Wednesday October 8th, 2014

With the 2014-15 NBA season almost here, oddsmaking service ​ Bovada.LV has released its lines for the over/under win totals of all 30 teams.

Atlanta Hawks: 41 | Boston Celtics: 26.5 | Brooklyn Nets: 41.5
Charlotte Hornets: 45 | Chicago Bulls: 54.5 | Cleveland Cavaliers: 58.5
Dallas Mavericks: 49.5 | Denver Nuggets: 41.5 | Detroit Pistons: 35.5
Golden State Warriors: 50.5 | Houston Rockets: 49.5 | Indiana Pacers: 33
LA Clippers: 54.5 | LA Lakers: 32.5 | Memphis Grizzlies: 49
Miami Heat: 44 | Milwaukee Bucks: 24 | Minnesota Timberwolves: 26.5
New Orleans Pelicans: 43 | NY Knicks: 40.5 | OKC Thunder: 57.5
Orlando Magic: 27.5 | Philadelphia 76ers: 15.5 | Phoenix Suns: 44
Portland Trail Blazers: 49 | Sacramento Kings: 29.5 | San Antonio Spurs: 57
Toronto Raptors: 48.5 | Utah Jazz: 24 | Washington Wizards: 50

Let's dig in and examine the best bets this season (for entertainment purposes, of course).

1. Which team will beat its over/under line by the most wins?

Los Angeles Clippers over 54.5The Clippers won 56 games in 2013 and then won 57 in 2014, hitting their preseason over/under exactly on the mark. While the offseason saw some roster turnover, L.A.'s formula remains the same. All of the key driving forces behind the league's No. 1 offense return: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. Likewise, the Clippers aren't losing any major contributors from a defense that ranked No. 7 in efficiency last season. L.A.'s biggest loss -- backup point guard Darren Collison -- will be sufficiently replaced by Jordan Farmar. The summer's biggest addition -- Spencer Hawes -- neatly addresses the interior depth question that has followed the Clippers for multiple years. 

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It's also worth noting that the Clippers won a franchise-record 57 wins last season despite a number of injuries: Paul missed 20 games, Crawford missed 13, Matt Barnes missed 20, and Redick missed more than half the season. Among L.A.'s stars, there really aren't any obvious candidates for age-related decline. On paper, there doesn't seem to be much separating the Clippers from the Thunder (over/under at 57.5) and Spurs (over/under at 57). No one should be surprised if another year of continuity, good vibes from a badly-needed ownership change and the added motivation of a tough loss to the Thunder in the playoffs combine to power the Clippers to a 60-win season.

2. Which team will fall short of its over/under line by the most wins?

Orlando Magic at 27.5. Last year, the Magic were pegged to win 24 games, they won 23. They dumped Jameer Nelson (who started for almost a decade) and Arron Afflalo (2014 All-Star candidate) in the offseason, and Channing Frye, their only significant veteran newcomer, suffered a knee injury this week. What exactly about that chain of events gives this team 3.5 wins worth of new optimism compared to last year?

Orlando fans might point to the addition of two lottery picks -- Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon -- or they might be banking on growth from some of the other returning prospects. While Payton's shot for playing time is clear, and the Magic should absolutely go all in on his development -- his youth, his lack of perimeter shooting, and his turnover issues in college suggest that patience is in order. Ditto for Gordon who, at 19, oozes potential but will require years of polishing. Victor Oladipo, the Magic's 2013 lottery pick, can be expected to make strides in year two, but the same can't be definitively said about the roster's auxiliary pieces. The door was wide open for breakouts and none of the youngsters truly seized the moment in a way that made a meaningful impact on wins and losses. In sum, the Magic are extremely young, they are lacking in depth, their offense projects to be one of the league's worst again, and the front office seems fully committed to a long-term rebuilding plan. Add that up and the 20-24 win range seems realistic for a third straight season. 

3. Aside from your picks for the first two question, if you had to bet your house on a single over/under, which team would it be?

Detroit Pistons over 35.5. Any time you can bet on Stan Van Gundy and against Maurice Cheeks at the same time, you have to do it. One year ago, the Pistons' new core of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings was expected to win 40 games. Instead, Detroit's consistently comatose effort resulted in a 29-win season. Cheeks was fired just 50 games into a multi-year contract and the long-awaited departure of embattled GM Joe Dumars finally occurred. Even if the pieces make for a weird fit, there seems no doubt at all that the Pistons under-performed relative to their talent level in 2013-14.  

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An over/under of 35.5 wins definitely builds in some optimism for Van Gundy's arrival, but is it enough? Remember, the Pistons managed to produce an offense that hovered near mediocre despite organizational chaos and horrific shot distribution. Van Gundy's arrival promises newfound order and a smarter approach. He will also have another year of development from Drummond and the arrival of Jodie Meeks, who brings some needed floor-spacing, to kickstart his attack. More importantly, it seems impossible for any Van Gundy outfit to rank in the bottom-six in defense like the Pistons did in 2013-14. That's especially true because the NBA just saw one of his former assistants, Steve Clifford, take a Charlotte team from No. 30 to No. 6 in defensive efficiency in one season, and because Van Gundy has an elite rebounder in Drummond and a proven, versatile defender in Smith to build his structure around. Given the state of the East, an above-.500 record and a trip to the playoffs aren't out of reach. The Pistons should be able to clear 35.5 wins barring major injuries or a core-busting midseason trade.

