With the NBA season beginning today, and the Nuggets season beginning Wednesday, the Denver Stiffs staff got their prognosticating caps out and made some predictions.
However, for some of you that may be interested in knowing what we think of each and every team in the league, more words are required. Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis took some time to make predictions of their own, taking the over or under on each team in the NBA.
You’re reading Part One, where we list our predictions for the Eastern Conference. You’ll be able to read Part Two, where we list our predictions for the Western Conference, the day after, or by clicking here.
Washington Wizards - 49
Lewis (58-24): I think that the chemistry the Wizards will have as they return nearly the same core they had last season will propel the Wizards to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. I think they’ll have enough depth to stay in contention throughout the season, and I loved the Tim Frazier acquisition for them. A healthy Ian Mahinmi should help their rim protection be above average for the entire game.
Blackburn (52-30): I like what the Wizards are doing as well. They have one of the best trios in the NBA in John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. All three have improved over the last few years, and there’s no reason why they should stop improving now. I definitely like the Over here with John Wall as a dark horse MVP candidate.
Miami Heat - 44.5
Blackburn (46-36): This team feels destined to hit in between 45 and 50 wins for the next five seasons. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are solid, but not spectacular. James Johnson is an elite sixth man. Dion Waiters is weird, but he and Josh Richardson should be solid wings for the Heat. Tyler Johnson is also great off the bench. Overall, I love their individual pieces, but the ceiling isn’t very high.
Lewis (49-33): They were two different teams last season, and they reloaded for this season in hopes of being more consistent. I liked the pick of Bam Adebayo, and they have playoff legend Kelly Olynyk as another bench big. Dion Waiters will be a X-factor for this team, to give them another perimeter scoring option alongside Goran Dragic. This team should play hard every night on defense, making it a struggle for teams to score 100 points on them with ease. Hassan Whiteside is tremendous in the paint, and if he continues to improve, watch out for Miami.
Charlotte Hornets - 42.5
Lewis (40-42): The injury to Nic Batum is terrible for a team that is lacking playmakers on offense. Malik Monk could have an opportunity to fill in at off guard alongside Kemba Walker, and the rookie has shown extreme confidence in his ability. I picked them to finish under .500 because of Dwight Howard. Whatever he was in the past, he’s not that today, and his ability to turn teammates against each other is extraordinary.
Blackburn (43-39): The loss of Nicolas Batum at the beginning of the year won’t hurt them a ton in my opinion. Their schedule is very home based, and the beginning of the year is when I expect Dwight Howard to be at his best. Malik Monk should be good for them in spurts, and they have enough vets to get back to .500 and compete for a low playoff seed. Still, it’s hard to see much more than this out of them.
Orlando Magic - 33.5
Blackburn (28-54): Take the under here. Orlando is NOT one of the teams I expect to compete in the lower part of the East playoff picture. I think they are better than Atlanta, Chicago, and New York, and they will snag some wins from those teams, but it will take a leap from Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, AND Evan Fournier to get above 33.5 wins. I just don’t see it.
Lewis (14-68): This is the worst team in the league, and if they aren’t selling off whatever assets they have for draft picks, they should be ashamed of themselves. They’re a team that can’t score at the rim, and can’t score from the perimeter. Their defensive talents don’t mesh, and they don’t have a point guard to lead the offense unless Elfriid Payton takes a giant leap forward. Send light and love to Frank Vogel, and send Aaron Gordon to a contender.
Atlanta Hawks - 24.5
Lewis (24-58): This is probably too high for me, but I don’t want to underestimate Coach Bud. It’s never good when you start the season with your point guard facing charges for misdemeanor battery and rumors he could get traded. The only fun spot might be John Collins, who won’t be asked to play much defense and should have ample opportunities to get boards and buckets in garbage time throughout the season.
Blackburn (21-61): The Hawks are projected to start Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Ersan Ilyasova, and Dwayne Dedmon. That’s absolutely dreadful, and the backups don’t get much better. Mike Muscala is probably the best bench player at the moment. Yuck. Out of respect for Mike Budenholzer, I have them cracking 20 wins, but this feels like a tank job, plain and simple.
