After trading Dwight Howard and losing Paul Millsap in free agency, the Hawks are probably planning on falling toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. As of September 23, Westgate Las Vegas tabbed Atlanta to finish with the second-worst record in the league, setting their over/under at 26 wins. It’s possible Mike Budenholzer will help this team claw its way to 30-plus victories, but even that seems unlikely.
D’Angelo Russell immediately improves Brooklyn’s odds of sneaking out of the NBA’s basement, but it’d be nothing short of a miracle for the Nets to win 30-35 games, much less make the playoffs. WLV’s 27-win projection is optimistic.
Even if Chicago doesn’t trade Robin Lopez (which they should), I don’t see this built-to-tank squad sniffing 20 wins.
Detroit is the only Eastern Conference club I had to think twice about including on this list. After Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Milwaukee, Toronto and Charlotte, it’s probably going to be Miami, Philadelphia and Detroit fighting for the final two spots. The Heat aren’t hard to talk yourself into, not after their fiery finish to 2016-17, and the Sixers are young and full of hope. Meanwhile, Detroit’s relying on Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson rebounding from poor campaigns. It’s possible Avery Bradley will ball out in his contract year, Stanley Johnson will break out, and Tobias Harris will have a career-year. It’s just easier for me to Trust the Process and Erik Spoelstra.
Indy doesn’t have a ton of two-way talent, and they just lost one of their only 3-and-D wings (Glenn Robinson III) to an ankle injury. There’s still a path to the playoffs if Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo enjoy leap-years and Thaddeus Young keeps improving from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, reaching the postseason shouldn’t be the goal (or the expectation).
New York Knicks
Now that New York has dealt Carmelo Anthony, nobody is predicting a playoff berth for the Knicks. It wouldn’t shock me if Brooklyn wins more games than the Knicks for the third time in the six seasons since the Nets moved to Barclays.
Frank Vogel may turn Orlando into a good defensive team. With that being said, I’m not sure they have enough outside shooting to thrive on offense. Rotation construction will be a key factor, but Orlando is definitely an underdog (to make the postseason) entering 2017-18.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Mavericks make the playoffs. Then again, the season could be also be a long struggle. Overall, I’d sooner take the over than the under (35.5), but their odds of their finishing in the top eight aren’t great.
Los Angeles Clippers
I’m on the Point Griffin and Patrick Beverley bandwagons, but I’m just not sold that this team has the right pieces to reach the playoffs in the overcrowded Western Conference. If all goes well, the Clippers could certainly exceed their 44.5-win projection, but if forced to choose, I’d bet the under.
Los Angeles Lakers
Winning 30 games should be considered a successful campaign, but expectations have been placed on this young club. The Lakers have a lot more talent than last year, but they’re still a long-shot to reach their projected win total (33).
Do the Grizzlies have enough beyond Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to grind through another 82-game regular season? If Chandler Parsons can stay healthy, JaMychal Green keeps improving, and others step up, it’s certainly possible. The defense should remain stingy, and I’d be much more willing to take the over (on 37.5) than the under.
The Suns might be marginally better than last year, but this won’t be a surprise 48-win team like years ago, especially if they pull the trigger on an Eric Bledsoe trade.
The Kings brought in some veterans in the franchise’s futile attempt to be a bit more competitive this season, but for the first time in forever Sacramento controls its destiny. Without a star such as DeMarcus Cousins, each win can be viewed as a positive from a player development standpoint, and losses can be fully appreciated for the draft pick they’ll become.
Utah’s defense should be stifling, and the offense might be better than advertised. Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles might evolve on that end, and Ricky Rubio has been aggressive in preseason play. Plus there’s Donovan Mitchell, who could make a real impact sooner rather than later. The Jazz are deep, and this was perhaps my toughest choice in the Western Conference (with all due respect to Dallas, Memphis, and the Clippers). For what it’s worth, I’d probably take the over (41 wins) on Utah, but perhaps this conference is just too good. I have Denver and Minnesota firmly inside the playoff picture, and Portland has proven themselves as offensive juggernauts who can outscore most teams. Barring an injury to Damian Lillard, I can’t count the Trail Blazers out. My eighth seed is New Orleans, simply because they have too much talent to fail (or so I think). How many big threes are better than Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jrue Holiday?