Continuing our series of case-making for the season outcomes, we look at the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. If you missed it, check out WC playoff teams here, and WC non-playoff teams here.
- Boston Celtics - 57.5 (Dom takes overs for odds)
- Toronto Raptors - 54.5
- Philadelphia 76ers - 54.5
- Indiana Pacers - 47.5
- Milwaukee Bucks - 46.5
- Washington Wizards - 44.5
- Miami Heat - 41.5
- Detroit Pistons - 37.5
1. Boston Celtics (57.5)
Over (Dom): The Celtics won 55 games last year, but had the point differential of a 51 win team. That said, they kept pretty much everyone and should add a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. I’m not sold Irving really makes that big an impact, but Hayward is one of the best wings in the league when healthy, and they have one of the best coaches in the NBA who has shown the ability to get wins out of any group of players. Further development from Jalen Brown, Jayson Tatum, as well as Terry Rozier playing for a contract, mean the Celtics look like the best regular season team in the east. I’d fade, it but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they hit this one. There’s no such thing as having too many excellent two- way wings, and Boston has them aplenty.
Under (Bobby): The biggest concern with this team is health and the impacts of previous injuries. Coming back from a broken leg like Gordon Hayward suffered is not easy. He should be the best player on this team. How will they fare if he is several tiers worse than his last healthy season? Kyrie also could miss games if his knee issue crops up again.
Additionally, several of the young players on this team outperformed projections last season. As they integrate Hayward and Kyrie back into the rotation, how will they handle the changes? These guys are candidates to regress, even if it’s just due to struggling to find the fit. But don’t be surprised if the early record isn’t great, and that could be what causes this team to miss 58 wins.
2. Toronto Raptors (54.5)
Over (Bobby): Toronto has a team that could be the best defensive team in the league if things swing in their favor. They were top 5 last season, and replaced DeRozan with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, two of the top perimeter defenders. The roster definitely got an upgrade and won 59 games last season, so 55 should happen easily.
This team also has a nice collection of outside shooters that should fit well around Lowry and Kawhi. If the scheme is developed to maximize them, a top 3 defense from last season could again compete for that top spot. Being top 3 on both ends almost guarantees 55 wins in the East.
Under (Dom): Toronto was the best in the east during the regular season and got Kawhi Leonard, so the under? Yep, it’s possible.
I’d fade it but Kawhi not returning to his old self along with Danny Green showing he’s still not healthy could mean the Raptors don’t get to the expectations people see. Not to mention, they have a rookie head coach in Nick Nurse and may take some time to acclimate to playing together along with Kyle Lowry starting to age all add up to the under here. However, this team could well be primed by late season coming on strong as the team to win the east in the postseason.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (54.5)
Over (Dom): TTP. Ben Simmons improvements in the offseason, Joel Embiid getting more experience, a healthy and now shooting Markelle Fultz, and continuity with JJ Redick and Dario Saric make the Sixers not only one of the youngest cores in the league but one of the best teams. The Sixers had the point differential of exactly 54.5 wins last year, per Cleaning the Glass. You’re telling me these guys won’t improve? The top of the east is tough so fade it but the over feels right here.
Under (Bobby): Like Boston, this team has real injury concerns. Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz have all missed massive amounts of times with injuries, and those guys are expected to be the backbone of this team. If injuries crop up again, this season could go off the rails for the 76ers.
There are also questions around these guys. Ben Simmons can’t shoot from outside. Fultz is a giant question mark after a season of speculation if his shot was fixable. They have made massive steps toward improving, but there are just too many questions to project them above 55 wins.
4. Indiana Pacers (47.5)
Over (Bobby): After a breakout season, Victor Oladipo could push for another All-NBA spot. Last season, he was one of the best two-way players in the league. If he continues on an upward trajectory of any kind (or even maintains his level from last season), he is a great player to build around in the East.
This team also has young talent that could improve Myles Turner and former-Thunder Domantis Sabonas are both promising bigs, and if they take steps forward, this team could benefit greatly. They won 48 games last season, so while they are a piece away from contending, they should be able to hit 48 wins again.