Boston Celtics - 54.5
Lewis (57-25): This team looks really good folks. They’re lead by offseason acquisitions Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, with veteran center Al Horfod anchoring the team. Jaylen Brown looks like he’s going to be a monster defensively, and they’ll be able to score so many points with players that can get points efficiently. I also like the addition of Aron Baynes - he brings a physical style of play that should define their second unit of Terry Rozier-Marcus Smart-Jayson Tatum-Guerschon Yabusele-Aron Baynes. I really like this team.
Blackburn (52-30): I have them at the under. I think there will be some struggles at the beginning in games where Kyrie Irving takes 25 shots while Gordon Hayward stands on the perimeter by himself. Eventually, they will get it together, but teams that develop and try and contend at the same time struggle to maximize either strategy. They will also lose games because they rely too much on Jaylen Brown and/or Jayson Tatum from game to game.
Toronto Raptors - 48.5
Blackburn (54-28): To me, this is a definite over. The Raptors are my first overall seed in the East. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are still darn good, and Serge Ibaka played much better in Toronto defensively than in his last three seasons anywhere. They have a bunch of rotation players as well that should fit right in. Norman Powell is a great creator, C.J. Miles is a great shooter, Jonas Valanciunas is still a load inside, and other young players will continue to step up. Also, OG Anunoby is better than the 23rd pick and will prove as such. That is all.
Lewis (60-22): I am irrationally high on the Raptors (in the regular season) this year. The combo of DeRozan and Lowry is proven, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas should be a solid foundation as big men. I think CJ Miles should help do the little things for them that DeMarre Carroll wasn’t able to do due to injury last season, and with OG Anunoby healthy, they’ll have a great defensive unit off the bench with him, Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Jakob Poeltl. They’re a trade away from being a bona fide number one seed and not just a great regular season team.
Philadelphia 76ers - 39
Blackburn (44-38): The toughest team to grade. I had Philly at 35 wins before the extension news for Joel Embiid. The reason that changes everything? They believe in his health. If Embiid plays 60 games, Philly will win 60% of those games and go 36-24 during that time. All they have to do is go 8-14 the rest of the way, and I think they will. Ben Simmons is going to be really, really good, and while Markelle Fultz may take some time to iron out the kinks, he will be really good as well.
Lewis (47-35): I believe in the greatness of Joel Embiid, the owner of a huge contract extension. Adding J.J. Redick to their team should do wonders, and gives them one of the greatest two initial first name backcourts in the league (J.J. and T.J. McConnell). I have a feeling Ben Simmons will be good, and this team could develop into a great defensive group that can put points up if necessary. It all hinges on Embiid’s health however.
New York Knicks - 28.5
Lewis (14-68): This is the worst team in the NBA. They’re going to be a mess on and off the court. Go for the number one pick, Knicks! Rebuild from the Phil Jackson debacle!
Blackburn (23-59): They are going to win more games than 14, but this is definitely an UNDER play. Kristaps Porzingis is still really good, and I believe in him improving his defense. Enes Kanter will get hot some games and put up 25 points and 12 rebounds multiple times throughout the year. Still, they have no point guard.
Brooklyn Nets - 27.5
Blackburn (28-54): It’s hard to project where the Nets will be this year, but I think they are above the scrum of the Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks for the bottom. I have them on a similar level as the Magic. D’Angelo Russell plays with the best player he’s ever played with during his short career in Jeremy Lin, and Lin will make things easier for him. Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll are additions that will help them win, and the amount of interesting youth on this team (Russell, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen, etc.) will have them winning some games at the end of the year.
Lewis (29-52): The Nets should at least be entertaining to watch if you’re a fan of teams just launching 3-pointers. If you’re a fan of old school basketball, just avoid the Nets for the next five years. This team could really use a power forward, but we’ll just have to wait for things to happen down the road. They are a few years away from a return to relevance, but they’re laying the foundation. D’Angelo Russell will get a chance to prove himself away from the movie stars in Los Angeles - hope he doesn’t mind the cold of a New York winter!
