was repeatedly beat without any ability for he or his coach to change the obviously bad strategy at any point in time. That shows a lack of calibration that’s important for any high-end team to achieve. Fred VanVleet dealt with similar issues as his inability to finish choked off one of the Raptors’ best players. Up and down the roster they got gut punched outside of Kyle Lowry, who was incredible. They bring back the band but with new and improved centers. Though they’re a little bit thin on the wings, young players like Terence Davis and DeAndre’ Bembry are intriguing. Either way, oddsmakers and the public have moved this team a cut or two below the top teams in the East and I’m just not seeing that.

    Lean: OVER


    Utah Jazz – 42.5

     

    DAN

    I know the Jazz won 44 games out of the 72 they played this past season, so maybe this should seem easy, but there are some factor we need to discuss. First, I think this is a case of the teams around Utah getting better while the Jazz basically stayed the same. I like keeping Jordan Clarkson. I like bringing Derrick Favors back to shore up the non-Gobert center minutes, but these are fringe moves and Clarkson was already there to finish up last year. What I don’t like is the apparent ceiling this team has on a night-to-night basis. I also don’t like that Bojan Bogdanovic apparently might not be ready to start the year. A thing I do like is that the Jazz were just 3 games over 500 against the west and 20-7 against the east. They picked on the clunkers. That’s key when you consider they’ll have 30 of their 72 games against that aforementioned east. If they can go 21-9 against the east this year, the Jazz would only need to grab 22 wins out of 42 games in the west. This one is razor thin with a number of factors butting heads, but we’ll just barely skim the Over. I think they felt like they were close to knocking off the Nuggets in the playoffs, and that will propel them to some sort of desire. We need desire in the regular season, because it’s a damn grind.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Jazz have issues that are going to keep them from being a contender in the West, including Rudy Gobert’s inevitable decline (though he got some very good matchups and was very good in these playoffs), but also because of the lack of breakthrough talent behind Donovan Mitchell, who was unworldly in the playoffs. Mike Conley and Joe Ingles are heading downward. But measuring against the number rather than a Finals appearance, Bojan Bogdanovic is peaking as a player and you like what you see out of low-end guys like Georges Niang. Jordan Clarkson looked uncoverable at times in the playoffs, but that comes with the obvious caveats of defensive play and how much he can be that great. Vegas is betting that they continue to decline after a disappointing campaign before the bubble. There’s some zig zag theory baked in here but overall they have enough talent to cover.

    Lean: OVER


    Washington Wizards – 32.5

     

    DAN

    Another re-write after the Wall-Russ trade. This total jumped up 4 wins. Previously, I was strongly considering the Over when it was at 28.5. This number actually feels relatively close to accurate. I generally like to fade teams picking up superstars, but Russell Westbrook is an interesting case study because he also falls into what I call my Narrow Window Hypothesis… that roughly states that any team that Westbrook is on is going to sit between a very high floor and relatively low (but decent) ceiling. There’s a chemistry thing that needs to happen between Russ and Beal, but luckily there are some teams the Wizards should be able to pick off in the East. When Beal and Wall were both healthy, the Wizards were just a hair over 500 as a team. They had Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre mixed in there, but generally, this team is just replacing Wall with Russ, and the peripheral pieces are interchangeable. Against my better judgment here I’m still leaning slightly to the Over. Russ and Scotty Brooks are a predictable pair, and Russ has led similarly clunky teams to above-500 records before, so I’m inclined to think he can come close to doing it again.

    Lean: OVER

    BRU

    The Wizards adding Russell Westbrook isn’t a guarantee to hurt the Wizards, but it should do more to hurt than the public believes it will. This squad overachieved last season and snuck up on teams not taking them seriously in a bad Eastern Conference. They have some nice young players in Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr., and who knows maybe No. 9 overall pick Deni Avdija can contribute early on. Moe Wagner isn’t terrible. Thomas Bryant can have a hard time adding value on offense at times and defensively he’s playing on stilts. Davis Bertans is better than advertised. So there are some players here but there are way more things pointing toward bottom third rather than middle third in the East.

    Lean: UNDER


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