4. Which over/under line was the most surprising?

Washington Wizards at 50. It goes without saying that hoops optimism in the nation's capital is at peak levels. John Wall has solidified himself as a perennial All-Star, Bradley Beal looks poised to join him in the next few years, and the Wizards front office had one of the better offseasons around the league, retaining centerpiece Marcin Gortat, swapping Paul Pierce for Trevor Ariza, and filling out a bench that might now stand as the East's best. Still, this over/under valuation is the league's seventh-highest, and it puts the Wizards above the likes of the Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies and Blazers and Raptors. I suppose it's possible that Washington continues to ride an upswing and finishes with a better record than all five of those teams, but I'm dubious. Remember, Washington posted 44 wins last season, tied for the league's 14th-best record, despite getting career years from Wall, Beal, and Ariza, while also getting a strong contract campaign from Gortat and enjoying fairly good health across the board (Nene was the major exception). The Wizards' nice playoff run also carries some red flags: Washington thoroughly whipped an undermanned, overachieving Chicago team that before losing to a disjointed Indiana squad that was good but not nearly as strong as its 56-win season suggested.

A big risk for a team on the rise is that it gets ahead of itself. When Beal declared that Washington definitely has the league's best backcourt, it was a cringe-worthy moment, even for those who fully believe in his potential. The Wall/Beal combination isn't yet the clear pick for the East's best backcourt, and more than half of the playoff teams in the West (Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Spurs, and even the Thunder, who must replace Thabo Sefolosha) would rather keep their own guards rather than exchange them for the Wizards' young duo. The lay of the land in the East suggests that a run to the 2015 Eastern Conference finals is well within Washington's grasp, but this over/under, like Beal's declaration, feels overly optimistic and unearned. One thing we know about both Wall and Beal is that they seem to enjoy proving the skeptics wrong. So, let's see it.

5. Would you bet the over or the under on the Cavaliers at 58.5 wins and the Sixers at 15.5?

Cavaliers over 58.5 and Sixers under 15.5. I just can't help myself when it comes to picking at the extremes. Last year, I went over for Miami at 61.5 (they were way under) and under for Philadelphia at 17 (they went over). If there's any place to root with the heart instead of the mind, it's at the very poles: Who doesn't love to see greatness and who doesn't enjoy an utter train wreck? 

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Cleveland's line seems a fairly obvious product of Miami's performance in year one with LeBron James. The 2011 Heat won 58 games en route to the 2011 Finals, struggling to an 8-7 start before ripping off a 21-1 stretch through December and January. The biggest different between 2011 Miami and 2015 Cleveland is James himself. He's smarter, more experienced, and more confident. He's also more efficient as a shooter and more comfortable as a leader. Even though the Cavaliers face all sorts of questions -- Is David Blatt ready for this? Is Kyrie Irving capable of finding his role alongside two superstars? Will Irving and Kevin Love leave their injury issues in the past? Can they play passable team defense? Will a 2014 Pacers-like contender emerge to push them over the course of an 82-game season? -- they do so without the truly intense scrutiny the Heat faced in 2011. The pressure is always on James, and has been for his whole career, but the Cavaliers enter this season viewed as a tantalizing team that should be the East's best rather than as a Dream Team that should make a push for 72 wins. I think that should make for a steadier ride through the season, and I envision a reinvigorated James making the most out of a second life with younger core partners by leading Cleveland to the East's best record season record. Even if they are just barely over -- somewhere in the 59-62 range -- I think they will go over. 

As for Philadelphia, the key would seem to be not letting their 19-win regular season record in 2013-14 fool you. The Sixers' midseason sell-off produced a record-tying 26-game losing streak and 18 of those losses came by double digits. For a solid two months down the stretch, this was among the least-competitive teams in NBA history. Coach Brett Brown opened the summer by declaring that no one would really want to sign with the Sixers. Predictably, tanking-obsessed GM Sam Hinkie made a grand total of zero moves this offseason to change Philadelphia's direction. The return of 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel from a season-canceling knee injury is the only thing that qualifies as a faint ray of hope. The Sixers figure to take their time with 2014 lottery pick Joel Embiid, who is sidelined with a foot injury, and they used another lottery pick on Dario Saric, who will spend this season overseas. The rest of their roster is composed of cast-offs and vagabonds. 

The Sixers are so thin that they could go under 15.5 wins even with major growth from 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, a 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign from Noel, and a strong second-half from Embiid. That said, with so many other pathetic outfits in the East's lower echelons, Philadelphia probably doesn't need to worry about challenging the NBA's all-time worst records. This line looks smartly set, and I expect the Sixers to finish just under. 

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