NBA: Eastern Conference Preview

by Will Rogers

Atlantic Division

The Atlantic is the only one of the Eastern Conference’s three divisions where all five teams have a legit shot at making the playoffs. It’s also a division with three of the East’s four teams that are projected to win at least 50 games. Those would be: Boston, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. While Boston (coaching change) and Brooklyn (Durant drama) had their fair share of offseason turmoil, Philly did not and I think the 76ers are worth a shot at +300 to win the Atlantic. I would certainly play them Over their win total of 51.5. After not being in the Top 10 in either offensive or defensive efficiency last season, the Sixers should be Top 10 in both categories now as you’ve got Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey plus better perimeter defense. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t play the win total for either Boston (53.5) or Brooklyn (50.5), though both certainly have the potential to still be top four teams in the East. 

At the very worst, Toronto and New York should both make the play-in round. The Raptors are projected for 46.5 wins, sixth most in the Conference, and they have gone Over their projected win total each of the last 11 seasons with one exception - the year they had to play home games in Tampa. The Knicks dropped from fourth place in 2020-21 to out of the playoffs last season, so there should be a natural “bounce back” from them as they were still top 10 in defensive efficiency for Tom Thibodeau in 2021-22. I’m a little surprised that the oddsmakers don’t think they’ll win at least two more games compared to last year and would consider playing Over on 38.5 for them. They added Jalen Brunson and really didn’t lose anyone of note. 

Central Division

There seems to be a clear pecking order with the top three in the Central and it goes 1. Milwaukee 2. Cleveland 3. Chicago. The Bucks (51.5) are the only team in the East outside the Atlantic with a win projection north of 50.0. They seem like a lock to win the division and be a top three seed come playoff time. They won 51 games and were the three seed last year. Cleveland has become a trendy team thanks to the addition of PG Donovan Mitchell. No one saw the Cavaliers coming last year as they rose from the depths of the league to play-in team, posting a rare winning record without LeBron James. It would be a big disappointment for them not to finish in the top six this year, but I fear they could be “too trendy” though and would look to go Under on 47.5. Chicago’s ceiling is probably no higher than the play-in round as Lonzo Ball’s knee is a major issue and DeMar DeRozan probably won’t be as clutch as he was a season ago. The Bulls also won 46 games despite a negative scoring differential, so regression was already likely. That’s clearly factored into the projected win total of 41.5.

Detroit and Indiana are both bad. With the Pistons, there was at least some optimism before everyone saw how bad they looked offensively in the preseason. They have a projected win total of 29.5. Asking for them to win six more games than last year might be asking too much. Then you have the Pacers and asking anything from them seems like asking for too much. Now 23.5 wins is a really low bar, but the temptation to tank for Victor Wembanyama is there, so stay away.

Southeast Division

Miami and Atlanta will clearly battle for first place in the division. Washington might make the play-in round. Orlando and Charlotte are both non-contenders. That’s the lay of the land here.

Miami (48.5) is projected to win three more games than Atlanta (45.5), but I kind of like the value on the Hawks to win the division, thanks to the addition of Dejounte Murray to what was the most efficient offense in the East last season. I know the Hawks had to play their way into the playoffs while the Heat were the East’s top seed. But Eric Spoelstra is going to have to turn in another strong coaching effort with PJ Tucker gone and no viable replacement for him on the roster. 

The Wizards were a bad team to bet on last year (32-47-3 ATS) and only Portland was worse. It always seems like the Wiz are bad at the defensive end. COVID-related issues derailed them with a terrible December, but that won’t be an issue now. Betting them Over 35.5 wins means all you’re asking is one more win than last year. If Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis both stay healthy (big if), they should be able to do that, right? The problem is the Wizards probably aren’t going to win as many close games. Their 12 wins by three points or less last year were the most in the league. 

Charlotte has been in the play-in round each of the last two seasons, but is a good candidate to fall off and I’d look to go Under 36.5 wins on them with the Miles Bridges situation still hanging over their head. Orlando’s biggest hope is to finish ahead of Charlotte. Only Indiana is projected for fewer wins among Eastern Conference teams. Of the three projected below 30 wins, I think the Magic would be the best bet to go Over. Rookie Paolo Banchero will have to carry them offensively. 

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