Under (Dom): We’ve all still got a soft spot for Victor Oladipo (and the Pacers were my team growing up), but this feels like a regression candidate. They won 48 with the margin of victory of about a 46 win team a year ago that was in part fueled by relative health, a breakout season for Oladipo, and some seemingly fluky stats. Their opponents’ FT and three point shooting percentages both ranked near league worst and both are generally luck-based. Tyreke Evans had an amazing season but it didn’t fall in line with his career trajectory. Darren Collison’s three point shooting jumped five percent and was eight percent over his career average, and they still don’t really have a reliable wing defender. I’m a little lower on Indiana than most — and go back and forth — but think I bet this under.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (46.5)
Over (Dom): Is this the year the Bucks break through? I think so. They have a real NBA head coach (sorry to Joe Prunti and Jason Kidd) and lost Jabari Parker, who was mostly a net negative, for Ersan Ilyasova along with a steal of a contract for Brook Lopez to upgrade their center rotation. Khris Middleton’s health — and the same for Eric Bledsoe — make me take the over, though I’d fade it.
Under (Bobby): The guard lineup for Milwaukee is pretty weak, with Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon as the starters. The depth among true bigs is also weak, which could present a challenge when playing teams with dominant offensive centers. Giannis is a great player, but still hasn’t shown an ability to shoot from outside. And beyond Giannis, the playmaking on this team is weak. They will really need guys like Middleton to score consistently to be a threat. Under 47 wins seems pretty reasonable for this team.
6. Washington Wizards (44.5)
Over (Bobby): This team has a surprising amount of talent for how low they are projected to finish. There are concerns with personalities and fit, but on talent alone in such a weak conference, they should hit 45 wins. John Wall is a great PG, Bradley Beal is a second tier (but still very good) SG, and Dwight Howard is still capable of playing well if he accepts his role.
This team really needs players to fit well, and for guys like Porter and Oubre to take a step forward if they are going to compete. But the roster improvements that were made should push this team to win at least 2 more game than last season, especially if John Wall plays more than half the season.
Under (Dom): On the surface, Washington moved it’s malcontent center and got back a more reliable bench ballhandler in Austin Rivers. However, Rivers hasn’t been known for his locker room reputation himself, and adding him to John Wall and Bradley Beal seems to be a recipe for Scott Brooks to have a...fun locker room. Oh, and they have Markieff Morris (who just got tossed from the first preseason game!) too. Oh, and to add to that the Dwight Howard effect just makes it all the more entertaining.
Dwight is fine as a player but still demands post touches when he’s not good at it and clearly has some issues in his professionalism (when you’re traded for one of the Plumlees and later Mozgov just to get you off the team, there’s a problem somewhere) and not only might this be a rather comedic locker room, but there’s disaster potential written all over it. The only reason I fade this is because it’s relatively low and someone has to win games in the east.
7. Miami Heat (41.5)
Over (Dom): First this team may trade for Jimmy Butler; if they do, this is stealing money. Other than that, Spoelstra has been able to get the best from mediocre rosters every year since Lebron left and they won 44 with a margin of victory of a 42-43 win team last season. I expect Bam Adebayo to improve and they have a bunch of good but not great players. In a weak bottom of the east, I’d even debate them over Washington but fade this due to the possibility of regression for guys like James Johnson, Dragic, and Ellington.
Under (Bobby): Miami seems to be a team that is surviving solely on good coaching. Not only is there not a star on this roster, there aren’t many players who would be role players on a top tier team. The best player on this team may be Goran Dragic. The shooting guard rotation of Dwayne Wade and Dion Waiters is pretty inefficient. This team couldn’t get to 44 wins last season, and I just don’t see how they’ve improved. If there is a prototypical treadmill team in the NBA right now, it may just be the Heat.
8. Detroit Pistons (37.5)
Over (Bobby): This team should have way too much talent to fall this low in a weak eastern conference. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson are a solid top 3. The team doesn’t have a ton of depth, but the starting group is solid. Additionally, the traditional two-big lineup isn’t something many teams are equipped to defend, which should allow the Pistons to create mismatches fairly regularly.
This team won 39 games last season, and spent a lot of the season without the current best players on the roster being available. I would expect their wins to trend up, not down, based on that.
Under (Dom): A team with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond seems like it probably should win 38 games, but that assumes health which, for Griffin and the beloved by Thunder fans point guard Reggie Jackson, has been an issue.
There was word Jackson may not be 100 percent ready at the start of the year (though I think they squashed that rumor I’m still unsure) but this team doesn’t have much depth or high end talent either. I’d fade the under because again someone has to make the playoffs out east but at the same time think Detroit falls short of the postseason this year, especially if anyone gets hurt which seems to be a recurring issue.