This first appeared in the Aug. 6 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
The NBA offseason just wound down, but preparations for the 2018-19 campaign are already fully underway.
One of the first indications of that is the initial summer release of the over/under win totals by the top sports books in Las Vegas. The timing proved to be Sunday afternoon, when the Westgate SuperBook — arguably the leading one — released its numbers.
After looking through the projections for all 30 teams, here are five locks, the best bets for those hoping to make a few bucks on how the 2018-19 NBA season plays out.
New York Knicks: under 29.5 wins
This is, without question, the biggest lock on the list.
Last season, the Knicks won 29 games and played 34 without Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that ended his season. After Porzingis got hurt, the Knicks went 7-21 in their final 28 games.
Here is the even more critical stat, though: After beginning the season 17-14, the Knicks went 12-39 over their final 51 games. That initial hot start, boosted by a 15-5 record at Madison Square Garden during a heavily front-loaded home schedule thanks to the Grammys being held there, quickly became a mirage.
With the Grammys back in Los Angeles this season, the Knicks won’t have that same advantage. They also likely won’t have Porzingis until at least February, and possibly March.
Even with Porzingis healthy for a full 82 games, the chances of the Knicks winning 30 games would be low. Not having him for at least half the season makes this the best bet on the board by a long shot.
San Antonio Spurs: over 43.5
It’s easy to count out the Spurs. They aren’t sexy, they are a year older and they traded away Kawhi Leonard last month, along with Danny Green, for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first round pick.
But the Spurs won 47 games last season with Leonard only being available for nine. And while DeRozan has flaws, he still is an excellent player who is among the top 30 to 40 in the league and will help the Spurs win in the regular season.
Despite the difficulties that being in the Western Conference present, it’s difficult to see how San Antonio — a team that is always prepared and ready to play — is going to be worse than a year ago. Will the Spurs be a serious threat to either of the West’s preeminent powers in the playoffs? No. But they won’t beat themselves and should rack up plenty of regular season wins to easily surpass this low total.
Houston Rockets: over 54.5
This line feels very low. Chris Paul missed a ton of games last season, James Harden missed time with a strained hamstring and the Rockets still won 65 games and had the NBA’s best record. Are they going to be 11 games worse this season? It’s hard to see that.
Houston is still going to want the best record in the West, and even if the Warriors remain in cruise control, as they quite likely will, it will still require 60 wins to get the top seed. And unless something changes between now and the start of the season, the Rockets are still coached by Mike D’Antoni, who isn’t exactly a believer in giving guys nights off.
Yes, the Rockets got worse by losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute this summer. But where they got worse was on defense, which will likely regress without those two players. The Rockets’ high-powered offense should remain as such.
As long as Harden and Clint Capela are healthy, and Chris Paul plays in 55-60 games or more, it’s hard to see Houston falling below this number.
Los Angeles Clippers: over 35.5
The Clippers are a strange team. They don’t have any big-name stars anymore. But what they do have is a roster full of solid NBA players that should play hard and compete for Doc Rivers on a nightly basis.
Even in the West, that will make the Clippers a difficult team to play. They lost DeAndre Jordan, but the combination of Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrell will give them depth to replace him in the middle, and the Clippers have a lot of wing combinations they can mix and match depending on need and opponent.
The Clippers will have a hard time contending for a playoff spot in the murderer’s row that is the Western Conference, but that depth should allow them to be somewhere back around where they were last season, which is right around .500, several games ahead of where they are projected.
Sacramento Kings: under 25.5
The Kings were horrendous last season. While they did win 27 games, they had the 29th-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense — metrics that should have led to fewer wins. They also were insanely lucky in close games.
How lucky? The Kings went 9-4 in games decided by three points or less or went to overtime. Even more remarkable? They were 7-0 in games decided by one point or in overtime.
Let’s just say it’s highly unlikely Sacramento experiences that kind of luck again this season. Couple that with the Kings clearly being the worst team in the absolutely brutal Western Conference, and their chances of getting past 25.5 wins seem remote, at best.
Other notes on the over/unders:
— If for some reason one of those bets doesn’t work for you, the final cut from the list was the Cleveland Cavaliers over 30.5 wins. While people are down on the Cavs, they are going to try to win this season, and they have enough talent to push for the eighth playoff spot. The over is very much in play.
— The Los Angeles Lakers will likely get a lot of over action with a number of 48.5 wins, but I would stay away. Yes, they have LeBron James, but with the bizarre roster the Lakers have put around him, I’m not convinced they make the playoffs in the West, where it will be tough to get to 49.
— Despite some of the negativity surrounding the Washington Wizards, their number of 44.5 is an intriguing one they should surpass. Just about everything that could’ve gone wrong did for the Wizards did last year, and they still won 42 games. If John Wall is healthy this year, they should get back above 45 and land somewhere in the middle of the playoff pack in the East.
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