NBA Eastern Conference Betting Preview: Take the over on the young Raptors

Scottie Barnes, left, and the Raptors will be looking to stave off elimination against James Harden and the 76ers on Thursday night in Toronto. (Matt Slocum/AP)

With the start of the NBA training camps just a week away and the pre-season slated to kick off September 30th, it’s time to reassess, and possibly adjust, the win total picks I made in July.

Let’s start with the Eastern Conference, an absolute bloodbath last season. I don’t see that changing, and it might get even tougher with talent like Donovan Mitchell and Dejounte Murray moving from West to East. So let’s do it. I’m giving you all my over/under picks again, with a take about each division.

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics: Over 55.5 wins
Brooklyn Nets: Under 51.5
Philadelphia 76ers: Over 50.5 wins
Toronto Raptors: Over 44.5 wins
New York Knicks: Under 37.5

The Take: I proposed the Atlantic Division might be the clubhouse leader for toughest division in the NBA. Top to bottom, I still feel that way. If New York had found a way to trade for Donovan Mitchell, it wouldn’t even be close. But since they didn’t, there appears to be a sizeable gap between the top four teams and the Knicks.

I’m loving my Knicks UNDER pick for obvious reasons, one of them being that they have to play their division rivals 16 times this year. I love Daryl Morey attempting to recreate the 2018 Rockets in Philadelphia, and my love for the Raptors’ young core has only grown over the course of the off-season. Those OVER picks are feeling great.

But the more I think about Boston, the more I think about last year’s Phoenix Suns. If ever there was a team to cut through the regular season like a hot knife through butter, it’s this one.

They’re running it back, they’ve added top-end talent in Malcolm Brogdon, who fits perfectly with all of their key guys, and most importantly: They’re going to be pissed. I’m changing my mind on Boston. This could easily be a 65-win team. I’m going Boston OVER 55.5 wins.

Central Division

Milwaukee Bucks: Over 51.5 wins
Cleveland Cavaliers: Over 48.5 wins
Chicago Bulls: Under 43.5 wins
Detroit Pistons: Over 28.5 wins
Indiana Pacers: Under 25.5 wins

The Take: I’ll come clean: This division was the inspiration for reassessing my July picks. It all comes down to Chicago for me. I’m changing my Cavs pick to Cleveland OVER 48.5, and I’m sticking with Detroit OVER 28.5 despite that line jumping up two full games. I got them at 26.5 in July, but the Pistons are going to be frisky this year, and I don’t think 35 wins is out of the question.

I’m also even more confident in Milwaukee OVER 51.5 wins after watching Giannis Antetokounmpo completely demolish everything in his path during Eurobasket.

But Chicago is likely going to start the season without Lonzo Ball, who still hasn’t fully recovered from his knee surgery. While I pointed out in July that Chicago was a top-three team in the East when Lonzo and Alex Caruso were healthy, that doesn’t appear to be the case going into the season.

Their number was 42.5 back then, and with the news about Ball’s knee, I’m staggered to see the line has gone up since then. It’s an easy Chicago UNDER 43.5 wins for me. That means a handful of extra wins for the rest of the division while Chicago works to get whole. Heaven help them if DeMar DeRozan finally looks his age.

Southeast Division

Miami Heat: Under 49.5 wins
Atlanta Hawks: Under 47.5 wins
Charlotte Hornets: Under 36.5 wins
Washington Wizards: Under 35.5 wins
Orlando Magic: Over 27.5 wins

The Take: Fade this entire division. Charlotte and Orlando were the only teams from the Southeast that I took the over on in July, and the Hornets’ line moving up one win is enough to scare me into changing my pick. Which leaves Orlando as the only OVER I’m picking here.

Miami is getting old, but my under pick isn’t because of that. The cream of the crop in the East has improved, with Boston, Philly, Toronto, Cleveland and Milwaukee all looking better than they were last year. The Heat won 53 games to claim the conference’s top seed last year, and it would only take a small dip in performance (or an injury to Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo) for them to drop back to the middle of the pack.

The Washington line still feels too high for me, with Bradley Beal the lone All-Star on a team of role players. That feels like a bottom-10 team in the league to me. The swing team in this division is Atlanta.

Could I see the Dejounte Murray acquisition paying big dividends for the Hawks? Sure. On paper, he fits well with Trae Young in the backcourt, covering up his defensive indifference (I won’t call it a deficiency until I see some actual effort). But in reality, I think it’s just as likely they clash on the offensive end. Murray is no shooter, and is best when he’s bullying smaller guards with the ball in his hands.

Unless Trae finally learns to play off ball, I worry the Hawks won’t get everything they can out of Murray. And when Trae has the ball, having Murray where Kevin Huerter once stood will likely choke any spacing the Hawks had last season.

Next up, The West. Spoilers: We’re fading the Lakers.

As always, play safe, and don’t chase. 


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