Cleveland Cavaliers - 54
Lewis (53-29): I like the decision to move Kevin Love to center in the starting lineup for the Cavaliers. With the addition of Dwyane Wade, and the injury to Isaiah Thomas, they need Love’s playmaking at center, not power forward. Having Jae Crowder should help them more in the playoffs, when they can trot out a Thomas-Wade-Korver-Crowder-James lineup that will be devastating on offense.
Blackburn (52-30): There will be bumps. Isaiah Thomas is out until January. I don’t care. Take the UNDER on the Cavs, but don’t bet against them moving on to the NBA Finals again. LeBron James and Co. are going to figure it out. If the Derrick Rose-Dwyane Wade-Kevin Love at center trio doesn’t work out, they will make the necessary changes. I know they will take games off. I don’t care. They can take games off in the East and win. LeBron is that good.
Milwaukee Bucks - 47.5
Lewis (53-29): The Bucks are going to be fun this season as Giannis Antetokounmpo takes a run at a top-5 finish in MVP voting. With Thon Maker developing at center, a healthy Khris Middleton, and a bunch of young prospects that are going to be developing throughout the season, they’re poised for a chance at home court in the playoffs. It’s fun to see a team model themselves after the talents of their best player, and acquire players that fit alongside their star player.
Blackburn (47-35): I think the world is a year ahead on the Bucks. They won 42 games last year, and only one of the teams ahead of them (Atlanta) looks to have fallen off. The Bucks will also be without Jabari Parker until February, and while I think they might be BETTER with him out of the starting lineup, their bench isn’t pretty. It features names like Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and a heavy reliance on Greg Monroe. If Monroe gets injured, the team is in major trouble, and if any of their primary wings sit out for a stretch of time, then they may look more like a 40 team than a 50 win team.
Detroit Pistons - 38.5
Blackburn (39-43): Call me crazy, but I still believe in the Jackson-Drummond combination, mostly because I don’t think the Pistons need to rely on it as often. Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley are both good, while Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard are two young guys that should play roles that fit their skill sets well. They seem destined to fight for the 8 seed, and while I think Charlotte will be the team that gets in, Stan Van Gundy is fighting for his job. He will do what he can to keep it as both a coach and general manager.
Lewis (33-49): This is the definition of a team headed nowhere fast. Jackson and Drummond flopped last season, Stanley Johnson wasn’t ready, and Stan Van Gundy seemed like he wasn’t up to the challenge of coaching and running the front office. Avery Bradley is a good player, and Luke Kennard could be someday. For the most part, this is just a team that is a season away from being the 2017-18 Orlando Magic. They’ll beat some bad Eastern Conference teams, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good.
Indiana Pacers - 31.5
Lewis (27-55): The Pacers have some pieces I like - Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner, Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph - but not enough talent to make them any good this season. That’s fine though, because they’re establishing themselves in good position for a chance at someone like Luka Dončić in the draft. They’ll probably be too good for a top five pick, which would really help them in the future.
Blackburn (35-47): Myles Turner is going to be really good. As a 19 and 20-year-old these last two years, he has three games of 20 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks, the same number as Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Dwight Howard at the same ages. Victor Oladipo also has potential still and was forced into a role in Oklahoma City that doesn’t fit him at all (i.e. space the floor and touch the ball...never). Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison are all quality players. This just feels like a team that could stay in the purgatory of a weak Eastern Conference.
Chicago Bulls - 22
Blackburn (19-63): Pound the UNDER here. The Bulls started Lauri Markannen at small forward in a game this preseason. Their best player is Robin Lopez. Cameron Payne was a player they gave up draft picks and better players to get. Zach LaVine is out for awhile. Need I say more?
Lewis (20-62): I could see the Bulls getting to 20 wins solely to deprive themselves of a shot at the first pick in the draft. Let’s not pretend like this is going to be a good team, and they’ll want to get Zach LaVine back on the court to give them a chance to evaluate him before offering him an extension. Trevon Duval should look good in a Bulls jersey next season.