NBA Eastern Conference preview: over/under predictions

The over/under betting lines for team win totals have been released for the 2013/14 season.  Which teams will win more games than Vegas predicts and which teams will win less? And how many will prove me right and ultimately win me some money? First up, let us tackle the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta Hawks: 39.5 wins; UNDER.
The Hawks won 44 games last year and have since lost their leading scorer and best defender (Josh Smith). Paul Millsap is a good pickup on a very good contract, but when he and Jeff Teague are your second and third best players and DeMarre Carroll is in your starting lineup, you’re not winning 40 games – which is fine by me, because any 6th-seeded team that finishes 26th in attendance deserves to never make the playoffs again (see below). Give a fanbase that actually cares a chance.

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Boston Celtics: 27.5 wins; OVER.
This could easily go either way. If Rajon Rondo is shelved or traded, the tank will be on like it‘s ‘06/07 all over again. But if Rondo comes back in good time and Kelly Olynyk proves to be the steal that many believe he is, the C’s will win 30+ games. My money is tentatively on the latter.

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Brooklyn Nets: 52.5 wins; OVER.
Last year, the Nets fired their coach, endured a sub-par season from their franchise player, and still won 49 games. In the offseason they added a still-transformational defender (Kevin Garnett), a small forward who can actually shoot (Paul Pierce) and perhaps the best sixth man in the league (Andrei Kirilenko). With half-way decent health, 53+ wins is a lock. The battle for seeds 2-4 in the East will be extremely interesting.

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Charlotte Bobcats: 26.5 wins; OVER.
Offseason signing Al Jefferson is a big man who commands a double team on the block and is good for 18 points and 9 rebounds a game. Will his addition mean a few extra wins despite his well-known defensive shortcomings? Probably, which is fitting for this mismanaged no-mark team; the one year everyone is desperate to land a top 4 draft pick, the Bobcats will be slightly too good to do so. The good news is they’re installing a craft beer garden in the (usually empty) upper level of their arena. 

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Chicago Bulls: 56.5 wins; OVER.
Derrick Rose is finally back, and looks very, very good. I expect him to have the kind of monster season that will re-open the debate over who is the second best player in the NBA (sorry, KD). With this in addition to their elite defense and a coach who refuses to let them mail in games, the Bulls are primed to make a run at 60 regular season wins.

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Cleveland Cavaliers: 40.5 wins; UNDER.
If Andrew Bynum is healthy and effective, the Cavs will breeze past 40 wins. That’s too big an “if” to bank on though. Beyond that, Kyrie Irving is unquestionably a superstar in the making, but Dion Waiters shot just 41% from the floor as a rookie and Anderson Varejao has played 81 games in the last three seasons combined. 38-39 wins (probably good enough for an 8th seed) is a reasonable expectation and would represent a large step in the right direction; predicting anything more than that requires an unreasonable leap of faith at this stage.

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Detroit Pistons: 40.5 wins; OVER.
With the additions of Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons are another East team ready to make the jump from “piss-poor” to “potential playoff team”. In Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond they have a stacked and multi-talented frontline. Smith’s detractors should note that he was the best player on a playoff team the past few years. The Pistons’ superior chances of good health (compared to the Cavs) has me taking the over here; .500 ball returns to Motor City!

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Indiana Pacers: 54.5 wins; UNDER.
Paul George is a star, and Roy Hibbert is the early favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, but are they good enough to lead a team to 55 wins? It remains to be seen. They upgraded their bench with the addition of Luis Scola, but they may still struggle to crack the top 15 in offensive efficiency, and still must find a way to successfully re-integrate (or trade) Danny Granger. I predict 52 wins, a 4th seed, and an extremely juicy second round matchup with the same Heat they took to 7 games last year.

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Miami Heat: 61.5 wins; OVER.
They’re great, they’re healthier than last year, and they know this may be their last go-around as a group. The older, more frail ‘97/98 Bulls, led by a 35-year-old Michael Jordan, went 62-20 on the way to their third straight title. There’s no reason why the Heat led by LeBron in his absolute prime should not do the same this year.

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Milwaukee Bucks: 28.5 wins; WHO CARES?
The Bucks had another illogical offseason and are not worth any thought whatsoever.

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New York Knicks: 50.5 wins; UNDER.
The Knicks will still be an upper echelon offensive team; Andrea Bargnani should help, not hurt in that regard as a fourth-option floor-spacer, and Carmelo Anthony is still one of the three best offensive players in the league. But defense remains a question mark, and their general window of opportunity closes in the East with the return of D. Rose, the improvement of the Nets, and the arrival of the Pacers. 50 wins is a possibility given the amount of tanking we are likely to see from non-playoff teams, but anything more than that is unlikely for what is likely a 5th seed.

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Orlando Magic: 23.5 wins; UNDER.
It is impossible not to like Victor Oladipo, who is an All-Star and All-Defensive first teamer in the making. Is he good enough yet to leave Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and Arron Aflalo to 24 wins? Probably not, but he’ll be worth tuning in for anyway.

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Philadelphia 76ers: 16.5 wins; UNDER.
In spite of the very watchable Tony Wroten, the Sixers are terrible. They will not challenge the all-time league record for losses (the ’72/73 Sixers went 9-73), but they will want to ensure they have the most ping pong balls in the hat for the all-important draft lottery. Their lack of talent makes that goal very achievable even if they do play the right way. A 15-67 record will get the job done.

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Toronto Raptors: 35.5 wins; OVER.
Rudy Gay has had his eyesight fixed, Jonas Valanciunas is a year older, and Demar DeRozan for some reason feels that nobody can guard him. They’ll win a few more games than last season, but will still fail to make the playoffs.

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Washington Wizards: 39.5 wins; OVER.
John Wall thinks he and Bradley Beal will be a top 5 NBA backcourt this season. He may not be far wrong. Wall averaged 24, 8 and 3 over the last 21 games of last season and Beal has lit up the preseason. When the duo both played last year Washington went 16-9.  Moreover, when Wall, Beal, Martell Webster and Nene were on the court together, they were +22.3 points per 100 possessions, and all four are now healthy even if Emeka Okafor is not. All aboard the Wizards’ postseason disco bus!

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Overview: projected standings
1) Heat: 62-20
2) Bulls: 60-22
3) Nets: 53-29
4) Pacers: 52-30
5) Knicks: 49-33
6) Pistons: 41-41
7) Wizards: 41-41
8) Cavs: 39-43
9) Hawks: 38-44
10) Raptors: 36-46
11) Celtics: 30-52
12) Bobcats: 27-55
13) Magic: 23-59
14) Sixers: 15-67
15) Bucks: N/A

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